Through her research, Associate Professor Ameeta Jaga of the University of Cape Town (UCT) School of Management Studies explores how people and organisations manage the competing needs of work and family. She has been awarded the UCT–Harvard Mandela Fellowship, which she will take up while on sabbatical in 2020.
1. What are you researching?
I am currently researching practices of breastfeeding at work mainly among low-income workers. Despite legal protection in South Africa that gives mothers the right to breastfeed or express milk at work, many mothers are either unaware of their rights or prefer not to risk losing their jobs. Not surprisingly, return to work is a major reason for mothers stopping breastfeeding.
“My research seeks to understand how gender equality (via breastfeeding at work) is understood in 21st century South Africa.”
2. Why are you passionate about this area of research?
My research seeks to understand how gender equality (via breastfeeding at work) is understood in 21st century South Africa and to support mothers to breastfeed at work.
I am, however, realising that their choices are framed by contexts that include inequality, poverty and single-parent family structures. I want to better understand their choices to improve my chances of making a difference.
3. What are the biggest opportunities you see for your field?
During my PhD, and through the student protest years, I became critical of applying global north work–family models unproblematically in global south contexts. I began to read postcolonial works and encountered Southern Theory, because these works addressed issues of inequity, injustice, racism and colonialism.
The opportunities in the field are to explore how these issues shape the work–family interface and recognise assumptions that perpetuate knowledge inequalities, to begin forming new ways of thinking of knowlege.
4. What is the impact of your work on women and families?
“During my PhD, and through the student protest years, I became critical of applying global north work–family models unproblematically in global south contexts.”
The low breastfeeding rates in South Africa have severe implications for infant health and child survival in this context. Employers that are supportive of women breastfeeding at work can encourage mothers who choose to breatfeed to do so for longer and contribute to healthier infants, improved business outcomes, better quality family life and socio-economic development of the nation.
5. What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, especially among low-income workers, invites research interventions that can make a difference. My projects allow space to pursue activism. Through my research, I have been consciously engaging in the context and the challenges that are not just for local knowledge, but global knowledge too, because low breastfeeding rates, poverty and malnutrition are global concerns.
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