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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 agreement on staff salary adjustment of 7.5%
2011-11-10

 
At this year's salary negotiations were from the left, front: Mr Lourens Geyer, Director: Human Resources; Ms Ronel van der Walt, Manager: Labour Relations; Ms Tobeka Mehlomakulu, Vice Chairperson: NEHAWU; Prof. Johan Grobbelaar, convener of the salary negotiations; back: Mr Ruben Gouws, Vice Chairperson of UVPERSU, Ms Esta Knoetze, Vice Chairperson of UVPERSU, Mr David Mocwana, fultime shopsteward for NEHAWU; Mr Daniel Sepeame, Chairperson of NEHAWU, Prof. Nicky Morgan, Vice-Rector: Operations; Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS; Ms Mamokete Ratsoane, Deputy Director: Human Resources and Ms Anita Lombard, Chief Executive Officer: UVPERSU.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs


Salary adjustment of 7,5%

The University of the Free State’s (UFS) management and trade unions have agreed on a general salary adjustment of 7,5% for 2012.
 
The negotiating parties agreed that adjustments could vary proportionally from a minimum of 7,3% to a maximum of 8,5%, depending on the government subsidy and the model forecasts.
 
The service benefits of staff will be adjusted to 9,82% for 2012. This is according to the estimated government subsidy that will be received in 2012.
 

UVPERSU and NEHAWU sign
 
The agreement was signed (today) Tuesday 8 November 2011 by representatives of the university’s senior leadership and the trade unions UVPERSU and NEHAWU.
 

R2 500 bonus
 
An additional once-off, non-pensionable bonus of R2 500 will also be paid to staff with their December 2011 salary payment. The bonus will be paid to all staff members who were in the employment of the university on UFS conditions of service on 31 December 2011 and who assumed duties before 1 October 2011. The bonus is payable in recognition of the role played by staff during the year to promote the UFS as a university of excellence and as confirmation of the role and effectiveness of the remuneration model.
 
It is the intention to pass the maximum benefit possible on to staff without exceeding the limits of financial sustainability of the institution. For this reason, the negotiating parties reaffirmed their commitment to the Multiple-year, Income-related Remuneration Improvement Model used as a framework for negotiations. The model and its applications are unique and have as a point of departure that the UFS must be and remains financially sustainable. 
 
 
Capacity building and structural adjustments
 
Agreement was reached that 1,54% will be allocated for growth in capacity building to ensure that provision is made for the growth of the UFS over the last few years. A further 0,78% will be allocated to structural adjustments.
 
Agreement about additional matters such as funeral loans was also reached.
 
“The Mutual Forum is particularly pleased that a general salary adjustment of 7,5 % could be negotiated for 2012. Taken into account the world financial downturn, marked cuts in university subsidies and the growth of the university, this is a remarkable achievement,” says Prof. Johan Grobbelaar, Chairperson of the Mutual Negotiation Forum. 
 

Increase for Professors, Deputy and Assistant Directors
 
According to Prof. Grobbelaar the Mutual Forum is also pleased that Professors and Deputy and Assistant Directors will benefit from the structural adjustments. These increases will align the positions with the median of the higher education market. The 1,54% allocated for growth will ensure that appointments can be made where the needs are the highest. The special year-end bonus of R2 500 is an early Christmas gift and implies that the employees in lower salary categories receive an effective increase of almost 9,5 %.
 
“The UFS is in a unique position when it comes to salary negotiations, because the funding model developed more than a decade ago, has stood the test of time and ensured that the staff receive the maximum possible benefits. Of particular note is the fact that the two majority unions (UVPERSU and NEHAWU) work together. The mutual trust between the unions and management is an example of how large organisations can function to reach specific goals and staff harmony,” says Prof. Grobbelaar. 

The implementation date for the salary adjustment is 1 January 2012. The adjustment will be calculated on the total remuneration package.

 

 

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