Working Women: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Survival


Edited by: Kogi Naidoo & Fay Patel

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Copyright

    View Copyright Page


    We dedicate this book to all those women who experience pain and suffering everyday but who cannot have their voices heard and are never seen. Let us not forget them.

    This book is also dedicated to our parents, to the men in our lives and to our children who supported us in our personal and professional growth and development through the many struggles in our lives. Their love and encouragement gave us strength to tell our stories through other voices.

    I am grateful to my husband and partner, Siva Naidoo, and our children, Kami and Des, for their belief in me and their ongoing support. It has made all the hard work, struggles and strife worthwhile.

    Kogi Naidoo

    I am indebted to my husband Feisal Patel and to our son Farhaan for their patience and endurance over the past 20 years as we struggled through life's many challenges. Each one of us gave up so many of our own dreams to support the other. However, we were always blessed by the grace of God and our love endured through time and distance. Most of all, our spirit remained strong because of our faith in God and humanity.

    Fay (Feiziya) Patel


    This book makes a valuable contribution of making explicit the connections between success, struggles and strife of women venturing into different work-spaces. Sometimes some studies that favour a particular viewpoint become judgemental and may even be ethnocentric, thereby disempowering or silencing alternative perspectives. This book attempts to address this problem by supporting the feminist goal of making the different voices of women heard without exploiting, distorting or trivialising their experiences. It is premised on the ‘important assumption that women in specific contexts are best suited to help develop presentations of their lives and that contexts are located in specific structures and historical and material moments’ (Olesen 2000: 235). The book is an interesting collection of papers with different formats—some staying within and some flowing across the academic boundaries—blurring what is academic and what is non-academic.

    A key strength of this book lies in bringing together the diverse perspectives of women from very different social and cultural backgrounds. These are stories of women who have achieved success within their own contexts, and which reflect the struggles, strife and loss that women experience in order to succeed. Each chapter unfolds a different dimension of success and the associated struggles. Each form of success is equally worthwhile and challenging. Juxtaposing perspectives of women from such different walks of life has a powerful effect of creating a unified we. Several common themes emerge from the diverse experiences of women reported in this book, such as competing commitments in their various roles, exploitation at work, a sense of isolation, loss of health, impact on family and challenges associated with maintaining their confidence and dignity in difficult circumstances. Despite these common themes, the unified we that is promoted in this book is not a single we, in other words, it does not simplify or essentialise women's experience. Rather, it is a fluid we that is more encompassing, more uncertain, more empathetic to the cultural and contextual nature of the successes, struggles and strife encountered by these women. An excellent example of this is an insightful reflection from Thenjiwe Magwaza where she deconstructs the Western notion of a ‘balanced life’ to contest its viability and desirability in all contexts.

    The diversity of forms of success and struggles, strategies for overcoming various challenges and perspectives on morality and spirituality, as represented by different women in this book is impressive. On the one hand, it allowed me to bond with the authors and the participants whose perspectives are represented in different chapters. I could resonate with the many themes represented here, such as the isolation and struggles of academic life, loss of health, loss of relationships and a sense of failing to meet everyone's expectations. On the other hand, it had the powerful effect of helping me see through many different lenses. Each chapter highlights a different notion of success, empowerment, financial independence, emancipation, fulfilment, loss, grief, dignity and hidden costs of success. Vivid descriptions of diverse dilemmas, struggles and losses that these women went through in their pursuits of fulfilment forced me to question the artificiality of several dichotomies: among them, success and failure, good and bad, moral and immoral, and ethical and unethical.

    What might success mean to a single mother? How might someone with a physical disability define success? How are women being exploited within different professions? How little time are women able to give themselves in their attempts to meet the demands of their various roles? What are some strategies that worked for these women in different circumstances? These are all very important questions addressed from multiple angles in this book.

    The simplicity of representational styles adopted in different chapters makes it an easy read. It has the potential to provide a genuine feel for the struggles, dilemmas, value decisions, trade-offs that the women had to go through in achieving their independence. The book will appeal to many women from different walks of life. In particular, women's clubs, support groups and working women internationally will be able to identify with the stories in the book and will find the book an inspirational collection. Even though this book may not fall within the traditional boundaries of ‘academic’ work, the breadth of perspectives represented here and the authenticity and credibility of various accounts makes it a good resource for anyone venturing into feminist studies, cultural studies and organisational communication culture.

    HarshSuri, Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching, Monash University, Melbourne
    Olesen, V.L.2000. ‘Feminisms and Qualitative Research at and into the Millennium’, in N.K.Denzin and Y.S.Lincoln (eds), Handbook of Qualitative Research,
    2nd edition
    , pp. 215–255. Thousand Oaks: Sage.


