Social Justice Research Awards: Team winners seek epistemic justice in the gender justice agenda

Published On: 17 April 2023|

Social Justice Research Awards: Team winners seek epistemic justice in the gender justice agenda

Putting women front and centre by promoting attitudinal and social transformation through empowerment is what won a Nelson Mandela University research team the coveted Human Sciences Research Council-Universities South Africa CEOs’ award for research excellence in the social sciences and humanities. They won the only Team Award in the 2023 round.

Accepting the prestigious award at a lunch held in Pretoria on 13 April, head of the team, Professor Babalwa Magoqwana (above), Acting Director of the Centre for Women and Gender Studies, said her team was grateful for being allowed the vision to centre African women’s histories in the South African academy, and across the continent “as we seek epistemic justice in the gender agenda in Africa”.

This unique, highly regarded award was conceived by the HSRC in 2016, seeing a need to distinguish social sciences and humanities awards from other existing awards in the system.

All entrants across the four categories: Emerging Researcher, Mid-Career Researcher, Established Researcher and Research Team more than met the criteria set out for this year’s Awards theme, Social Justice.

As HSRC chairperson Dr Cassius Lubisi said: “There are other awards: The National Research Foundation (NRF) awards an outstanding scholar each year, the eligibility for which is open to all fields.

“The National Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Academy of Sciences of South Africa make annual book awards to deserving local scholars who produce outstanding monographs and scholarly work in the human and social sciences.

“But this award is different from other awards in that it acknowledges a lifetime contribution that influences and shapes the humanities and social sciences.”

Women Empowerment

Launched in October 2019 and housed under the Engagement and Transformation Portfolio at Nelson Mandela University, the Centre for Women and Gender Studies (CWGS) aims to promote attitudinal and social transformation through the empowerment of women, gender, equity and equality, and gender mainstreaming in teaching and learning, collaborative engagements and research.

The CWGS team includes seven key members: Professors Babalwa Magoqwana and SARChi (South African Research Chair Initiative) Chair in African Feminist Imagination and award-winning author, Pumla Gqola, who guides the intellectual and strategic projects of the centre. They work with Programme coordinator, Siphokazi Tau, Researchers Simran Juglal and Qhama Noveve, as well as Communications Liaison, Khanyisile Khunga and Administrator, Wendy Adams.

In a congratulatory video played to the lunch audience at the Pretoria awards ceremony, Professor Pamela Maseko (left), Dean of Humanities at Nelson Mandela University, said: “The Centre for Women and Gender Studies at NMU has strong links with the Humanities Faculty, not only because of the discipline but because of how it resonates with the key strategic focus areas of the faculty.

“Most importantly, the Centre run by Professor Magoqwana is a response to the need for higher education to be actively involved in the transformation of attitudes towards women, and fostering equity and equality.”

A worthy candidate

Dr Kwezi Mzilikazi, Research and Support at NMU echoed these sentiments saying: “To profile the research activities at NMU, we have a number of strategic instruments including our entities, our research chairs, and our institutional research themes. The work that Professor Magoqwana does within the centre speaks directly to all these areas. This is why the university felt she’d be a worthy recipient of this prestigious award.”

Professor Pamela Maseko added: “Professor Magoqwana and her team have played an absolutely critical role in developing a deepened understanding of gender and women’s issues – especially with an African perspective. This includes scholars from Africa who have also often been marginalised.

“She does pioneering work that cuts against the grain. We have a strong cohort of students who are looking at gender in ways we’d never have imagined in the past. This is groundbreaking,” she said. She cited as an example, a project in which students focus on women’s biographies, among them that of Dr Brigalia Bam (Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa) and Nosekeni Mandela (Mother of South Africa’s first post-apartheid President, Nelson Mandela).

Ryan Pillay, Deputy Director of Arts Culture and Heritage at NMU said his department was fortunate because, through their collaboration with Centre for Gender Studies and the Faculty of Humanities, they were able to house the archives of Dr Bam.

Highlighting African Women’s Power

Through various projects and archival endeavours, the Centre and Chair highlight African women’s often forgotten power and leadership in society, and spotlight African women’s biographical and intellectual histories while developing a gender intellectual corridor in the Eastern Cape with Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare.

Professor Magoqwana said the team’s award-winning Author Fridays Series brings together authors, academics, researchers and students “to critically discuss topics relating to gender.”

And, through its annual summer schools and writing workshops, the Centre, the Chair, and its partners have trained many postgraduate students across the province.

In her acceptance speech, Professor Magoqwana thanked the HSRC and USAf for organising and continuing the work to establish humanities and for championing social sciences in South Africa at a time when it is needed the most.

She acknowledged the students “who work so hard to make sure that we hold the project together”.

More accolades

Dr Oliver Seale (far right) is the Director: Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) programme at USAf. He stood in for, and spoke on behalf of the USAf CEO at the Awards ceremony.

Professor Heidi van Rooyen (above, left), the Group Executive at the HSRC’s Impact Centre, congratulated the winners in the Teams category: “There is great power in your work that focuses on African women, gender and sexual minorities, children, and those left behind, those impoverished, those needing our support and their families.

“Your work echoes the individual awards in spirit, intent, application, and commitment to social justice. It underscores the important point: We are better as a collective. Through your team, and the way you engage, you show us this.

“You remind us through your team effort that we achieve more, we do more, we are more when we come together, when we harness individual skills and capacities, work across disciplines and differences and create teams that are inclusive and diverse. “This relationality as you reminded us – collaboration – is what is needed now, in this moment, when we face all the problems in this country and the world.”

Finalists in this category

  • Professor Catriona Macleod, Professor of Psychology and SARChI Chair of Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction at Rhodes University, and her team.
  • Professor Leila Patel, South African Research Chair in Welfare and Social Development at the University of Johannesburg, and her team.

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.