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19 March 2020 | Story Opinion article by Prof Hussein Solomon | Photo Supplied
Hussein Soloman
Prof Hussein Solomon, Senior Professor: Political Studies and Goverance

The world celebrated International Women’s Day on 8th March 2020. Such symbolic days, however, seem to have little effect on the actual status of women in the world as a recent United Nations report notes. Despite strides towards greater gender equality, the world body notes there is not a single country which has achieved gender equality. Moreover, 90 percent of men and women hold some bias against females. The statistics are alarming: 50 percent of men thought they had more rights to a job than women, and a third of respondents in 75 countries felt it was acceptable for men to hit women. In China, 55 percent of respondents felt that men make better political figures. Even in what used to be regarded as the bastion of liberal democracy, the USA, 39 percent agreed with the statement that men make better political leaders than women.

Participation of women in the labour force

Disappointing as these figures are, there is hope if one considers how patriarchy is being overcome in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. It is here where patriarchy first developed between 3100 B.C and 600 B.C. It is also the region which has experienced the least gender progress in the world. The figures are incontrovertible. Given the widely held view that women belong in the domestic sphere focusing on keeping house and child-rearing, there are low rates of participation of women in the labour force. Only 24 percent of women in the MENA region are employed, whilst the figure for their male counterparts is 77 percent.  Moreover, according to a report of the International Labour Organization, young women with higher education have a slim chance of entering employment than their less-educated male counterparts. This has negative consequences for the household economy and the economy at large, and it perpetuates greater dependence male family members (husbands, fathers, brothers) -patriarchy, built as it is on vertical power relations, is further entrenched.

The absence of women in positions of power is glaring in the MENA region, as is their absence in governance which is made possible by patriarchal attitudes.  According to the Arab Barometer the majority of respondents believe in limiting the role of women in society. Within the home, 60 percent believe that the husband should be the final decision maker in matters impacting the family. Moreover, only a third of the Arab public believe that women are as effective as men in public leadership roles.

Resisting marginalisation

Whilst the marginalization and oppression of women is a sad truism of MENA countries, this should not be the norm. Patriarchy was constructed and can be deconstructed. The challenge for feminists then is to actively resist their marginalization in conjunction with other progressive players and to utilize the tectonic changes underway in the Middle East – from the penetration of the internet, to making common cause with progressive forces in society to open up the democratic space. Democratic space in this sense does not only mean the fight for the ballot but also emancipation in every sense – including freedom from patriarchy. There is reason to believe that some of this is beginning to happen in the region.  Consider, for instance, how Morocco’s rural women in an effort to access land from conservative tribal authorities, formed action committees called Sulaliyyates. These challenged tribal authorities and women’s subordination in the family and the work place.

There is reason to believe that women’s experiences in mobilizing against authoritarian regimes in the region have resulted in a new consciousness on their part. They see the connection between their own oppression and the need for emancipation of the broader society. When women took to the streets against Al-Bashir in Sudan it was their awareness of how fuel shortages and inflation brought on by corrupt and inefficient governance were increasing household food security. Following the July 2019 agreement between the military junta and the alliance of opposition parties, there was an effort to force women back into the home to play their “traditional” roles. However, women have remained politically engaged and mobilised – decrying everything from the persistence of sexual harassment to demanding the prosecutions of those involved in wrong-doing from the Bashir era.

Social justice and gender equality

Women activists are also pushing back on the streets of Tehran, Ankara and Algiers. In Tehran, women’s’ grassroot movements are calling on Islamic Republic to fulfil their promises of social justice and gender equality. Their resistance to patriarchy has taken the form of disobedience, refusal, and subversion. Initially their activism sought to reform the rule of the mullahs within the prevailing system spurred on by a reformist president – President Khatami - who demonstrated greater receptivity to gender equality. In the past two years women’s groups in Iran increasingly called for the end of Iran’s post-1979 system of governance as they view such theocracy as antithetical to the cause of gender emancipation. In Ankara, feminists have taken on domestic violence by forming the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation in an effort to collectively fight abuse in the family.

Meanwhile, in Algiers, women have been at the forefront of the protest movement against the establishment or what Algerians term a “Le Pouvoir” – the cabal of generals, businessmen and politicians of the ruling party which govern this North African country. For 19-year old Miriam Saoud, it was seeing the back of this political elite that impoverished ordinary Algerians through their corrupt practices. For 22-year old political science student Amina Djouadi, it was about real political representation for male and female citizens. Whilst the presence of this younger generation of women makes sense given the fact that half of Algeria’s population is below thirty years of age, who bear the brunt of unemployment - older women have also been on the Algerian streets. Elderly Nissa Imad was also on the streets protesting. All five of her children are unemployed. Explaining her presence against the barricades she defiantly states, “I am here for the young, for our kids. There’s nothing for the young generations. No jobs and no houses. They can’t get married. We want this whole system to go”. It is clear from the narratives of these women that they see the connection between their daily lived experiences of disempowerment and marginalization, and the broader structural causes, and therefore are actively seeking the end of the patriarchal and oppressive political and economic order.

