Are we there yet? A literature study of the challenges of women academics in institutions of higher education

  • Mncedisi C. Maphalala
  • Nhlanhla Mpofu
Keywords: comprehensive literature review, gender disparity, higher education, women in academia, gender challenges in higher education


The purpose of this study was to examine the challenges of women academics in institutions of higher education as documented in the literature. Higher education institutions exist to produce knowledge, to disseminate knowledge through research and for community engagement. To achieve these purposes, academics in higher education institutions should freely interact and have access to knowledge. However, in South Africa as in the rest of the world, the social construct of gender, one of many social inequalities, is seen by researchers as either limiting or increasing opportunities in academia. In realising that gender limits women in higher education, international and national bodies have consciously committed to addressing this inequality. However, even with these commitments in place, the current literature suggests that women are still facing challenges in higher education institutions. Informed by social identity theory this study examines the challenges of women academics in institutions of higher education. The study used a literature study methodology located within a qualitative tradition. Specifically, we conducted a comprehensive literature review and identified 20 articles on the challenges of women academics in higher education institutions. From the selected studies, using inductive thematic analysis, the following challenges were identified: the double burden of womanhood in higher education, leadership as a challenge for women in higher education and who is telling the story of women academics. From the findings, it stands true that the South African women academics have achieved notable successes in higher education but much remains to be done to address the challenges that still hinder their full participation. It is therefore recommended that higher education institutions focus on providing mentorship programmes to facilitate women’s contributions to the three pillars of higher education.

Keywords: comprehensive literature review; gender disparity; higher education; women in academia; gender challenges in higher education


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1596-9231