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Empowering Women for Success in Higher Education


Site Map of Module

Introduction and General Objectives
Unit 1: Gender Issues in Higher Education
Unit 2: Teaching and Learning Strategies that Promote Gender Equality

Reflect on the following as you work through this Module

  1. The Tokyo Conference also requests an increase in participation rates in higher education and asks that appropriate strategies be adopted for increasing the participation of disadvantaged groups, including women, who must be encouraged to undertake higher degrees and enter academic and graduate employment. Similar efforts are also needed to encourage the participation of ethnic minorities.
  2. The Dakar Conference, in addition to a strong recommendation concerning the participation of women ‘in all possible areas’ recommends ‘that measures be taken to double the number of women (students, teachers and decision-makers) in higher education, within the next ten years. Particular attention should be paid to orienting women towards scientific and technological disciplines’.
  3. The Beirut Conference recommended that ‘Arab Governments must expand and diversify opportunities for every citizen to upgrade his or her qualifications’. For this, ‘appropriated strategies should be elaborated’ in particular ‘for those already involved in the world of work’ or for those who drop-out of the education system, ‘through flexible programmes and schedules, allowing for part-time study and diversified short-qualifying or diploma-granting programmes’.

Article 3: Equity of Access

  • a. In keeping with Article 26.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, admission to higher education should be based on the merit, capacity, efforts, perseverance and devotion, showed by those seeking access to it, and can take place in lifelong scheme, at any time, with due recognition of previously acquired skills. As a consequence, no discrimination can be accepted in granting access to higher education on grounds of race, gender, language or religion, or economic, cultural or social distinctions, or physical disabilities.

    b. Equity of access to higher education should begin with the reinforcement and, if need be, the reordering of its links with all other levels of education, particularly with secondary education. Higher education institutions must be viewed as, and must also work within themselves to be a part of and encourage, a seamless system starting with early childhood and primary education and continuing through life. Higher education institutions must work in active partnership with parents, schools, students, socio-economic groups and communities. Secondary education should not only prepare qualified candidates for access to higher education by developing the capacity to learn on a broad basis but also open the way to active life by providing training on a wide range of jobs. However, access to higher education should remain open to those successfully completing secondary school, or its equivalent, or presenting entry qualifications, as far as possible, at any age and without any discrimination.

    c. As a consequence, the rapid and wide-reaching demand for higher education requires, where appropriate, all policies concerning access to higher education to give priority in the future to the approach based on the merit of the individual, as defined in Article 3 (a) above.

    d. Access to higher education for members of some special target groups, such as indigenous peoples, cultural and linguistic minorities, disadvantaged groups, peoples living under occupation and those who suffer from disabilities, must be actively facilitated, since these groups as collectivities and as individuals may have both experience and talent that can be of great value for the developing of societies and nations. Special material help and educational solutions can help overcome the obstacles that these groups face, both in accessing and in continuing higher education.

    Article 4. Enhancing participation and promoting the role of women.

    a. Although significant progress has been achieved to enhance the access of women to higher education, various socio-economic, cultural and political obstacles continue in many places in the world to impede their full access and effective integration. To overcome them remains an urgent priority in the renewal process for ensuring an equitable and non-discriminatory system of higher education based on the principle of merit.

    b. Further efforts are required to eliminate all gender stereotyping in higher education, to consider gender aspects in different disciplines and to consolidate women's participation at all levels and in all disciplines, in which they are under-represented and, in particular, to enhance their active involvement in decision-making.

    c. Gender studies (women's studies) should be promoted as a field of knowledge, strategic for the transformation of higher education and society.

    d. Efforts should be made to eliminate political and social barriers whereby women are under-represented and in particular to enhance their active involvement at policy and decision-making levels within higher education and society.


