The ANC in the Western Cape has called on the University of Stellenbosch to rethink a study that apparently claims coloured women have increased risk of low cognitive functioning due to low education levels and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours.
The university came under fire last week after publishing a study titled Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in Coloured South African women .
The study assessed the cognitive function and its association with age and education in a sample of young and middle-aged coloured women.
“A group of 60 women (18-64 years) were included in this study; they were separated into four age groups and two education groups. Cognitive function was assessed using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and a computerised neurocognitive test.
“Education and age were significantly correlated with all measured cognitive domains (p < 0.05). An age-related decline was observed for all domains, with low scores observed for processing speed already in young adulthood. The high-education group scored significantly better in all cognitive domains (p < 0.05). Young to middle-aged Colored women present with low cognitive function and which is significantly influenced by education.
“Researchers assessed a group of 60 multiracial women between 18 and 64 years from different educational backgrounds using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. The study found that low education levels and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours were a contributing factor to low cognitive functioning,” reads the abstract.
The study, according to the ANC, could not be condoned as it discriminated against the women on racial grounds and also perpetuated existing stereotypes against coloured women. The ANC also slammed the sample size, saying a group of 60 women was not enough to make conclusions about the entire coloured population in the country.
“Also, such deprivation cannot bring racialised stereotypes only to coloured people, as a group, and coloured women in particular, if the said conditions are not unique to this group only, as proven by many studies in SA, including the data on triple challenges we face: poverty, unemployment and inequality.
“Moreover, the findings consciously or unconsciously emulsify traditional stereotypes, which purport the role of women as being inferior and second-class citizens in society, which is harmful and conflates a number of race and gender issues.
“Coloured women in SA cannot be denigrated as human beings using scientific studies from reputable institutions such as University of Stellenbosch . What is to become of the coloured women in SA and the world given this study? What should a young coloured girl-child believe about herself, when reading or presented with this scientific interpretation of her identity? Where were the supervisors, the ethics committee and the management of the US when such product was approved and given credence under their name, as the institution of the future?”
The party further called on the Gender Commission to review the study and take necessary action, and the Human Rights Commission of SA to moderate studies such as these before they were released into the public domain.
“Further, we request our Minister of Higher Education, Dr Naledi Pandor and HESA to investigate this matter and provide a report to the public on how such must not ever be allowed in US or any other institution within SA,” said the party.
Responding to the backlash, the university said the findings and conclusions of the study were those of the author and the committee that reviewed the project approved a broader study proposal on the risk factors for heart disease, physical activity, fitness, eating habits and the cognitive functions of coloured women in Stellenbosch.
“The specific article reports on the effect of environmental factors on the cognitive development within one of South Africa’s most vulnerable groups that was marginalised during apartheid and remained so during the post-apartheid era. As clearly indicated in the article, the findings, opinions, conclusions and recommendations are those of the authors alone. The university as an institution neither condones nor evaluates the opinions reached by its scholars as participants in this academic debate. Stellenbosch University supports its researchers and asks for a responsible and fair debate on this research,” said the university’s professor Eugene Cloete in a statement.
He said the university was, however, opposed to racism and attributing cognitive capacities to race.
“We are concerned about the pain and anger that the article has solicited within the academic community and broader society,” he said.