    The contributors of this volume share various accounts of women's struggles of life and destiny, disability, divorce, abuse, family dysfunction and violence, racism, religious commitments, barriers of caste and class to name a few. Women's struggles are not yet over. How women overcome these barriers are experiences and stories that only women (and few men) know, appreciate and understand.

    The purpose of inviting women to tell their stories of struggle through this book was to allow them a space to inform and educate those of us who are more privileged and advantaged. We provided an open forum to women and men to share their stories about women's struggles. Men who align themselves with women's struggles and support them may fall into the feminist category of ‘male feminists and pro feminist men’, according to Wood (2005: 302). Whatever aspects of feminism men may choose to support, it is important to note that there are men who believe that women deserve better.

    The idea for the book was conceptualised out of our own experiences. We know what it means to be born into a society that is oppressed and confined to the dark, black spaces of the land; to be of different (‘the wrong’) skin colour; to be women who are even today classified according to language, race and ethnicity; and to be denied access and opportunity because of language, race, gender and ethnicity. And yet, as women who have experienced the effects of colonisation, Apartheid and Afrikaner nationalism, we continue to be chained to our past, to be conditioned into accepting the unreasonable demands of institutional and other authority while making feeble attempts to counter the oppression, only to find solace in our cultural, religious and historical roots. We remain ‘educated’ slaves who succumb to Western ideals and agendas.

    With regard to writing styles, contributors have used multidisciplinary approaches in their writings. We hope that this book provides deep insights into women's diverse cultural perspectives and their significant contributions to the workplace. This book follows the trend of the ‘Women Writing Women’ series where a forum is provided for a ‘variety of women's voices, allowing women to speak for and about themselves in ways that have often been excluded from academic discourse’ (Hart, Weathermon and Armitage 2006: 3). All the contributors have adopted distinct styles and approaches to tell their stories and to share their knowledge and insights. While we wanted to maintain a consistency in style and approach, we the contributors were encouraged to use their preferred writing styles. What our book demonstrates is that by providing a diverse range of opportunities for women to tell their stories encouraged more women to come forward and to tell their stories without the constraints of specific writing styles being imposed on them.

    Many of the contributors to this book raise issues of defining women's work, workspaces and of the need to balance work with their roles such as mothers, daughters and wives. We began by inviting professional women to contribute to this text and found that this excluded other women. What about women who did not belong in the ‘professional’ category? So we extended the invitation to all women. What physical space could be regarded as ‘legitimate working space’ was another question that was raised. Further down the line we found that we had to make the book more inclusive of women who worked within the home and from home, as well as women and men who worked in women's and/or men's traditional spaces. We also received an enquiry from a male author as to whether the book was intended for women by women only. We then extended the invitation to men who appreciate and understand women's struggles.

    The underlying goal of the book is to identify the struggles of women who are marginalised, and who continue their fight for survival, recognition, respect and dignity. The book is organised according to the broad themes outlined in the 21st century in the call for submissions and includes new emerging themes. Part One includes stories related to struggles in the workplace, while Part Two focuses specifically on exploitation and strategies for survival in the workplace. Part Three of the book moves on to stories and struggles about health and wellness and Part Four reveals the interconnectedness of spirituality and religion to women's resolve to withstand injustices. While cultural identities and spiritual immersion were not highlighted under the broad categories, these emerged as significant themes. A deep spirituality and religious conviction guided many women through their struggles, particularly when they experienced conflict as a result of their multiple cultural identities in the workplace. Part Four takes us on a spirited journey that demonstrates how women triumph in the face of adversity. Part Five introduces us to women's strong resolve and resilience in overcoming obstacles. The hope and positive energy that one derives from these stories brings to bear on our own realities: that there are many women less fortunate than we are. In Part Six the concluding chapter pulls together the threads that spin webs around the freedoms of women everywhere and that keep them entwined in endless knots only because the richness and the significance of their cultural knowledge, identities and perspectives remain unrecognised in the workplace.

    Readers will not only be educated and informed about women's struggles, but also be able to critically analyse policies and practices that create barriers, ostracise and marginalise them. Our book brings hope and encouragement to women struggling against all odds to care for themselves and their families while meeting the demands of their work and life in general.