    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2


    Introduction and General Objectives

    Ensuring gender equity in education (as well as in other endeavours) has been the lodestone guiding the work of feminist activists. The last fifteen years has witnessed an increasing tempo in the voice and action of the activists and wider acceptance of the message. "In most parts of Africa, the birth of a boy puts broader smiles on the faces of parents and relations than that of a girl. Indeed, raising a girl is likened to watering the plant in a neighbour’s garden". This was the remark of Djenaba Doumbia of the University of Cocody as prop for the socialisation thesis to explain gender inequalities in education in Africa.

    A lively debate has been on-going on the issue of closing the gender gap in education, a debate which has now found its way to the higher education sub-sector. In contributing to this debate at UNESCO-BREDA Workshops on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Fay Chung and Sylvie Kodjo at the Abidjan Workshop, Carlos Machili at the Maputo Workshop and Agnes Njabili in Johannesburg demanded a more thorough analysis of the subject – proper understanding of the concept of gender, knowledge of the indicators which inhibit and promote the participation and achievement of girls and women in higher education and what short-term and long-term strategies can be put in place especially by teachers in higher education in Africa to "right the imbalance". It is to these issues and more that we turn in this module

    After completing this Module, you should be able to:


    At the end of this Unit, you should be able to:

    The Concept of Gender

    Gender has become a very important word in discussions on development. As education is a major part of the subject of development, it is important that all practitioners in the field of education become familiar with the meaning of the word "gender". Perhaps we should start with what gender is not. Gender is not synonymous with women. Gender is not synonymous with sex either, although it can be best understood when contrasted with sex. Sex refers to the biologically determined characteristics or functions of males or females. For females these include possession of ovaries, fully developed breasts, pregnancy and giving birth and breastfeeding etc. For males, these include possession of beard, penis. pregnating of females etc. As noted by Njabili (1999),

  • sex is a biological phenomenon that an individual acquires immediately after fertilization (as X and Y chromosomes pair up, i.e. before birth.) The result of this is observable female/male characteristics that cannot be changed. Gender is a socially constructed phenomenon that is brought about as society ascribes different roles and duties, behaviours, and mannerism to the two sexes. Unlike sex, it is a perceptual feature and, therefore, subject to change as it affects the way in which people act/behave towards each other.
  • The biology of each sex determines the sex characteristics and functions of these characters. Gender on the other hand refers to those characteristics and functions society ascribes or assigns to males or females. For instance, society expects males to be aggressive, independent, rational, assertive but not so for females. They are instead expected to be gentle, submissive, dependent, passive, emotional etc. As a child grows, s/he is socialised to fit into those societal expectations. That is to say the behaviours mentioned above are learned and internalised giving the erroneous impression that they are biologically determined. Davies (1999) states as follows:

  • Gender is a social construct, which is culturally determined. It is based on the beliefs and traditions of a given society and refers to the roles; behaviours and qualities ascribed to each sex. It is how we define what it means to be male or female. Yet, it is these man made distinctions that determine the status of the sexes: male superior and female inferior.
  • Gender is known to permeate every human endeavour resulting into categorisation of roles, activities, responsibilities, careers as suitable for females or for males. Indeed it has led to what is described as gender stereotyping. Gender stereotyping is defined as a collection of commonly held beliefs or opinions about behaviours and activities considered by society as appropriate for males and for females. Njabili (1999) notes that there are four causes of gender stereotyping, namely, socio-cultural; economic; education and training; and media. Socio-cultural roots emanate from the common-sense belief that the girl’s place is in the kitchen (with her mother), while the boy should work in the field (with the father). Economic root causes suggest that men be providers in the family. Thus, the migrant labour system in some countries, for example, Lesotho, Botswana, and Namibia, there are more women in the countries because men have gone to work in the mines in South Africa. This tends to negatively impact on the society.

    Certain careers such as engineering are said to be unsuitable for women while Catering or Secretarial studies are deemed unsuitable for men. As a matter of fact, gender is a strong determinant of access to formal education in favour of males. The gap in enrolment and achievement at all levels of education is largely due to gender role expectations and gender stereotyping. Thus any attempt to promote women's access to education must recognise the influence of gender on the teaching and learning as well as policies.



