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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

During 2011: Sport

Our sports stars set their gaols high and with hard work, dedication a good measure of determination they show that they will not give up until these goals are met. A place in the national team or a medal or award in hand is enough proof that our Kovsie sportsmen and women are serious about their successes on the sports field.

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Some of our stars this year were:


Thuso Mpuang, our Kovsie Sportsman of the year, represented South Africa during the World Athletic Championships in Deague, Korea. He obtained the silver medal in the 200m during the World Student Games in Shenzhen, China and a gold medal as a member of the 4 x 100m relay team.

Janette Siebert represented South Africa during the Southern Africa Championships in Maputo, Mozambique.

Boy Soke represented South Africa during the Africa Cross Country Championships in Cape Town. He also represented South Africa during the World Cross Country Championships in China.


The 21-year-old former Kovsie, Obus Pienaar, who was still playing cricket for our university club until the end of the season (end of March), has been playing abroad for the Irish cricket club Waringstown from the end of April 2011.
We are proud of Obus’ achievements, in particular his contribution to the match against the CIYMS. During this game, Obus hit the highest score ever in the Northern Cricket Unions when he scored 244 runs in only 114 balls. This included 22 sixes and 13 fours. During his innings in this match, Obus also broke the July 2004 record of his compatriot, AB de Villiers of the Proteas.


Lesley Ann George represented the Protea Women’s Hockey Team during the series against China, Belgium and Azerbaijan. She was also a member of the Protea Women’s Hockey Team during the Champs Challenge in Ireland. The team finished fifth.

Nicole de Vries represented the Protea Women’s Hockey Team during the series against China, Belgium and Azerbaijan. She was also a member of the Protea Women’s Hockey Team during the Africa Cup in Bulawayo. The team obtained a gold medal.

Hettie Oosthuizen represented the Protea Women’s Hockey Team during the series against China, Belgium and Azerbaijan.

Izelle Lategan represented the Protea Women’s Hockey Team during the series against China, Belgium and Azerbaijan.

Nicole Kemp was a member of the Protea Women’s Hockey Team during the Africa Cup in Bulawayo. The team obtained a gold medal.


Elsabe le Roux was a member of the Protea JKA Shotokan Karate Team that participated in the Africa Zone 6 Championships in Maputo where she obtained a gold and silver medal.

Bruno Schwalbach was a member of the Protea JKA Shotokan Karate Team that participated in the Africa Zone 6 Championships in Maputo where he obtained two gold medals. He was also a member of the Protea JKA Shotokan Karate Team that participated in the Common Wealth Karate Championship in Australia where he obtained one silver and two bronze medals. He was a member of the Protea JKA Shotokan Karate Team that participated in the All Africa Games in Maputo Mozambique where he obtained a bronze medal.

Balungile Nchofe was a member of the Protea JKA Shotokan Karate Team that participated in the Africa Zone 6 Championship in Maputo, where he obtained a gold medal.


Kovsies’ netball team has performed well over the past year with, amongst others, the inclusion of players in the SA Universities World-cup Group.

Karla Mostert and Maryka Holtzhausen participated during the World Cup in Singapore in the SPAR SA Protea team.

We are also proud of the eight players who have been included in the SA team. They are Zimari Smit, Sheri Duimpies, Ane Botha, Danique du Toit, Nieke Loubser, Karla Mostert, Fikile Mkhuzangwe and Lauren-lee Christians.

At the SA tournament, Ane Botha was named as the centre-court player of the tournament, whilst Karla Mostert was named as the best defending player. Karla has also been included in the SPAR SA Protea team to the All African Games, which start in Mozambique at the end of August.


Boom Prinsloo and Robert Ebershohn are representing the Springboks in the HSBC Sevens World Series.


Gabisile Hlumbane, our Kovsie Sportswomanof the year, is a member of the Banyana Banyana National Soccer Team. The team obtained a bronze medal at the African Women’s Championships during October 2010, a gold medal at the Unity Cup Hosted during December 2010, a silver medal at the COSAFA Women’s Championship hosted during July 2011 and qualified for the London Olympics in 2012.


Paul Rodrigues represented the South African U/ 23 team at the All Africa Squash Championships in Johannesburg.


Nelmaré Loubser represented the SA Elite Team during the World Championships in Spain.


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