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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: Achievements at the UFS

Sarah Shannon

Dr Alex Amtaika, Department of Political Science

Description: 2011 Achievements_Alex Amtaika Tags: 2011 Achievements_Alex Amtaika

During a conference at Khon Kaen University in Thailand, Dr Alexius Amtaika from our Department of Political Science was elected as Executive Director and Convener of the International Committee of Scholars of Local Government. This honour was bestowed upon Dr Alexius during the first International Conference on Local Government at Khon Kaen University. 

Sarah Shannon

Description: 2011 Achievements_Sarah Shannon Tags: 2011 Achievements_Sarah Shannon

We all have heard stories about inspirational people, who defy the odds, fight circumstance every day and never give up. Sarah Shannon has cerebral palsy but has never stopped dreaming and achieving them.

Sarah is also a competitive swimmer, and is currently ranked seventh in the world in her class of disabilities.

She is currently completing her postgraduate certificate in Education, Foundation Phrase, through Unisa. She is also studying Sociology at our university.

DW Bester and Sannah Mokone, Rhodes Scholars

Description: 2011 Achievements_Rhodes Scholars Tags: 2011 Achievements_Rhodes Scholars

Of the four open Rhodes Scholarships available to students from all universities in Southern Africa, two of our students won these prestigious scholarships. DW Bester, B.Sc. Hons. Actuarial Science student, and Sannah Mokone, BPub-cum laude student, joined Oxford University in the United Kingdom in September 2011 to further their studies.

The Rhodes Scholarships, arguably one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world, were founded in 1903 in the will of Cecil John Rhodes and cover the full costs of study at Oxford University.

While academic excellence is a pre-condition for consideration for the Rhodes Scholarship, these scholarships are unique in that Rhodes Scholars are outstanding young students who excel academically, but very importantly, demonstrate leadership, are committed to making a difference in the world, and have the energy to fulfill their ambitions. 

Dr Derik Coetzee, Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences

Description: 2011 Achievements_Derik Coetzee Tags: 2011 Achievements_Derik Coetzee

When you suddenly receive a call during a World Cup year and requested to come and assist in leading the Springboks, then you have to know, you have something to offer. This is what happened to Dr Derik Coetzee from our Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences. This year he once again became involved in the Springbok rugby team, after he had been die Bokke’s conditioning trainer from 2004 to 2007.

His primary task as conditioning head was to help in seeing to it that the Springboks reached their best level of play – psychologically, physically an emotionally. Amongst others, his duties included the optimisation of the players’ muscle and explosive power, speed, anaerobic ability and technical skills.

Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee en Mart Kotzé

Description: 2011 Achievements_Jefferson and Mart Tags: 2011 Achievements_Jefferson and Mart

Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee, from Willowmore in the Eastern Cape, and Mart Kotzé from Bloemfontein, recently made history by being the first students from our Department of Drama and Theatre Arts featuring in an Afrikaans South African film Skoonheid, the first ever to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

The movie won the Queer Palm Award at the 2011 Cannes International Film Festival, where Robert de Niro was the chairperson of the panel of judges. 

Prof. Muriel Meiring, Department of Haematology and Cell Biology

Description: 2011 Achievements_Muriel Meiring Tags: 2011 Achievements_Muriel Meiring

Prof. Muriel Meiring, Specialist Scientist in our Department of Haematology and Cell Biology, is responsible for establishing the Specialised Haemostasis Laboratory at our university and the Universitas Hospital’s National Health Laboratory Service. She established this centre as a reference centre for Von Willebrand disease, a genetic bleeding disorder, in South Africa. This laboratory is internationally recognised for their research and as a reference laboratory.

Prof. Meiring develops and tests antithrombotic (anti-clotting) agents and her long list of publications, research awards and congress presentations has earned her a nomination for the Department of Science and Technology’s Distinguished Woman Scientist Award. She was one of two scientists of the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) to receive the award – Prof. Meiring being the only woman from our university.

Medical facilities from all over the country make use of her and her team’s expertise when testing for blood disorders and she hopes to expand the centre even further.  

Melinda Jonker

Description: 2011 Achievements_Melinda Jonker Tags: 2011 Achievements_Melinda Jonker

Melinda Jonker, one of our third-year financial economic students, won the overall national competition of the prestigious Traders Trophy competition at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

The competition, sponsored by Nedbank Capital and Oxyor in Amsterdam, requires participants to trade actual JSE-listed shares against one another on a simulated platform. The winner is determined not only by the highest profit, but also by the technique used throughout the trading session.