    This text is a humble attempt to add to the already vast literature on women's ways of knowing and their contributions to their personal and professional lives. We also hope that reading clubs and women's groups would use this book as a point of departure to encourage women to share their unique contributions to the social development of their communities. This book is directed at a wide readership that includes multiple fields of interest including organisational culture in the global workplace. Fields of interest may include, for example, contexts related to human resource management, organisational culture and communication, international communication, development communication, women's and gender studies, sociology and cultural studies, governmental and non-governmental organisations. The book would also appeal to communities that live and work in a developing context and those who would like to have an insight into women's struggles in a developing context. Contributors originate from New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, United States of America, South Africa, Canada and India, and identify with multiple histories. Sadly, this book mirrors our current reality, however much we wish to deny it.

    It is time that women reclaim their right to respect and dignity, and to fair space in the workplace. The right to participate in a free and fair democracy must be equivalent not only to the right to be employed in a range of workplaces on an equitable level. More importantly, workplaces must integrate women's cultural perspectives and approaches so that women can participate in an environment that respects their knowledge. It is important that democracies empower women by integrating policies and practices that support and nurture women's cultural identities and perspectives in their place of work.

    Hart, P., K.Weathermon and S.Armitage. 2006. Women Writing Women: The Frontier Reader. Lincoln, Nebaska: University of Nebraska Press.
    Wood, J.2005. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender and Culture.
    6th edition
    . Canada: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, Inc.


    Editing a book such as this is no easy feat when you consider the challenges of working across time and space coordinating with the authors and the publisher spread across seven countries. However, the asynchronous nature of new communication technologies such as the Internet and e-mail made this enormous undertaking look easy as we worked harmoniously in a mutually respectful manner.

    We would like to thank all contributing authors without whom this book would not have become a reality. Thank you for sharing your stories and ideas. We are indebted to you for the warm support and encouragement through the three year process of gathering the material and working with our publisher. Your patience and kind words were especially heart-warming. Many of you generously showered compliments and blessings which certainly kept us motivated. Working with a wonderful team of authors made this a treasured experience.

    A special thanks to Subash and Shivani, children of Sheila Chirkut, who gave their permission to publish their mother's work posthumously so that her dedication to women's struggles will be remembered forever. Sheila sacrificed her own career goals in order to educate her children first.

    We are grateful to Dr Harsh Suri for agreeing to write the Foreword. Harsh has also survived several personal and professional challenges of her own.

    Our sincere appreciation goes to Dr Sugata Ghosh and Ashok R. Chandran and to SAGE Publications for their confidence in our abilities to produce this book. We are also grateful to Rekha Natarajan for her editorial assistance, advice and recommendations on improving the quality and style of the text. We thank Sushmita Banerjee and the team of editors for their gentle prodding to keep us on track during the final stages of preparation.

    We treaded carefully through our own challenges which life threw at us over the three years. We both commuted across three countries (Canada, New Zealand and Australia) to get from home to work. We cherished our hours and days with our spouses and children who also sacrificed so much. Our spouses went through incredible health issues on their own as they shared this dream in completing an important project—our first book. These two men in our lives are exceptional human beings who themselves broke through barriers of gender, race and culture to allow us to fulfil our life's ambition. Both men are gentle, loving souls who have always stood by our side. If more men were like the men in our lives, we would achieve a harmonious balance in the home and the workplace as well in the spaces in between.

    We also thank all our friends and colleagues who offered their valuable advice over countless cups of coffee and many corridor chats.

  • About the Editors and Contributors

    The Editors

    Kogi Naidoo is Deputy Director and Associate Professor at the Centre for Learning and Professional Development, University of Adelaide, Australia. Kogi Naidoo was born in South Africa and has worked in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. She is a HERDSA Fellow (Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia) and has extensive work experience lecturing in English and Education, worked in the areas of academic development, research and quality assurance in South Africa and New Zealand. Her postgraduate research included designing evaluation programmes for staff development and quality assurance mechanisms for academic programmes. She has presented and published her work nationally and internationally, and has received numerous prestigious academic awards and fellowships, including the South African Junior Technikon Fellowship Award, the Ernest Oppenheimer Gold Medal and the South African Association for Research and Development in Higher Education (SAARDHE) Young Achiever Award. At Massey University she led a mentoring programme for women and is presently leading a national research project investigating the impact of academic development on first year student learning in New Zealand. Kogi has maintained a healthy work life balance and owes her success to her supportive family, her husband and two children, who are themselves now pursuing successful careers.

    Fay Patel was born in South Africa. She is a new immigrant in Canada and a migrant worker in New Zealand. Fay has over 25 years of international experience in higher education in Canada, the USA, New Zealand and South Africa as a professor, researcher and programme manager across several disciplines.

