Stellenbosch University
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Norma Derby -"Let’s continue cheering for each other"
Author: Birgit Ottermann/ Photo: Stefan Els
Published: 08/08/2022


“It is 27 years since Women's Day was first celebrated in South Africa to commemorate the 1956 march of approximately 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest of the pass law, which required black South Africans to carry a passbook ('dompas'). I believe each year's celebration contributes to the overall objectives of celebrating this courageous act while raising awareness of the continued need for equal rights for women in our country," says Norma Derby, Programme Manager: Africa Partnership Development at Stellenbosch University International (SUI).

 “South Africa is by its very nature a patriarchally driven society, which is also reflected at Stellenbosch University (SU). While the university is consciously striving for gender balance, as can be seen in the year-on-year-increase in the percentage of females employed, there should be greater movement," she says.

 Derby has been working for nearly six years in SUI's Centre for Collaboration in Africa (CCA), a centre that aims to create an enabling environment for the campus community to collaborate with other universities and research institutions across the African continent and globally in order to enhance SU's internationalisation portfolio. Her main responsibilities are managing partnerships, student and staff mobility on the African continent, and coordinating or assisting with SU events to have an African focus.

 “The management at SU International is very aware and deliberate in making women feel heard and supported," Derby notes. “This applies to the appointment of staff, filling positions and opening up opportunities to other racial groups as well, especially women filling positions that demand respect based on competency and capacity as well as commitment."

 Reflecting on this year's theme for Women's Day 'Generation Equality: Realising Women's Rights for an Equal Future', Derby says that she strives to support and uplift her female colleagues in her everyday interactions. “I give positive criticism when required and congratulate and celebrate female colleagues, especially the next generation professional women. It's important for me that my fellow female colleagues are self-assured, knowledgeable and always feel supported," she says.

 Asked if she has had any inspiring mentors in her life, she mentions the name of Merle Hodges, the former director of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's (CPUT) International Office and the first female president of the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA) of which SUI is a member.

 “Sadly, my mentor, Merle Hodges, passed away a couple of days ago. She became my mentor in 2017 when I realised I needed to enhance my knowledge of internationalisation in the higher education field. During past annual IEASA conferences, I saw Merle in action, always willing to share her wealth of knowledge on internationalisation through inspirational and dynamic presentations. She was just so open and welcoming to share her knowledge and, through her example, I want to be a role model for the next generation of females too."

 When it comes to strong role models on the SU campus, Derby singles out Prof Hester Klopper. “She serves as a stern, professional but deeply committed woman who leads by example and also serves as an exemplary leader and role model who cuts across racial divides and gender differentiation."

For Women's Day this year, Derby has the following words of wisdom: “Maya Angelo wrote: 'We can be. Be and be better. For they existed'. Young people, whilst remaining critical, should remember that older generations were not perfect. Let's respect their efforts and contribution to equality for all. To the men, remember that gender equality in the workplace must be acknowledged, and respected and is a team effort. To women, let's remember the quote which is synonymous with Women's Day: 'wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo' (You strike a woman, you strike a rock). Let's remain strong, continue cheering for each other, and make strides for the next generation of women to reap the benefits of equality.