    Send your answers for review by the Guide's Experts Team
    Guide's Team of Experts


    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2

    Gender Inequalities in Higher Education

    There are numerous manifestations of gender inequalities in higher education in favour of males.

    1.Gender gap in enrolment: Enrolment statistics in most higher institutions in Africa show that men clearly outnumber women with women averaging about 38% of overall enrolment (Makhubu, 1997).

    For example, for the years 1980,1988,1992 the total enrolment of students in Sub-Saharan Africa per ‘000 was 528, 718 and 1510 respectively. The percentage of women was 22%, 25%and 32%. For the same period in America ,the figures were, 15957, 21732 and 24633 and 49%, 51% and 52% respectively. There are instances, however, where female students are not necessarily disadvantaged. In Namibia, for instance, there is a high level of female enrolment at all educational levels.

    2.Gender gap in faculty and administrative staff positions

    Published statistics of staff in higher institutions in Africa as reported by Mbanefo (1996) show under-representation of women. Among female staff, only a small proportion are Professors. Vice Chancellors, Rectors, Provosts or principal officers of institutions of higher learning are rarely women even in institutions that have large female student population. Deans of Faculties and Heads of Academic and even non-academic departments are predominantly males.

    3.Near absence of women in certain disciplines: Engineering, agriculture, physics, physical education, architecture, surveying, estate management and such other disciplines that carry masculine label or image record little or no presence of female students or teachers.

    4.Gender gap in achievement: In many disciplines especially in science and technology based courses, males perform better than females. The number of males who earn first class degrees is greater than that of females (see Mlama, 1997).

    Factors Associated with Gender Inequalities

    A lot of research has been carried out in many countries of the world on the issue of equal opportunity for women and men especially in education. Much of the literature is on the factors that contribute to gender inequalities. It is very important that we should be familiar with the factors and how they operate to give rise to the noted inequalities. These factors include:

    Again placing problems in social context or emphasising its relevance has been found to enhance the achievement and interest of females while males tend to be comfortable with abstractions. In addition, more males than females volunteer to answer questions in class which is a manifestation of the psycho-social characteristics of each sex.

    These are only a few of the several factors that have been found to be influencing women's entry profile, achievements, exit profile and general access to education at all levels.

    It is important to point out that most of these factors derive from socio-cultural interpretation of gender. The education process, that is teaching and learning can be effectively used to promote women's access and performance in education at all levels. A number of strategies have been found to be effective in enhancing women's participation in education including higher education.

    How deep-rooted is the gender problem in education?

    Would all female universities alleviate the problem?

    Would affirmative action in terms of entry requirements be preferable?

    Do a gender desegregated analysis of:

    Do you think that there is discrimination against women in terms of admission and appointment


    The Right to Higher Education and Equal Opportunity Particularly for Women: The Major Challenge of Our Time

    Lydia P. MAKHUBU


    Several observations may be made from the preceding presentation. Suggestions for promoting women’s access to higher education are also made in the belief that women’s greater involvement in higher education is a vital ingredient in enhancing the contribution of universities to Africa’s advancement, particularly in an age which demands a strong knowledge base, commitment and a daring spirit to craft strategies that target Africa'’ problems in a specifically unique way. The observations are as follows:

    Excerpted from:

    Makhubu, L.P. (1998). The right to higher education and equal opportunity particularly for women: The challenge of our time. In J. Shabani (Ed.). Higher Education in Africa: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects. Dakar: UNESCO BREDA.



    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2

    Increasing Access and Equity in Higher Education: Gender Issues

    Penina M. MLAMA

    For example, in order to increase access to higher education the Universities of Makerere in Uganda and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania adopted affirmative action. At the university of Dar-es-Salaam, female candidates are admitted at up to 1.5 points lower than male candidates but not lower than the University entry points. As a result the enrollment percentage rose from 17% in 1995/96 to 29% IN 1996/97. Makerere’s girls enrollment percentage is now about 30% after several years of similar admission approach.