    Fay coordinates the teaching and learning programme at Massey University in New Zealand. Fay (then known by her maiden name of Gangat) began her higher education career at the University of Durban-Westville during the Apartheid years. The University was regarded as an Indian university which provided segregated education for Indian students only taught by white professors. During the early 1990s, she moved to Vista University and this was an African University in Pretoria with an Afrikaans and English speaking management and teaching staff.

    Fay received several awards and scholarships to study in the United States of America between 1988 and 1998. This included a Fulbright Scholarship in 1994 and a doctoral study scholarship in 1998. Her areas of interest and expertise include international development, intercultural communication, teaching English as a second language, organisational communication, the diffusion of innovations in organisations, and promoting and managing academic development initiatives in higher educational institutions. Current research includes enhancing student learning, the integration of women's cultural perspectives and identities in the workplace, and building a global community.

    The Contributors

    Robyn Andrews is a lecturer in social anthropology at Massey University, New Zealand. She has recently completed her doctoral thesis titled ‘Being Anglo-Indian: Practices and Stories from Calcutta’ (2005). This work is based on research over a three and a half year period from 2001 through 2004. In that time she spent prolonged periods of time in Calcutta where, among other fieldwork practices, she collected life stories of Anglo-Indians. She is particularly interested in the dynamics that are enabling the Anglo-Indian community to continue to exist as a distinct minority community despite the prognosis of decline and demise of the community due to eroding factors such as mass migration since Indian Independence. She is also interested in portraying what it means to be Anglo-Indian, living in Calcutta in the 21st century.

    Sheila Chirkut passed away after a sudden, short illness early January 2008. Her children, both medical professionals, gave permission to publish her paper posthumously. Sheila Chirkut was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She taught courses in gender studies, social institutions, sociological analysis and social research, and social change in a global context. She has presented papers at conferences, both local and international, and has published articles on the cultural identity on Hindu women in South Africa.

    Millicent Daweti is an education consultant at the University of South Africa. She is a mother of two and has worked as a school teacher, advisor and manager. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies in educational leadership and management. Her research interests include adult learning and organisational development.

    Shelda Debowski directs the organisational and staff development unit at the University of Western Australia. She worked as an academic in library and information science for many years and later, in management. She has published widely in the areas of teaching and learning and organisational development. Her recent book, Knowledge Management (Wiley Press, 2006), explores the ways in which knowledge communities are evolving and adapting. She is active in the wider higher education community, and is currently the President of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia. She also has extensive experience as a leadership and development consultant to industry and educational enterprises.

    Arlene Fester was born on the 19 August 1964 in Kraaifontein, Bellville, South Africa. Her father died of cancer when she was seven and her mother taught her to cook when she was 12. She has two sisters. They had a very big house in Kraaifontein, which her father built himself on 496sq metres of property. In 1975 they were forced off their property by the Apartheid government and then moved to Greenhaven. Arlene matriculated at Cathkin High School. In 1997 she completed her Diploma in Counselling and also a Beginners and Advance Course in Sign Language (for the Deaf). She started a ministry dance group ‘Worship through Signing’ using sign language and incorporated it with worship music and illustrating it through dance.

    Dennis Francis is Associate Professor and currently, the Head of School of Social Science Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He holds a PhD in sociology. He has written extensively in the areas of race, education for social justice, youth, sexuality and HIV/AIDS.

    Nirmala Gopal is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. She has been working with children and women issues over a number of years. She has completed a doctorate in education where she examined the experiences of AIDS orphans. In her masters degree she focused on the way in which child sexual abuse is managed by educators at Indian schools. She has written about human rights, democracy and social justice. Her interest in children also led her to research and write about a group of refugee learners and the way in which they are treated in their host country. She has also looked at women in prison and the issues of power in lesbian relationships. She has presented several papers at both national and international conferences. She strongly believes that women's voices in research continues to be marginalised and advocates strongly against this practice.

    Lynne Hunt is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) and Director, Learning and Teaching Support Unit, at the University of Southern Queensland. She has taught at all levels of higher education from transition to university to doctoral supervision. In the past decade, she has focused on change leadership to promote tertiary teaching and transitions in the student learning journey, in particular the first year experience, work-based university learning and postgraduate mentoring. She is the recipient of three university-level awards for teaching excellence and she is a nationally acknowledged teacher. She received the 2002 Australian Award for University Teaching in the Social Science category and the 2002 Prime Minister's Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year.

