Dr Maheshvari Naidu (front row, centre) with her
seven students who work in areas of health,
masculinities, femininities and transactional sex.

Dr Maheshvari Naidu, an Anthropologist in the School of Social Sciences, has been awarded a grant and invited to join a collaborative project spearheaded by the African Gender Institute (AGI) at the University of Cape Town, with Professor Jane Bennet as Director.

Naidu joins other partner institutions and researchers based at the University of Botswana, University of Namibia, University of Zimbabwe, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, University of Witwatersrand and University of Cape Town. The project, funded by the Ford Agency, is titled: “Young Women’s Leadership Project”.

Naidu was the 2013 Department of Science and Technology (DST) Women in Science winner for her research work on women and violence. She is one of UKZN’s Top Published Researchers and has featured several times in UKZN’s Top 30 rankings.

In 2012 Naidu was invited by the Gender Unit at the University of Florence to address faculty and students on the Gender and Sexualities Project she was heading at the time.

Commenting on the Young Women’s Project, Naidu said the project dovetails with her earlier work on women’s sexualities, offering a ‘public face’ to anthropology and allowing articulation of what is termed scholarship activism. ‘This is increasingly critical, given the sexual power asymmetries that continue to be embedded within academic institutional contexts.’

She further emphasised that according to the African Gender Institute (AGI), the notion of ‘young woman’ spans different approaches to understanding the politics of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and offers a challenge to those working in SADC universities.

‘The increasing recognition is that while many academic institutional cultures in the SADC region increasingly recognise women’s equality with men and their intellectual potential, the women’s contexts still include high levels of vulnerability to sexual violence,’ said Naidu.

The project aims to strengthen the capacity of women within five SADC contexts – Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique – for ownership and leadership around questions of sexual health and rights and seeks to both develop cross-institutional and cross-national linkages.

Naidu said for such a project to be successful, it needed to be collaborative and draw on existing structures and resources as well as build capacity for new expertise.

The project will thus draw on the expertise of National Project Co-ordinator, Ms Barbara Boswell (UCT), and Ms Nomonde Magantula, Head of the HIV and Health Program at UKZN.

Naidu has included a mentoring limb and co-opted her masters and doctoral students as student-collaborators onto the project. Naidu’s seven students are working in areas of health, masculinities, femininities and transactional sex.

They are PhD candidate and Lecturer in Anthropology, Ms Nokwanda Nzuza; PhD candidates, Ms Yonela Scina and Ms Nolene Pillay; MA candidate Ms Nokubonga Mazibuko; PhD candidate and Lecturer in Social Work, Ms Nolwazi Ncogbo; PhD candidate Ms Rosheena Jeawon, and MA candidate Mr Gabriel Darong, who will all work with Naidu on UKZN-based project activities.