    Gender studies have also been introduced in such forms as the Women Studies Centre at Makerere University or the Gender Studies Institute at the Cape Town University in South Africa. In other cases specific courses on gender have been introduced or a gender perspective adopted in the mainstream curricula. At the University of Dar-es-Salaam for example gender studies courses have been introduced in the Institute of Development Studies and Sociology while a gender perspective has been adopted from some courses in the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Law and Education, and the college of Lands and Architectural studies. The Institute of Finance Management and the Sokoine University of Agriculture also have a few courses with a gender perspective (UDSM: 1996). Such studies have assisted the articulation of gender issues and the raising of awareness on gender for both staff and students.

    To increase access and encourage excellent performance, scholarships awards and prizes have been introduced through various schemes. The Directorate of post graduate studies of University of Dar-es-Salaam offers graduate scholarships for female candidates which has benefited over fifty women in the last four years. Similarly the Gender Management Committee of the same University has sponsored female academic staff for Ph.D. training.

    Activists groups on higher education institution campuses have played an active role to keep gender on the academic and social agenda. They have organised seminars, workshops, support groups to sensitise the communities and often to combat gender related problems like sexual harassment. The University of Dar-es-Salaam has quite a number of such groups including the Institute of Development Studies Women Studies Group (IDSWSG), Women Research and Documentation project (WRDP), Women in Education (WED), Tanzania Women in Science and Technology (TAWOSTE) and The Gender Management Committee (GMC). In 1994 the University of Dar-es-Salaam formally established The Gender Dimension Task Force to operationalise the gender balance articulated in its Corporate Strategic Plan (1994).

    The Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) both of which involve University Vice Chancellors, have adopted strategies and recommendations for addressing gender issues in African Universities. The AAU has even adopted a system of gender studies chairs.

    The list of pro gender-balance activities may not be exhausted here. The point for noting is the fact that more attention is now directed at addressing gender issues in higher education than twenty years ago. Credit goes to local, regional and international activists and pressure groups as well as the realisation that higher education must not miss the gender equity boat if it has to effectively fulfil its mission. We realise however, that at times pressure had to come from donors of higher education who put gender as a string to funding. It is also no secret that a lot of the research on gender was done because that is where the donor funds were.

    Excerpted from:

    Mlama, P.M. (1998). Increasing access and equity in higher education: Gender issues. In J. Shabani (Ed.). Higher Education in Africa: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects. Dakar: UNESCO BREDA.

    Negative Experiences of Females in Higher Education

    Have informal discussions with three female students (one from the sciences) about their experiences in their first year in your institution. Ask them to draw on the experiences of other female students. Relate their comments to the experience of male learners during the same period. Make notes and suggest some measures that might improve retention rates and achievement patterns of females. You will find this useful as we discuss learner needs in the next section. It will also guide you in determining the contributions you can make to the process of empowering women for higher education a little later in this unit. You may compare your findings with what follows or you may use them as guidelines for the discussion with the learners.

    The following are some of the negative experiences of women in higher education.

    1.Sexual harassment - instances of these are quite common in educational institutions the world over, Africa not being an exception. Male learners often harass women who refuse them sexual favours by putting up damaging cartoons about them. They also have the tendency to diminish female achievement by linking it with payment to male lecturers for sexual favours. But the most common form of this is when lecturers attempt to trade good grades for sex. Learners who refuse are penalised in the teaching /learning situation. Sometimes these women are so terrified that they transfer to other disciplines. Your informants might say that female learners are also guilty of sexual harassment, peddling sex for grades. Clearly, only weak and desperate learners would be involved in such activities. However despicable it may appear, sadly, it does indicate that such learners conform to society’s view of women as sex objects.

    2. Gender stereotyping - which determined the subjects studied in school, continue to dog them, this time in the form of gender streaming. They find themselves down there among the women in the so-called soft options.

    3. Problems in the classroom - further lowering of self esteem and erosion of self confidence because of the sheer "maleness" of the environment; the superior attitude of lecturers, (some of whom take pleasure in making work seem much more difficult than it really is) and their own deficiencies resulting from poor preparation for higher learning. Because they are afraid of exposing their ignorance they miss classes. When they do attend they make themselves invisible by refusing to participate and not submitting assignments.