Changing attitudes

Despite the MENA region having the largest gender gap of all regions in the world, there is hope too. Attitudes are changing and becoming less patriarchal - the Arab Barometer starkly demonstrates this, where 75 percent in the MENA region support women’s access to tertiary education, 84 percent believe that women should be allowed to work in the labour force, whilst 62 percent believe that women should be allowed into political office. What accounts for these progressive attitudes? First, there seems to be a generational divide with younger people (which comprise the majority in the MENA region) holding less patriarchal views. Second, with access to tertiary education, those holding post-secondary qualifications are less discriminatory in their attitudes than those without post-school qualifications. The momentum for a post-patriarchal MENA region is therefore increasing.

This article was written by Prof Hussein Solomon, Senior Professor: Political Studies and Goverance 

News Archive

UFS researchers receive awards from the NSTF
2008-06-04

The recipients of the two awards are, from the left: Prof. Jan van der Westhuizen, UFS Department of Chemistry, Dr Susan Bonnet, UFS Department of Chemistry, Prof. Thinus van der Merwe, FARMOVS-PAREXEL, Prof. Maryke Labuschagne, UFS Department of Plant Sciences, and Prof. Ken Swart, FARMOVS-PAREXEL.
Photo: Lacea Loader

  

UFS researchers receive awards from the NSTF   

The University of the Free State (UFS) last week received two prestigious awards from the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) during its tenth gala-awards ceremony held in Kempton Park.

Prof. Maryke Labuschagne from the Department of Plant Sciences at the UFS was the female recipient of the research capacity-development award over the last ten years. She received the award for her successful mentoring of black researchers and students. The award, sponsored by Eskom, includes a prize of R100 000 which will be used for research purposes.  

A team consisting of Prof. Jan van der Westhuizen and Dr Susan Bonnet from the Department of Chemistry at the UFS and Prof. Kenneth Swart and Prof. Thinus van der Merwe from FARMOVS–PAREXEL received the innovation award for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology from either an individual or a team over the last ten years.
 
Prof. Labuschagne, an expert in the field of plant breeding and food security in Africa, received the award for her contribution to the training and development of black students and researchers in this field. Various black students successfully completed their postgraduate studies under her guidance at the UFS during the past ten years, with positive results.

Research by her South African students has led to a firmly entrenched research relationship between the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the UFS, while research by her local and international students has culminated in no less than 82 publications over the last decade.

It has also led to the establishment of collaboration agreements with universities and research institutes in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – among others with the University of Malawi where Prof. Labuschagne and her students are involved in the International Programme in the Chemical Sciences (IPICS) of the Uppsala University in Sweden. The project focuses on the study of genetics and chemistry of tropical roots and tuber crops in Malawi. This has led to collaboration with international research organisations and has generated overseas funding.

The combined team from FARMOVS–PAREXEL and the UFS won an award for the synthesis of drug analogues used as reference products during the analysis of the drug concentration in blood, from existing and new drugs registered nationally and internationally.

The project resulted in capacity building in synthetic organic chemistry, mass spectrometry and chromatography: Five master’s degrees were completed, seven are in progress, and six postgraduate students commenced with Ph.D.’s.

The skills transferred during this project are already being applied to examine the properties of indigenous medicinal plants as part of the recently established UFS novel drugs and bioactive compound cluster.

Applied Biosystems, the Canadian manufacturer of mass spectrometers, donated equipment to the value of more than R10 million for this project. As a result the UFS is one of the few universities in the world that can offer postgraduate training in bioanalytical chemistry.

Prof. Hendrik Swart, head of the Department of Physics at the UFS, and Dr Martin Ntwaeaborwa, senior lecturer at the Department of Physics were finalist in the research- capacity developer and black-researcher categories respectively.
The NSTF awards gives recognition to the outstanding contributions of individuals and groups to science, engineering and technology. This includes all practising scientists, engineers and technologists across the system of innovation, including, for example, teachers and students in mathematics, science and technology. The NSTF represents government, science councils, professional bodies, higher education, business and civil society.

Altogether nine individuals and three organisations were presented with the NSTF Awards trophy by the Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Mosibudi Mangena.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel:  051 401 2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za
4 June 2008

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