Academic women departmental heads’ coping mechanisms during COVID-19: A capabilities approach perspective




Capability approach, Coping strategies, COVID-19 pandemic, Higher education, Women leaders, Stress


This paper explored women departmental heads’ leadership experiences in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper highlighted aspects of their care and coping mechanisms in terms of them working in virtual spaces. Most scholars have examined employees’ effects and challenges while working from home during a lockdown. However, most studies are silent on women in leadership, especially concerning the provision of resources to enhance effective leadership during this crisis. The paper draws on three concepts of Sen’s Capabilities approach: functionings, freedoms, and agency. This approach facilitates an incisive understanding of institutional and individual coping mechanisms that might be beneficial for women leaders to mitigate the challenges of the devastating COVID-19 lockdowns. The qualitative narrative approach, supported by a feminist lens, provides a critical, in-depth understanding of the real-life stories of women in leadership positions when making-sense of their challenges in working in a virtual environment. Data which was collected through semi-structured interviews with ten female heads of department, was analysed thematically by applying the Capabilities Approach as an analytical tool. The findings indicated that functionings and freedoms are inextricably intertwined to institutional ethnographies. These ethnographies might support or hamper the coping capabilities of women leaders in academic institutions, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.


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Author Biography

Nthuna Juliet Ramohai, Durban University of Technology, South Africa

Dr. N.J. Ramohai

Durban University of Technology

Centre for General Education  



How to Cite

Ramohai, N. J. ., & Holtzhausen, S. (2022). Academic women departmental heads’ coping mechanisms during COVID-19: A capabilities approach perspective. Perspectives in Education, 40(4), 89-103.



Research articles