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Women’s leadership and collaborative action can make a difference in the education sector, say activists

Women’s leadership and collaborative action can make a difference in the education sector, say activists
From left: Noluvuyo Gqadu, Zonke Ngidi and Nomcebo Dladla. An event hosted by the Get it Done Foundation at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg on 9 August focused on how women’s leadership and collective action can make a difference. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

Educators from several organisations gathered at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 9 August to share their stories and discuss how women’s leadership and collective action can make a difference.

‘If you want to progress as businesses or as organisations, it is very important for us to create a very strong community of women that can be advocates for each other in terms of the work that we are doing.”

These were the words of Noluvuyo Gqadu, the founder of CodeNgwana, at a gathering of teachers and educators on Wednesday, 9 August at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg.

The event, hosted by the Get it Done Foundation, sought to celebrate, empower and amplify the voices of women who have excelled in various capacities within the education sector, said Nomcebo Dladla from Khanyisa Inanda Seminary Community Projects.

“We are not in education to win or beat others, we are in education to build together,” said Gqadu. 

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Gqadu said that, typically, women’s empowerment talks were at a surface level and did not provide the space for tough conversations, such as bad leadership from women leaders. She did not want to give the stereotypical address that was presented at women’s empowerment events and titled her address “The good, the bad, and the ugly”. 

Gqadu said that although she left three institutions because of bad leadership by women, numerous doors had been opened for her by other women.

“Being human is the foundation of everything that one can do. Let’s practise responsible leadership by saying we are human and not allowing anyone else in the spaces that we occupy to break down because we feel things need to get done or we are in charge,” she said.

“The ugly for me is when we step into spaces and we fail to recognise that we are human at the end of the day.”

Gqadu concluded her address saying : “As a woman, you will always be pregnant with ideas, and with you being pregnant with ideas, it is your responsibility to trust those around you with those ideas.”

women education

I think spaces like these are important for young leaders to fill our cups because leading can be taxing and at times you feel so burnt out, so you need to be in spaces and rub shoulders with the older generation that have already walked the journey, said Neliswa Nyandeni, from Langa Education Assistance Programme Learning and Living Lab, who attended the event. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

But, she said, sometimes women struggled with trust and fear.

“We struggle with fears [that] she will steal my idea, that if I share this idea will she not go for the same funder that I am trying to chase.

“Often women tend to operate from the mindset of scarcity. What I want to share with you all today is that there is enough for all of us. We live in abundance, there is enough for each and every one of us in the pie.”

Gqadu said there should not be competition between women in the education space, but a personal and organisational desire to strive to achieve excellence.

“We need to start building a very strong community of sisterhood that we trust, where we can grow from an idea into strength. I want to challenge you to be practical and deliberate when it comes to lifting each other and building a community of a strong sisterhood that can strive from strength to strength and can build a very strong education system in our country.”

Communities of practice

Many attendees at the event voiced challenges facing their organisations including bureaucracy, lack of resources, lack of support from parents, communities at large and government, limited access to opportunities, no diversity in role models, and not enough employment opportunities for interns.

Although attendees were from different organisations and focused on different aspects of education, a recurring aspect that many voiced was their desire to give children the power to succeed.

Siphumezo Adam from d-lab noted that a community of practice would be beneficial as educators and teachers could come together and look at all of the problems facing their organisations, and use their skills to address these collectively.

Educators could share knowledge with each other and provide each other with platforms to discuss how best to meet learners’ needs to help improve education outcomes.

“In the education space, we are trying to envision how we connect with other women without thinking, ‘So-and-so is going to undermine me’ or ‘So-and-so won’t think I am capable’, and how do we provide support and join those bridges together amongst different organisations mainly led by woman,” Adam said.

“If we are going to speak about breaking out of bondage and we are trying to fight toward emancipating women, we first need to do that for ourselves. So, this was about how do we set women free from the narrative that we can’t work together or we are only good for our biological functions,” she said. DM


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