In 2021, the Transformation Committee of the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) began hosting its ‘many voices’ webinar series during Women’s Month, focussing on women and gender. This SAFAL Steel sponsored series is now in its third year, and has been well received and attended.  

‘many voices’ 

The webinar series, themed ‘many voices’ is intended to create and prioritise a platform to hear the marginalised and unheard voices from the profession, open up important conversations and provide solutions within often ‘difficult and silent areas’ which continue to be left unattended. SAIA believes that the webinars have become “conversation starters” in addressing critical issues in architecture.  

During Women’s Month, SAIA has hosted three ‘many voices’ webinars which have a focus on women and gender. The following includes some of the important issues that have emerged.  

“we should all be feminists”  

Held on 12 August 2021, the ’many voices’ were Diaan van der Westhuizen, Gita Goven, Mphethi Morojele and Victoria Marwa Heilman.  

  • The careers of females are interrupted in the practice of architecture. 
  • Where are the women? They are very likely holding it together. 
  • “Intersectionality” allows us to view how our discrimination dominates, intersects and overlaps.  
  • Males and females think differently and design differently. 
  • The value of sensitivities and vulnerabilities, and the need for richer spaces and care for the planet. 
  • The value of complexity, fluidity, feeling, listening, interpreting, negotiating and respect. 
  • Our role in integrating mother and practice in a man’s world, and healing the burning planet. 
  • Where you live matters, and we find women and children are the most under-resourced.  
  • The need to be aware of the vulnerabilities of the female experience in hyper-masculine spaces. 
  • The term “feminist” has negative perceptions and is seen as a “western idea”. 
  • Being a ‘feminist’ is important in traditional cultures where men make most decisions. 
  • Learning to perceive and to design through a ‘feminist lens’. 

“re-imagining leadership to achieve gender equity”  

Held on 11th August 2022, the ’many voices” were Amira Osman, Mabela Qhobela, Velka Laubscher and Karuni Naidoo. 

  • The need to dismantle the “boy’s club” and include other communities and networks. 
  • Gender equity is about access to all spaces and opportunities.  
  • Servant leadership is about less power and control. 
  • We need new models of non-hierarchal, complementary and cross-cultural leadership. 
  • Equality is having access to same resources.  
  • Equity is allocating resources in order to reach an equal outcome. 
  • Diversity is a measuring tool of the mix of multiple identities. 
  • Valueing is acknowledging differences and assimilating. 
  • Inclusivity is inviting all in. 
  • Belonging is being valued equally with no pressure to conform. 
  • Equitable and ethical leadership is about the redistribution of power. 

“a new table”  

Held on 11th August 2022, the ’many voices’ were Adheema Davis, Leila Petersen, Bongeka Mguni, Sonali Chetty, Katlego Lebethe, Boitumelo Masela, Lynette Thabo, Mihle Mlenzana, Letlabile Shubane, Chelsea Smith and Firdous Moerat. 

  • We are mass-producing female students, but where will they go? 
  • Where are the disappearing black women architects? 
  • Representivity ticks boxes, and often results in being isolated at the table. 
  • There is a need to craft “a new table”, accessible, fair and unbiased, where you belong. 
  • The value of acknowledging one’s own privilege, and understanding that not everyone is privileged. 
  • The studio reproduces exclusions in society causing “archi-torture” and “archi-trauma”. 
  • There is value in actively leaving the doors open to other parties, sharing, exchanging and engaging.  
  • What are the levels of politeness when one has no option but to disrupt from within?  
  • It is always best be invited to a ‘men’s table’, rather than having to manipulate one’s way in.  
  • We want a conversation and willingness to listen, observe & acknowledge. 
  • We need men to validate the female experience and take accountability.  

Acknowledgment and thanks go to the Chairperson of the SAIA Transformation Committee Arch. Karuni Naidoo for sharing the information contained in this article. To view these webinars and more from the series, visit https://saia.org.za. 

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