    She publishes in the fields of health, sociology and tertiary teaching and received the 2002 Merit Award for Best Paper on Authentic Learning from the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA). She also co-edited the book, The Realities of Change in Higher Education: Interventions to Promote Learning and Teaching (2006). She was a member of the Board of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) from its inception until March 2008, and remains a member of two of its sub-committees. She has also served as a HERDSA Fellow and mentor, a member of the Academic Committee of the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education (2005–2006) and as examination moderator for the University of Botswana (2003–2005).

    Heide Kaminski is a single mother of three children and lives in South East Michigan. She was born and raised in Germany, but moved to the USA permanently in 1984. She is a preschool art teacher, freelance reporter/photographer and a published author. She also has stories included in more than 15 anthologies and has articles published in print magazines as well as online magazines. On the side, she does a little acting, with credits in three indie movies. On Sundays, she teaches Sunday school at the local Interfaith Center. Her dream is to break out of the low-income world by making her writing known to the world. Even though she is twice divorced, she has not given up hope that there is still someone out there who would represent a good husband.

    Check out her books at;;

    Maureen Lewis began her higher education teaching career in South Africa where she taught art and history of art methodology for nine years. Maureen moved to New Zealand in 1994 and taught secondary school art until she was hired as a staff development lecturer at Manikau Institute for Technology for the past 11 years. She worked as a staff development programme leader for a teacher training programme. Maureen was involved in the induction of new staff and this included migrant staff who were introduced to a mentoring and support programme during their induction.

    Thenjiwe Magwaza is Programme Director at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the Gender Studies Department. She holds a doctoral degree in oral studies from the same university. Her area of research is cultural constructions of gender; with a special focus on the Zulu language and culture, and the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and home care givers. She has published papers and book chapters in these areas. Her recent publication is a co-edited book (2006) entitled ‘Freedom Sown in Blood: Memories of the Impi Yamakhanda’.

    Shirley Mthethwa-Sommers is presently an independent consultant. Her work focuses on social justice issues. She has taught in higher educational institutions in the USA and in South Africa and serves the boards of numerous feminism-centred organisations.

    Nokujabula Myeza holds a masters degree in social justice education from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She has taught for 20 years at a primary school in Lamontville, a township south of Durban. She serves as the regional gender convenor of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) where she has worked with educators infected and affected by HIV. Nokujabula is currently the Deputy Chief Education Specialist in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Department of Education and Culture.

    Vivian Besem Ojong holds a PhD in anthropology and teaches at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard college campus. Her research interests are in the fields of migration, gender, identity, inter-cultural mixing, entrepreneurship and livelihoods. Currently she is the deputy president for Anthropology Southern Africa and co-edits the newsletter of the association.

    Anniekie Ravhudzulo is married to Dr Aaron; she is a loving wife, a woman of courage and a busy mother of four sons Hangwani, Hulisani, Thendo and Ndamulelo, a grand daughter Muanza-Zwivhuya and a daughter-in-law, Sara. Presently she is a research coordinator. She completed Master Doctorate in education. She published several motivational books.

    Diane Saarinen is a freelance writer, and a regular contributor to New World Finn journal and Finlandia Weekly newspaper. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Quiet Mountain: New Feminist Essays, Women's eNews Daily and Her Circle Ezine. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Peter, and their 18 pound cat. She is the book reviewer for She still works, albeit part-time now, as a home-based medical transcriptionist.

    Kay Sexton was nominated by Pushcart and spent more than a decade as a house writer for charitable/environmental organisations worldwide. Her publication credits range from H&E International to France Today to the World Water Forum Annual Report and she works regularly with Jonathan Porritt, Chair of the UK Sustainability Commission. In addition she is an Associate Editor for Night Train journal USA and a Jerry Jazz Fiction Award winner with a column at Her website gives details of her copywriting and journalism, she blogs about writing fiction at Her current focus is ‘Green Thought in an Urban Shade’, a collaboration with the painter Fion Gunn to explore and celebrate the parks and urban spaces of Beijing, Dublin, London and Paris in words and images. ‘Green Thought’ has exhibitions in London, Dublin and Beijing.

    Reshma Sookrajh is Associate Professor of education in the Faculty of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In 2005, she was the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Education during the period of the merger of higher institutions in KwaZulu-Natal. Some of the areas include rural education in South Africa, Quality in Teacher Education and Community Education projects in the different provinces of South Africa. She has supervised the research projects of several masters and doctoral students in the discipline of curriculum and two doctoral students in the area of migration research.

    Sita Venkateswar is Senior Lecturer in the social anthropology programme at Massey University. Her current research in Kolkata, India, explores poverty, empowerment and grass-roots activism. She is part of a coalition of individuals, activists and non-governmental organisations seeking policy-driven solutions to the situation of indigenous groups in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website