    4. Isolation and struggle for acceptance - female learners in male dominated subject areas are sometimes lonely in the learning environment because of isolation from other women with whom they could exchange ideas or discuss difficulties without feeling threatened.


    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2



    At the end of this Unit, should be able to:


    The teaching and learning strategies that can promote women's participation in higher education are based primarily on the factors known to create gender gap in education. These can be grouped into Curriculum related; instructional process; administrative.

    Curriculum-related strategies: The curricula in higher educational institutions must be reviewed with a view to removing all forms of gender bias in content. Select content and learning experiences that depict the contributions of women in human endeavours. For instance, curriculum in History or Political Science needs to include and make prominent the contributions of women in nation building or peace making between nations just as those of men. What comes straight to mind is the woman who has helped to bring stability in the governance of Liberia after several years of civil strife. Similar to this is the case of the women in South Africa who laid down their lives fighting to eradicate apartheid. The inclusion of women in historical records generates values and assumptions which improve the general image of women.

    In selecting concrete examples to illustrate concepts, these should be drawn from both male as well as female experiences. For instance, friction can be illustrated using two grinding stones or moving bicycle tyre on the ground. In order to make curriculum female-friendly, the content must be perceived to be relevant to life. For instance, highlighting the relevance and application of aspects of trigonometry such as tangents, sines and cosines in building and in construction can go a long way in attracting women to the subject of mathematics.

    Review all curriculum materials used in higher education such as texts, audio-visual aids to eliminate gender biases. For instance, pictures and illustration in textbooks should be drawn to represent women and men as active participants in the whole process of education. Women must be shown as active science students not passively watching the males as they perform experiments and lead discussions.

    Subjects or disciplines should not be gender stereotyped. Rather subjects should be portrayed as being masculine or feminine. What constitutes real Science and technology for example needs to be re-defined to include those activities performed by women which also utilise the scientific method of problem solving. It is a fact that Home Science is under rated not because it is any easier than other science courses but simply because it deals with what is typed female domain.

    Instruction-related strategies: It is a fact that a good proportion of females who gain admission into higher educational institutions come in with varying degrees of deficiency in experience (cognitive and affective) and self confidence. To be effective, a lecturer should through diagnostic tests determining the entry behaviour of students with special reference to female students. The information so gathered should form the basis for organising new learning experiences in the form of lectures and practical work. As often as possible special compensatory learning activities should be provided by teachers especially in science and mathematics based courses. These could be in form of remedial instruction, or special projects and assignments. When the females have acquired the requisite knowledge and practical skills in the subject matter their self concept and self confidence improve significantly.

    Individual lecturers must examine their classroom behaviours with a view to eliminating all forms of expressed and unexpressed expatiation, praise, criticism, reward, interaction level, language and communication favouring males. The secret lies in being constantly aware that though female and males may be in the same lecture room or laboratory, social pressures and a hidden curriculum may be creating a different learning environment for males and females. Specifically, teachers avoid creating a psycho-social learning environment that is threatening to females such as obtains when grouping is based on sex. Instead effort should make learning environment warm and inviting to all including females through setting equal expectations for females and for males in their classes. Teachers should ensure that they provide positive feedback that convey overt and covert messages to women that they too are capable. In laboratories and workshops teachers should interact with the males and females paying as much attention to females as to males irrespective of the tendency for males to be pushy and attention seeking.

    Learning experiences should be organised utilising a variety of teaching approaches such that women can learn through any of the teaching approaches that appeal to them. For instance, lecturers must reduce the use of lecture method which promotes competition and employ also the cooperative learning approach which tends to fit the personality characteristics of women. Harvard University Teaching Fellows Guide provides useful tips that encourage female participation when using the Discussion method of instruction. These include: calling on men and women equally even though men may want to monopolise the discussion; calling on women directly rather than wait for them to volunteer to participate, avoiding addressing the class as if there is no female or that the females are of no consequence; speaking directly to males and females calling each person by name; not allowing women to be interrupted by peers; avoid patronising female students by making "helpful" comments that imply female incompetence; avoiding the use of examples and anecdotes that reinforce negative stereotypes of women.

