Opportunities for women to excel in education and research are often few and far between. Helping women find their voice in the research space is one of the things that drives Dr Linda Zuze from the Research on Socio-Economic Policy Group (ReSEP) in the Department of Economics.
As part of South Africa's Women's Month celebrations, she tells us more about the work she's been doing in this regard.
Can you tell us more about your research?
I'm trained as an economist and I graduated with a PhD from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2008. My research focuses on inequalities and their impact. Throughout my career, I've worked to strengthen links between research, policy and practice. I've published extensively on topics that address gender inequalities in education, youth unemployment and the development of the financial sector for underserved groups. In a recent book chapter on South African Schooling, my co-author and I looked at the complexities of addressing gender gaps in South African education. I am a co-investigator on an innovative project that is testing how social norms influence the financial decision-making of Zambian men and women. The project is a joint collaboration between the University of Nottingham in the UK, Leiden University in the Netherlands and Financial Sector Deeping in Zambia. I also contributed to a recent report on the impact of the coronavirus and lockdown on children's welfare in South Africa. The report is part of the ongoing National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) Study.
Why or how did you become interested in this specific area of research?
I grew up in a home where conversations about social justice were the order of the day. I lived in many different countries in my early life and I think that this exposure impressed upon me how talents and opportunities are mismatched the world over. My parents encouraged me to read widely from an early age, to ask questions, to be curious. So now I ask questions for a living. There was always a belief in our family that change is possible with the right information and a suitable level of commitment.
Why do you think this is such an important area of research for South African women?
South Africans are facing profound hardships at the moment. Some of the reasons for the current situation are historical. Others, like the public health crisis, are completely unprecedented. More than ever before, the country needs talented young men and women, with a diversity of ideas, to work out what alternatives are most useful to policy.
It's not easy to be among the first in your family to attend university. I can certainly relate to this. The personal and institutional obstacles can often feel overwhelming. How to succeed at university and how to prepare for the workplace may seem elusive. First-generation students also carry the expectations of their family and community. For many, financial pressure can be a constant source of distress. It's one thing to encourage South African women to become researchers. It's another to provide them with the support structures that can strengthen their capacity to achieve their professional goals.
What would you consider the greatest impact of your research on women in the country?
My research continues to show how the challenges that women and children face in this country, and in Africa as a whole, are more complex and nuanced than is sometimes reported. I have shown that when women are afforded opportunities, households and communities benefit as well. Whenever possible, I commit time to building capacity among women in policy research. I've successfully supervised and co-supervised a number of women in their Masters's dissertations as well as three women with their PhDs. I continue to train and mentor others. Seeing young women find their voice in the research space is one of the most rewarding parts of my work.
Do you have any message for the next generation of women researchers?
I've worn many different hats along the way – university academic, policy adviser, research manager, consultant, entrepreneur as well as being the mother of two amazing not-so-little boys. I always tell my students that nothing that you do is wasted and nothing from your past should be viewed as a barrier to your future success. If anything, everything that you've been through can enrich the stories that you tell through your research. And your stories matter.