Christopher Diab, also a student from our Department of Economics, won the regional UFS competition. 

ASSAf members

Description: 2011 Achievements_ASSAF Tags: 2011 Achievements_ASSAF

Seven of our academic colleagues have been elected as members of the Academy for Science of South Africa (ASSAf). They are Proff. Hendrik Swart, Physics; André Roodt, Chemistry; Zakkie Pretorius, Plant Sciences; Max Finkelstein, Mathematics; James du Preez, Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology; Maryke Labuschagne, Plant Breeding; and Neil Roos from our Postgraduate School.

Due main objective of the Academy is to promote and apply scientific thought in the service of the society, in order to determine the quality and scope of the role that the Academy can plays in the country’s life and progress, and eventually apply it

Other colleagues who are currently members of ASSAf include Proff. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector; Johan Henning, Dean: Faculty of Law; and Frans Swanepoel, Senior Director: Research Development.

Samantha Renda-Dollman

Description: 2011 Achievements_Samantha Dollman Tags: 2011 Achievements_Samantha Dollman

Samantha Renda-Dollman, a BSc (Zoology) student on our Qwaqwa Campus, has obtained 19 distinctions out of the 22 modules she has written since 2009.

Her hard work earned Samantha the prestigious Dux Student award of our 2011 Annual Student Affairs Excellence Awards, held at our Qwaqwa Campus. This makes her the best overall academic performer of the entire student body on this campus.  

Jaco Griessel

Description: 2011 Achievements_Jaco Griessel Tags: 2011 Achievements_Jaco Griessel

Jaco Griessel, an Honours student at our Odeion School for Music, received a prestigious Mandela Rhodes bursary for 2012 to study towards his Master’s degree next year.

Jaco, who is currently busy with his BMus Honours degree, is a performer par excellence, with many achievements to his name. In 2010, he received the Fanie Beetge Prize for the best undergraduate student in Systematic Music Studies. A year before, he received the same prize as best undergraduate student in Historic Music Studies. He shall continue his Master’s degree with Music Composition as field of specialisation at our university in 2012.

Prof. Helena van Zyl, UFS School of Management

Description: 2011 Achievements_Helena van Zyl Tags: 2011 Achievements_Helena van Zyl

Prof. Helena van Zyl, Director of the UFS Business School, was elected as President of the South African Association of Business Schools (SABSA). Since the beginning of 2010 she has been acting as president. Prof. Van Zyl is the first woman to occupy this position and also the first woman who is currently heading a business school in South Africa. She will serve SABSA as the president for the next two years.

Prof. Zakkie Pretorius, Department of Plant Sciences

Description: 2011 Achievements_Zakkie Pretorius Tags: 2011 Achievements_Zakkie Pretorius

Research by Prof. Zakkie Pretorius from our Department of Plant Sciences, has become part of Phase II of a mayor global project to combat deadly strains of a wheat pathogen that poses a threat to global food security.

Prof. Pretorius focuses on the identification of resistance in wheat to the stem rust disease and will assist breeders and geneticists in the accurate phenotyping of international breeding lines and mapping populations. In addition, Prof. Pretorius will support scientists from Africa with critical skills development through training programmes.

The Ug99 strain was discovered in Kenya in 1998, but are now also threatening major wheat-growing areas of Southern and Eastern Africa, the Central Asian Republics, the Caucasus, the Indian subcontinent, South America, Australia and North America. 

Prof. Danie Strauss, research fellow in the Faculty of Humanities

Description: 2011 Achievements_Danie Strauss Tags: 2011 Achievements_Danie Strauss

Prof. Danie Strauss, a research fellow in our Faculty of the Humanities, won the Dooyeweerd Prize from the Board of the Association for Reformational Philosophies in Amsterdam. Prof. Strauss, former Dean of our Faculty of the Humanities and head of our Department of Philosophy, won the prize for his book Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines. The prize is awarded for work in the field of systematic philosophy.

