Women and Higher Education: The Successes and Challenges

On August 28, 2007, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told those present at the 4th annual Women’s Parliament Conference in Cape Town, “Educate a woman, you educate a nation.”1 His remarks reflected the government’s commitment since 1994 to increase women’s access to higher education and its belief that the education of women is a key factor in the country’s future. And in many ways, the government’s initiatives, plans, and laws related to women and education have succeeded: women’s enrollment and retention rates in higher education have risen significantly.

In spite of those accomplishments, however, many women still have limited access to higher education, and for those who have managed to enter the system, challenges remain. Further, the combined effect of race, class, and geographical location create inequities among groups of women in South Africa. Acknowledging those differences allows for a closer examination of the challenges and how to move beyond them.

Unfortunately, however, when discussing race, retention, and higher education, women are usually hidden in the discussion and black women’s stories in particular are lost.2 Moreover, the available data on gender and higher education lump all women together rather than looking at access and retention by race, socioeconomic status, or geographical location. While policy makers recognize to some degree that certain women have benefited significantly more than others, the lack of qualitative and quantitative data helps to support the view that all South African women are created equal and have similar challenges and opportunities.

© The Author(s) 2017

D.E. Eynon, Women, Economic Development, and Higher Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-53144-1_7

The following chapter clearly illustrates that this view is skewed and that, in fact, for many women, access and retention continues to be out of reach. It will also describe the progress that has been made since 1994 in bringing more women into the higher education system, their enrollment in fields of study considered vital to South Africa’s economic growth and development, and the difficulties they still face in their pursuit of higher education.

 
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