    Topics for seminars, field trips and experiments conducted could be made relevant to women without tampering with the essentials. Stereotypical and sexist presentations of women in curriculum materials could be challenged and learners alerted to the danger of uncritical acceptance of such materials. In this way, learners who may have been intimidated by the course description may well become highly motivated to do well. Below are some examples of what is possible. You may wish to add to the list.

    Economics: Is it not possible to teach principles and concepts, for example, macro and micro economics, IMF conditionalities, structural adjustment and debt relief with reference to their relevance to the lives of women?

    History/Political Science" Let’s take a course on ‘Independence struggles in Africa 1950-1965.’ We can be sure that men will feature prominently in the syllabus and women’s contribution would be virtually invisible. Could it be true that only men make decisions and actions, which change our lives in one way or another? We can correct this erroneous view by including topics on women’s contributions for seminars and project work and encouraging learners to see that historical records which exclude women are distorted and incomplete.

    Linguistics: Surely it must be possible to illustrate grammatical structures using sentences that do not define women by their appearance or as objects of the male gaze or that are not sexually suggestive, for example, "John’s turned on by Mary in tight trousers." Some recent studies have shown that such sentences are consistently used in Linguistics texts. You can use them in your teaching but at the same time sensitize learners to the stereotypical images or, better still you can simply replace them.

    Sciences: Science permeates all aspects of life on this planet, yet it is considered a male preserve into which females venture with trepidation. We need to be serious about educating women in the sciences because this knowledge is germane to the solution of some of our pressing problems. Society does not encourage women to be curious and explorative so they are disadvantaged when they study the sciences along with males. Science lecturers must bring the curriculum to life so that women would appreciate its relevance and be motivated to do rather than learn second hand about the role of science in their lives. They must see science in use. Principles and laws, which might seem very abstract, could be understood if they were related to the female experience. For example, experiments in physics, chemistry, marine biology could be designed to reflect women’s interest in order to avoid gender bias and its negative effect on women’s learning. This is one area where the lecturer’s ingenuity could be vital. Lecturers could also point up the links between the sciences and other subjects in the curriculum, where these exist. The following anecdote is instructive in this connection:

  • A female learner gained admission into the Home Economics programme in a particular college. She was very certain of success.’’After all wasn’t Home Economics all about cooking and sewing, which were her best subjects?"What she did not know was that, physics, chemistry, biology and maths were prerequisites for the programme. Our learner was dropped from the programme before she ‘d had a chance to do any cooking or sewing! Nobody had told her at school that Home Economics was science based. What is worse, the lecturers at college missed the opportunity of relating the subjects to the learner’s interest. A few years later she obtained a Msc. from the United States and she now teaches home Economics at the college.
  • Teachers in higher education should learn to evaluate their gender sensitivity in pedagogy through having colleagues observe and offer comments or through self evaluation of video-recorded teachers' classroom interaction. Such evaluation will serve as a useful feedback in lecturers' attempt to encourage greater participation of females in higher education.


    The Social Context of Teaching and Learning and Enhancement of Female Participation

    Amy Davies

    Lecturer behaviours that erode female learners’ self esteem include being overtly partial to male learners by praising their efforts; confirming high expectations by verbal and non verbal means; offering help with their formulations; allowing space for them to organise their thoughts as they respond to questions;giving the impression that you think they are capable by directing most of your questions at them and listening attentively only to their views;making eye contact with them;using illustrations mainly from their experience;showing concern when they appear to have learning difficulties; and constant use of the generic masculine pronoun, even where it would be appropriate to use feminine pronouns.

