History

The African Gender Institute (AGI) was established at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1996.

The origins of the AGI stem from within the Equal Opportunities Research Project (EORP) established at UCT in 1992.  This project, headed by Dr Mamphela examined issues facing UCT’s commitment to  institutional transformation.     A significant part of the work of the EORP contributed to a burgeoning international body of evidence that women face hostility and marginalisation in higher education institutions.

As a result of these continuing findings, Dr Ramphele, in 1993, proposed the establishment of a gender institute that would contribute to challenging the imbalances resulting from persistent gender discrimination and inequality, and exacerbated by racism in higher education institutions in Africa.  

Consultancies were carried out in West, East and Southern Africa to gather information on the constraints facing women in both tertiary institutions and government structures across the continent.  In addition the consultancies broached the ways in which ideas about the mission and scope of the proposed Gender Institute could be developed.  The ensuing reports gave rise to extensive discussions and further consultations, culminating in a set of ideas about the shape and form that such an institute might take.

The newly formed AGI was given the mandate to provide  a safe space where women in the academy could develop their intellectual and leadership capacities; where African women writers, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners would be given new opportunities; where Africa-centric applied knowledges of gender, transformation, and democratic practice could be developed and propagated.
In 1996 the AGI started with four main programmes:
    •    The Associates Programme:  hosted African women writers from across the continent for 3 months and provided them with access to resources to significantly further their work.
    •    The Sexual Harassment Network Programme - developed links between people in higher education institutions within the SADC who were committed to challenging sexual harassment in all its forms.
    •    The Organisational Transformation Project –offered training, networking, and research opportunities to those engaged in the integration of progressive gender policies and practices into government and NGOs.
    •    The Communication, Linkages and Information Project –developed both paper-based and electronic resources for the work of African gender activists and feminists.
 
In 1999 the African Gender Institute was formally constituted as an organisational unit within the University of Cape Town and was granted a Chair in Gender Studies.

Today the AGI is a department within the School of African & Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics in the Faculty of Humanities and is responsible for delivering a full suite of undergraduate and graduate degree programmes in gender and women’s studies.  In addition the AGI is committed to practice-based research and designs and implements projects which strengthen research, networking, capacity-building and knowledge-creation throughout (Anglophone) Africa.  These projects have been focused through many different themes, for example, militarism and conflict; institutional culture; land and livelihood, sexual rights; policy on gender-based violence.
 

People

If I were to trace the watershed moments in my life that re-affirmed and grew my journey with feminism I would probably say there have been three main ones. The first has to be an early journey after high school in rural Kenya with an organisation my mother founded and run.  You see my mother believed that children should not be idle, so as I waited to join university I had to “earn my keep”. KEFEADO was then one of the few organisations in Western Kenya doing any form of “gender and development” work. Due to my mother’s history as an educator most of the early projects focused on formal education institutions, specifically primary and high schools. I used to accompany my mother when she travelled with her colleagues to “implement” these projects.

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My early heroes included Amina of Zazzau, the socialist-feminist activists Gambo Sawaba and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and my grandmothers. During the 1960’s and 1970’s I had the benefit of a sound solid education in Nigeria’s post-independence primary and secondary schools, followed by universities Scotland and London. As a young adult I took myself on a series of exploratory journeys overland across Africa, Europe and into Asia, and later to North America and the Caribbean, witnessing the upheavals in Afghanistan and Iran in the early 1980’s, and the Grenadian revolution. I read a lot on the side of the formal scientific training I received in universities, allowing my ideas to be shaped  by my readings of Marx, Althusser, Gramsci, Sartre and de Beauvoir, before moving on to Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, CLR James, Nkrumah and other African nationalists, and later  finding much of value in Edward Said and Foucault’s early works.

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My travel within and along gender studies has begun with personal experience. I may not be exact in terms of where it all started and when but as I look back I realize as a young person and from an early age my upbringing and my placement as a female in a male dominated family, community, society and state led me to be critical about relationships between men and women. Against this climate was the personal relationship I had with my father who supported me to be different in many ways from the accepted stereotypic models of good women.

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Elinor Sisulu is a writer, human rights activist and political analyst. She was born in Harare, Zimbabwe in March 1958 and grew up mostly in Bulawayo.

She combines training in history, English literature, development studies and feminist theory. She completed her first two degrees at the University of Zimbabwe and studied at the United Nations Institute for Economic Planning and Development (IDEP) in Dakar, Senegal. From 1984-85 she studied for a MA in Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies at the Hague. During her stint in Holland she met her future husband, ANC activist Max Sisulu, who was at the recipient of the Govan Mbeki fellowship at the University of Amsterdam.

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Thanks to my parents I was nurtured into activism from a tender age just watching them speak and act out against social injustice in simple, everyday situations. They would persist even when it meant standing alone. I developed a consciousness about “justice”, even when the issues were ones I did not necessarily agree with or support. I went to am all-girls secondary school and there two of my teachers stand out as encouraging independent thinking – Ms Owen, my form three English teacher, was a diminutive young woman who enjoyed my compositions and indicated it was alright to write about anything. She was also young, pretty, single and independent.

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Students

Mary is the Director of the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape. She holds an MPhil in Southern African Political Studies and is currently pursuing her doctorate in Women and Gender Studies. Her interest includes women's and sexual rights and she has written and spoken on these subjects on different platforms.

Area of involvement:
Gender Studies

Yolandé Botha is a new Masters student in the Gender Studies Department. She will be commencing her research this year on South African infant feeding policy and the implications that this has for women’s lives with a particular focus on recent policy changes with regards to breastfeeding.

Area of involvement:
Gender Studies

Jan is an Honours student and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow (MMUF). Her Honours research focuses on masculinities, at the intersection of gender and race. She is a research intern at NICRO (National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders), where she is conducting fieldwork for her Honours thesis. 

Area of involvement:
Gender Studies

Kirsty van Schalkwyk graduated in 2013 from the University of Cape Town (UCT) with a Bachelor's degree in Social Sciences. She is currently doing her Honours in Gender Studies. Kirsty has been a volunteer at Valkenberg Psychiatric Ward for over two years and continues to help others through volunteer programs. 

Area of involvement:
Gender Studies

My name is Tatenda Ann Chimbwanda. I did my undergrad at UCT and majored in International Relations and Gender Studies. I chose to do my post-grad in Gender and Transformation as l come from a very patriarchal society and l aspire to be a politician one day. 

Area of involvement:
Gender Studies