International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March annually. This global day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The 2020 theme was #EachForEqual and it focused on a call to action the acceleration of women’s equality. In South Africa, women are celebrated annually on 9 August, commemorating the 1956 march of women to the Pretoria Union Buildings to fight for freedom.  August is marked as Women’s Month in South Africa, and we enjoyed building on the #EachForEqual theme with our Nelson Mandela University researchers, leaders and collaborators, as we enable women’s importance as individuals and as a collective.

In collaboration with the Department for Research Support and Management, the CMR hosted an #EachForEqual Celebrating Women’s Month event via Zoom on 21 August 2020.

An impressive panel of speakers assembled for the day featured:

•          Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Internationalisation: Dr Thandi Mgwebi

•          Senior Lecturer at the Nelson Mandela University Business School: Dr Jessica Fraser

•          Ms Danai Tembo: Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences

•          Principal of the Nelson Mandela George Campus: Dr Kaluke Mawila

•          Interim Director at the Office of Research Development: Dr Denise Schael

•          Centre for Women and Gender Studies Researcher: Professor Phumla Gqola

•          Institute of Coastal and Marine Research Honorary Professor: Professor Lorien Pichegru

•          Dr Nikki James: Scientist from the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity

It was clear from the welcoming address, delivered by CMR Director Dr Berny Snow, that this was to be a space of open engagement. Thereafter, the speakers each delivered their presentations in an order that can be found in the programme that is downloadable on the sidebar, all centred around the theme.

Regarding participation and disparities, Dr Mgwebi had this to say, “Women in STEM fields publish less, are paid less (for their research compared to their male counterparts) and do not progress as far as men in their careers, particularly academia”. She then discussed how Nelson Mandela University is working towards changing that through focused interventions to promote progress and determining the extent of barriers to research activity.

Dr Jessica Fraser presented on gender neutrality in research to which she concluded that research is gender neutral, but it is more effective when it includes and benefits everybody, all spheres of society, and all disciplines in the academic environment. From the socio-justice and economic empowerment perspective, the results must be able to benefit everybody.

Described by Dr Snow as one the most passionate academic mentors she knows, Ms Danai Tembo spoke about what equality meant to her and ultimately concluded that to her, education in equality means freedom to make choices.

A presentation by Dr Kaluke Mawila on Leading with Heart, accompanied by a personal story seemed to have struck a chord with the audience and left them with these wise words: “Our own vulnerability needs to lead us to act”.

Dr Denise Schael spoke about leadership by women in science, mentioning that leadership is gender neutral but the question being what women bring to leadership roles. She listed women’s capacity to be accountable, communication-centred, collaborative, task-focused, unifiers and to diversify their teams to be what makes them great leaders.

Professor Phumla Gqola spoke on gender matters where she highlighted the ongoing gender-based violence and the lack of safe spaces for women.  

An informative presentation on ecological grief and the burdens placed on women by Professor Lorien Pichegru talked about ecological grief (also called ecological anxiety), defined as a form of depression caused by environmental destruction and climate change. In closure of her presentation, Professor Pichegru proposed that in what we do next, we must integrate mitigation, adaptation and joy.

Representing mothers in research and talking about challenges of striking and maintaining a balance between motherhood and research during the pandemic, was Dr Nikki James. Through the conversations she has had with colleagues, she highlighted how “mom guilt” exists with researchers who are mothers and how, as much as duties can be split between parents, women have had their work delayed during this pandemic.

After the presentations and talks, the floor was opened for engagement in the form of discussions.  The proceedings of the day were very educational and empowering with this year’s theme #EachForEqual appropriately honoured. We thank all involved for making this another successful and enjoyable event in celebration of Women’s Month in South Africa.

Click here to view the video recording of this event