NUL women break barriers

LAST month Lesotho joined the rest of the world in celebrating the African woman and her achievements.

We look back and rejoice that we had an opportunity to get together to honour women who have made a mark in economic, political, social, cultural, technological and other fields of endevour.

We were happy to retrace their struggle for social justice and their own empowerment.

We at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) have watched with appreciation as the celebratory mood unfolded among women in various sectors around the country.

We want to say bravo to all those who took part in these celebrations.

We want to congratulate our women heroines.

The year 2010 has been an important year for the struggle for the advancement of women.

One can look at the recent declaration by African heads of state of the African women’s decade (2010 — 2020).

We are also celebrating the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and its platform of action.

We are also marking the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

We are also marking the end of the decade of the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

This year has also been significant for women at NUL.

We had the pleasure to witness the appointment of two women academics to the post of professor.

We also saw the historic appointment of the first Mosotho woman professor.

Professor ‘Malillo Matšepo Machobane from the Department of African Languages bore the distinction of reaching the pinnacle of scholarship when she became the first local woman to be appointed full professor.

Together with Associate Professor ‘Manthoto Lephoto, who is also the director of the Institute of Extra Mural Studies, these two women have recently entered what have traditionally been male dominated ranks.

The two have therefore been our “celebrities of the year” at NUL.

Their appointment brings the number of Basotho women professors at NUL to five.

But we can never forget the pioneering role of the late Gwendolene Malahleha who became the first female associate professor back in 1993.

Soon thereafter we saw the promotion of Associate Professor ‘Makali Mokitimi and Associate Professor Franscinah ‘Matelu Moloi in 1997 and 2006 respectively.

We therefore have enough reasons to celebrate this year after we saw the number of women professors rising to five from the single professor that we had 17 years ago.

We want to honour this accomplishment by women.

The recent appointments indicate that it takes an average of between five and six years for women to experience such upward mobility and attain professorial rank at NUL.

This slow mobility is not peculiar to NUL.

Similar trends have been observed at other international institutions.

For Lesotho this is quite strange.

This is so because Lesotho has historically been characterised by a higher female to male ratio in the education sector.

Although NUL is an equal opportunity institution the quantitative situation that pertains shows the country is quite slow in appointing women to professional positions.

The country is lagging behind the 50 percent parity target set in the Sadc gender protocol and the AU protocol on women’s rights regarding the appointment of women into top decision-making positions.

A study carried out in the Netherlands concluded that in Dutch universities women experience blockages at all stages of their career.

The “glass ceiling” is thickest from assistant professor level (senior lecturer stage in the case of Lesotho) to associate professor.

Despite the fewer numbers of women professors the quality of women professors in Lesotho has been remarkable.

In these great women we see scholarship, power, leadership, vision, hard work, perseverance, confidence.

These attributes contributed to the appointment of Professor Machobane and Associate Professor Lephoto’s into the 11th University Council — the university’s highest decision-making body.

Together with Associate Professor Moloi they continue to lecture as well as provide a great deal of professional guidance and community service.

Since her retirement from NUL in 2003 Associate Professor Mokitimi continues to contribute immensely to the needs of society.

The success of these women shows that women do not just see through the glass ceiling but are breaking the glass ceiling.

In conclusion, I wish all women of Africa, in particular Basotho women, good lives that are peaceful, non-violent and free from poverty, inequalities, and HIV/Aids long after the celebration of Women’s Month.

Let us applaud Professors Mokitimi, Moloi, Machobane and Lephoto.

These women professors have set the pace.

We look forward to a future marked by greater achievements by women.

I also believe a NUL women’s movement is needed to empower and transform gender relations.

Such a movement can also play a positive role for young women at the onset of their careers.

NUL must also establish support structures for women and address the discriminatory attitudes against women.

It must ensure more support for female staff to develop their potential.

The recent appointments must bring about change.

They must influence the formulation of appropriate gender-related policies and programmes at NUL.

Matšeliso ‘M’a-Tlali Mapetla is a senior research fellow and co-ordinator of the Gender and Development Research Programme at the Institute of Southern African Studies at NUL.

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