Nida Jooste and Ryan Lamb, Abe Bailey Travel Bursary holders

Description: 2011 Achievements_Abe Bailey Tags: 2011 Achievements_Abe Bailey

Nida Jooste and Ryan Lamb are two of the proud recipients of Abe Bailey Travel Bursaries. Both students are academic achievers, but also excel in other fields. This is what set them apart from the rest of the applicants for the bursaries.

Ryan (23), a Medical Physics Honours student at our Faculty of Health Sciences, received the Senate’s Medal for the best Bachelor’s Degree student at the UFS. He was one of 100 students at the Brightest Young Minds Summit this year and was one of the 2008 delegates to the World Youth Forum, hosted by the International Association for Poetry and Solidarity in Italy.

Nida (21) is a very familiar face on our Bloemfontein Campus, as she served as the Deputy Chairperson of our Interim Student Council in 2011. 

Loerie Award for Tarran Jacobs, Elizabeth Forson and Mafohlela Mahlatsi

Description: 2011 Achievements_Loerie Tags: 2011 Achievements_Loerie

The creativity of a group of students from our university was rewarded with a bronze Loerie Award after they won an internal competition. Tarran Jacobs, Elizabeth Forson and Mafohlela Mahlatsi, all third-year Marketing Communication students, won the award for an advertisement they designed for Cansa.

Each year, the third-year Marketing Communication students of our Department of Communication Science have the opportunity to flex their creative muscles in the Copy-writing class. The challenge is to design two advertisements for any charity organisation by applying the knowledge they gained from the subject in a practical way. The top three groups are then entered for the Loerie and Pendoring awards – two of the most prestigious awards in the South African advertising industry.

The top three groups designed advertisements for Cansa, the South African Blood Service and Crime Line.

Hendrik Kruger and Anke Malan walk away with awards at Pfizer UKZN Young Health Scientists Research Symposium

Description: 2011 Achievements_Pfizer Tags: 2011 Achievements_Pfizer

Two students in our Faculty of Health Sciences won awards at a Pfizer UKZN Young Health Scientists Research Symposium.

Hendrik Kruger, a medical student, represented his group, which won the clinical category with the paper “Injury patterns of occupants surviving motor vehicle accidents in the Free State”. This presentation was based on a study which is the first of its kind in South Africa.

The group with Anke Malan from our Department of Nutrition and Dietetics as presenter received the prize in the community-based category with the presentation ’Knowledge, practices and perceptions of undergraduate students at the UFS regarding the risk factors of osteoporoses’. Anke’s team was also nominated as the overall winner of the symposium. Presentations were delivered in three categories, namely clinical, community-based and laboratory research. 

Prof. Louis Scott, Department of Plant Sciences

Description: 2011 Achievements_Louis Scott Tags: 2011 Achievements_Louis Scott

Prof. Louis Scott from our Department of Plant Sciences was formally rewarded the Fellowship of Royal Society of South Africa (RSSA).

Prof. Scott is an internationally recognised Palinologist at our university and a B-rated scientist.

Fellows of the RSSA are considered to be part of a very elite group of South African scientists who have achieved international acknowledgment. 

Prof. Aldo Stroebel, International Academic Programmes in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor

Description: 2011 Achievements_Aldo Stroebel Tags: 2011 Achievements_Aldo Stroebel

Prof. Aldo Stroebel has been elected as a Founding Member of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS).

He is Associate Professor in our Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension, as well as the Director of International Academic Programmes in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor.

The Young Academy has as its objectives to represent young scientists in advising the government on science and technology policy and human resource development. In addition, they will prepare the SAYAS to join the Global Young Academy (GYA) to engage with high-level international bodies, including the World Economic Forum.  

Prof. Lodewyk Kock, Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology

Description: 2011 Achievements_Lodewyk Kock Tags: 2011 Achievements_Lodewyk Kock

Prof. Lodewyk Kock was a sought-after keynote speaker at various conferences and seminars around the globe on our nanotechnology breakthrough research.

He delivered keynote lectures at international conferences of repute in the USA, China and Greece. In the USA he delivered a the keynote address at the Conference & Exhibition on Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs (Pharma-2011), held in Baltimore, and was a keynote speaker at the 2nd World Congress on Biotechnology in Philadelphia. He was also invited to present various lectures abroad.

He posted two video lectures in e-conference format on his research on the web page of the journal Translational Biomedicine. He was also invited by the International Society of Translational Medicine (ISTM) to head their “Molecular Imaging” Division.

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