    The above would exclude women from the teaching/ learning event and thus demotivate them as well as lower their self esteem. There are yet other anti female acts which lower self esteem by devaluing women and by reinforcing the judgmental aspect of stereotyping which they would have already internalised These would include destructive criticism; open rebuke;show of impatience at request for explanations; questions asked to catch them out ,mock or belittle them-this could be conveyed through sarcarsm,for example,"I’m sure Musu would like to react to that comment,"when the lecturer is fully aware that Musu has no thoughts on the subject;make them the butt of jests and so offend and embarrass them. A sentence from a Linguistics text, which is obviously intended to be funny, comes to mind: ‘Don’t touch my projectile!’ With it’s sexual undertone, such a sentence would amuse the male learners, but would definitely embarrass female learners; cracking risque jokes which subtly portray women as sex objects and generally show them in a poor light; this might cause male learners to smirk or giggle in a conspiratorial manner and perhaps enliven an otherwise boring class. But for the women it would be in bad taste, especially if there are only a handful of them in the class.

    Further examples of such behaviours are:

    Using body language to transmit negative messages, for example, rolling the eyes heaven wards, contorting the face, shrugging, throwing up the arms, sucking in of the breath, pursing of the lips and smiling wryly-all intended to convey feelings of exasperation and low perception of women’s capabilities; assuming a superior attitude and using bombastic language (which even the favoured males have difficulty understanding) to impress them; and closely related to this is the exercise of power and control by stressing that the subject is difficult and by giving strong indications that s/he has the power to make or break them.This last is not limited to interactions with women but it is women who are usually more vulnerable and who are more likely to cower.

    Negative behaviours outside the normal classroom:

    Touching is not common but it does occur on field trips and in face to face or one to one encounters. A female learner who requests private help from a male lecturer might be forced to endure touching which reduces a lecturer/learner relationship to a male /female one, thus demeaning the female.

    Workshops, seminars, labs and field trips

    These are ideal situations for promoting learning but if not properly handled they could be threatening for females. Lecturers should not only avoid gender bias, in favour of males but they should also actively help female learners avail themselves of the kind of learning offered. This they can achieve by not giving women traditional female roles, like recorder, for example; by setting up mixed ability groups comprising male and female, so that the weaker females can learn from the better learners; and by gradually giving them greater responsibility to enable them function as chairperson, interrogator, presenter, critic or designer of experiment so that they are no longer just one of the crowd.

    You might think that the negative behaviours described above could not occur in your college, but they could and do occur sometimes. Normally they are apparent only to the gender sensitive ear or eye. Sometimes such behaviours are inadvertent but because of their potentially damaging effect on the learning process, we should be vigilant and avoid them at all cost.

    Excepts from:

    Davies A. (1999). Empowering women for success in Higher Education. Contribution to UNESCO Draft Guide to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, BREDA, Dakar.


    Administrative Strategies: Here the focus is on administrative policies that can promote gender equalities in access and participation. First, there must exist clearly defined affirmative action in admission policies in order to increase the proportion of women in higher education. A 30% quota may be set aside to give more women opportunity to obtain higher education. This argument is based on the fact that the social factors that operate negatively affect their performance in selection/admission examinations resulting in lower scores than males. The lower scores may not be an objective measure of their intellectual capability.

    In the same way, special effort should be made to increase the number of women occupying high positions in higher education administration. For instance, by deliberately appointing a woman as the Chief Executive of Universities' commission, or Chancellor or Vice Chancellor, or Registrar or Bursar, one is subtly saying women are not inferior to men in education matters. Affirmative action is required to increase the visibility of females in administration of higher education.

    Each higher education institution must have a strong Career and Guidance Counselling outfit that is gender sensitive to take care of the problems of girls who often find college environment harsh and even threatening especially in struggling for scarce resources such as water and in managing sexual harassment. Institutions should develop a definite policy on sexual harassment as a means of restoring the confidence women and their parents have in administration of higher education in terms of protection and security of women and girls.

    Universities and Colleges should organise training and seminars on confidence building for women so that they can become assertive and maintain their human rights.

