Category: Opinions Written by News Desk
Kuyang Harriet Logo Mulukwat
The inclusion of a gender specific course in the law curriculum at the University of Juba serves several purposes. The severe segregation and small numbers of women in nearly all sectors drove the College to include a subject which stimulates the students to begin thinking about the foundations of women subordination and work towards devising strategies to improve the situation of women.
The gender divide in the college of law is severe, with most of the female lecturers holding junior teaching positions and most junior administrative posts. It is a long way before women can begin to hold any significant posts. Aside from the Deputy Vice Chancellor being female, the rest of the top posts at the University are for the males. The disparities in numbers are consistent, but raise questions with regards to whether the situation is purely of natural differences or ‘choices’ which inhibit women’s leadership within Universities and colleges.
The differences, I presume, occur not because of lack of qualified women or lack of interest in women to pursue academic positions, but rather because the academic environment is not conducive for women’s engagement and participation. The stark statistical differences are evident not just within the academia, but are very extreme within the student body itself. There are several females in all the colleges, but for the two consecutive fourth year classes I have taught, there are only a handful of females in both of my classes. Their active participation is also overshadowed by a very vibrant male participation. A few females sometimes rise above the numbers and participate.
Research has indicated that women tend to react to specific environments before making a choice for a work place. It is suggested that some females may initially choose female dominated jobs and progressively move to the main arena of employment and compete for jobs that are usually dominated by men, only if the conditions are made conducive. In my law school at Makerere at the time, the student numbers were almost equal. In the beginning there were even more females, but those got scared away by lecturers who asserted that law school was too tough and those who could not withstand the pressure should move to other faculties. Many females left the law class for these reasons. With regards to class participation the male students naturally participated more.
Clearly, the University environment is one of those places which tend to limit the participation of females. It is simply too aggressive and masculine and it takes very strong female personalities to penetrate through or even remain in teaching jobs. Before I started teaching at the College of Law, the former Dean of the College of Law, pulled me aside and talked to me as, he would to a daughter. He was concerned because the environment was tough and had to talk to me so that I know beforehand what to expect.
Just after a few lectures – I realized that the institution itself is very interested in having more females join the university, but the environment is what it is. Tough! It takes a strong personality to take up a teaching job and other senior administrative posts. How can gender be embedded in the structures of Universities or the College of law in particular? Can assumptions about gender inform the formulation of work policies which encourage more females to join the academia? I think there are salient considerations that are at play when it comes to the academia – females sometimes tend to exclude themselves from engaging in the academia, because of socially construed roles of women as home makers and men as the breadwinners. The traditional divisions of labor inculcated at a young age resurface and do influence female choices, whose natural preference would be to choose a job which would permit an easy juggling of family duties and work. For my own experience, I think there is adequate support for females in the academia, especially at the College of Law. I experienced positive mentoring from the former and current Deans of the College. There is an equally great support from the Students at the College.
Scores of studies have demonstrated that gender bias and stereotyping forms an automatic response to cognitive categories which produce shortcuts to make sense of why the world is as it is. While stereotypes are not harmful, females in male dominated jobs must run the gamut of biased conscious and unconscious responses on their abilities to do an outstanding masculine job. Overall gender roles and widely held beliefs about the attributes of men and women play a role in how males and females are perceived within the academia and for this reason, females who are severely outnumbered must constantly put in extra effort to outdo biases.