“What we are doing today is planting a symbolic tree. It is my hope that this tree will produce branches of decolonised knowledge. May this tree continue to be cultivated and flourish in the African forest of change.”
So said Prof Sarojini Nadar, Desmond Tutu Chair for Ecumenical Theology and Social Transformation at the University of the Western Cape, who delivered the keynote address at the launch of the Gender Unit at the Faculty of Theology on Tuesday 28 March 2017.
The unit is part of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology at Stellenbosch University.
Prof Juliana Claassens, Professor of Old Testament and Head of the Gender Unit, shared the story of the unit and said:
“We want to offer a creative space for interdisciplinary research on an intersectional understanding of gender where we bring together students and scholars, locally, nationally and internationally to help us think differently about gender. Within this Gender Unit, we want very much to adhere to a feminist ethos that can be described as honouring all voices, interrogating power relations and reconstituting community.”
The Vice-Rector for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, Prof Eugene Cloete, who played an important role in the establishment of the Gender Unit, said the unit stands for human dignity.
“Human dignity is the number one priority. The second is creating an inclusive environment and a space where people can talk to one another. The idea is to work towards a common good.”
Prof Amanda Gouws, who wished the Gender Unit well on behalf of the wider SU campus, spoke about the importance of partnerships, and how essential it is to work together across departments and faculties in terms of issues of gender.
According to Dr Charlene van der Walt, Research and Programme coordinator of the Gender Unit and the very successful MTh Gender, Health and Theology programme, the unit already collaborates closely with various NGOs working on gender-based violence and minority sexualities in Africa, and they look forward to including other interested partners.
Dr Funlola Olojede is the first postdoctoral fellow at the unit. She is making a valuable contribution with her focus on Africa women reading the Bible in terms of the challenges and opportunities in our contemporary context.
Prof Claassens concluded her address with a quote by bell hooks: “I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another’s differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility.” May the Gender Unit be such a place.