    A mentorship programme can be set up whereby experienced and professional women and even men can be linked up with young women in higher education for purposes of mentoring these students and helping them surmount any obstacles to the realisation of their academic dreams.

    Periodically conduct gender analysis of administrative and academic activities in institutions of higher learning as a basis for initiating changes in teaching and learning process as well as administrative policies which are meant to enhance the status of women in higher education.

    Women Studies should become a feature in institutions of higher learning to create an interdisciplinary, academic forum for research, teaching and discussion on gender issues. A curriculum guide for Universities' Women Studies in Nigeria for instance is currently being developed by the Network for Gender and Women's Studies in Nigeria. The establishment of Women's/Gender Studies will definitely promote awareness of gender in higher education.

    Organise gender sensitive seminars for all academic staff and administrative staff in higher education to make them aware of the influence of gender on equality of access and achievement and bring about a change of attitude to assist women participate fully in higher education.

    Still More Strategies

    In addition, for mature women in particular:

    Improving Lecturers Attitudes and Teaching Skills

    The module concludes with this activity for good reason. The relationship between teacher and learner in the learning situation has a powerful influence on the nature of the learning that occurs or indeed on whether or not any meaningful learning takes place at all! The activities below are intended to make you see to what extent your teaching strategies and your classroom interactions in general are suitable for teaching our female learners in male dominated classroom. Before you begin, read the following, which summarises a number of the points, made above. It will be useful as a check list as you analyse your classroom interactions for gender bias as well as for good teaching/learning strategies:

    INDIVIDUAL lecturers must examine their classroom behaviours with a view to eliminating all forms of expressed and unexpressed expatiations, praise, criticism, reward, interaction level, language and communication favouring males. The secret lies in being constantly aware that though females and males may be in the same lecture room or laboratory,social pressures and a hidden curriculum may be creating a different learning environment for males and females.

    Specifically, teachers should avoid creating a psychosocial learning environment that is threatening to females such as obtains when grouping is based on sex. Instead efforts should be made to make the learning environment warm and inviting to all by setting equal expectations for both sexes. Teachers must ensure that they provide positive feedback that conveys overt and covert messages to women that they too are capable. In laboratories and workshops lecturers should interact with males and females paying as much attention to females as to males irrespective of the tendency for males to be pushy and attention seeking.

    Request help from the faculty of education or its equivalent or the Pedagogy Guidance Centre on how to conduct Action Research to correct flaws in your teaching strategies; and try out new strategies to improve your performance. You might start with your marking and attitude to written work. You can ask others to join you so that you can share your findings. This could be a very humbling but extremely useful experience!


    In conclusion, when lecturers become gender sensitive and readily apply some of the strategies described above, the chances of increasing the proportion of women who participate in higher education is bound to increase.



    In this module we:



    For further Reading

    From J.Shabani (ed)Higher Education in Africa:Achievements,Challenges and Prospects.Dakar:UNESCO BREDA

    Mlama,P.M.(1998) Gender Issues in Higher Education:The Challenge of our Time, pp473-474

    Makhubu, L.P(1998).The Right To Higher Education and Equal Opportunity Particularly for Women,pp497-501

    Subbarao, K. et al.Women in Higher Education:Progress,Constraints and Promising Initiatives,World bank discussion papers 244,1994

    UNESCO(1995)The Education Of Girls and Women:Towards a Global framework for Action,UNESCO,Paris

    United Nations(1995) Beijing Platform for Action-Report of the 4th UNConferenceonWomen,Beijing, New York.

    Masanja,V.andKatunzi, N.(1990)Strategies for attracting more female students in Science

    Disciplines,in proceedings of Tanzanian Women in Science and Technology Workshop,Da-res-Salaam

    M.Kearney and A.H.Ronnung (eds),Women and the University Curriculum:Towards Equality, Democracy and Peace,Jessica Kingsley Publishers,1996.

    UNESCO 1995 Education of Women and Girls in,Report On The State Of Education In Africa: Education Strategies For the 1990,s:Orientations and Achievements,pp73-84,UNESCO BREDA DAKAR


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