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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: Appointments
2011-12-01

Dr Lis Lange: Senior Director: DIRAP

Description: 2011 Appointments_Lis Lange Tags: 2011 Appointments_Lis Lange

Dr Lis Lange, an Argentinean by birth, immigrated to South Africa twenty years ago – a few weeks after Nelson Mandela had walked through the gates of Victor Verster. For the past ten years, she has been involved in quality assurance for higher education institutions at the Council on Higher Education at national level.

She is assisting our university in the areas of quality assurance and academic planning, contributing to the development of deep intellectual debate and multi-disciplinary research.


Prof. Charles Dumas, Department of Drama and Theatre Arts

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Prof. Charles Dumas, Extraordinary Professor in our Department of Drama and Theatre Arts, will be spending three months per year for the next three years at our university to help develop filmmaking, specifically focusing on the development of the Video Unit Planned for the Department.

Prof. Dumas started the year off with the production, Our Father’s Daughters, which was produced during the Mini-festival as well as at the Reitz Four reconciliation meeting. The production was also turned into a short film. Prof. Dumas gave film-acting classes to the third-year drama students. He directed multiple productions, such as the third-year module production Ipi Zombi, the Grahamstown Festival production, Seven Guitars and the Dance/drama production, Race, Reconciliation and the Reitz Four.


Prof. Daniel Plaatjies, UFS Business School

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Prof. Daniel Plaatjies is the former Director and Head of the Graduate School of Public and Development Management at the University of the Witwatersrand. He was mainly responsible for the leading, directing and managing of strategic academic programmes, teaching, research, governance, service management and monitoring. Prof. Plaatjies, who was appointed as Visiting Professor at our Business School this year, will as part of his new duties at our Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, be lecturing part-time and supervise our PhD students.


Prof. Johann Neethling, Department of Private Law

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Prof. Johann Neethling’s career is now completing its full circle with his appointment as Senior Professor in our Department of Private Law. In 1965 he was a first-year at this university. With his nine law text books and nearly 200 articles, together with 40 years’ experience in academic training he is of inestimable value to this Department. His publications contribute to the establishment of our university as a research institute.


Prof. Hussein Solomon, Department of Political Science

 Description: 2011 Appointments_Hussein Solomon Tags: 2011 Appointments_Hussein Solomon

Prof. Hussein Solomon joined our university this year as Senior Professor in the Department of Political Science. Formerly he worked in peace NGOs, advised diplomats and acts as a serving officer in the South African Air Force.

His area of research expertise includes conflict and conflict resolution in Africa; South African Foreign Policy; international relations theory; religious fundamentalism and population movements within the developing world. He is also the author of a number of books, including one on global jihad and one on India's secret relationship with apartheid South Africa.

He is also member of the internationally renowned Our Humanity in the Balance (OHIB) organisation, where his role is to bring these disparate communities together and to focus energies on a common project.


Prof. André Keet, International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice

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Prof. André Keet, our Director of the International Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice, joined the University of Pretoria on a part-time basis in 2008, whilst being a Commissioner on the Commission for Gender Equality. Later he left the Commission and joined the University of Fort Hare. “I was happy to join academia and now also serve on the Stellenbosch University Council; therefore I am very aware of the challenges facing higher education,” he said.

His vision for the Institute is to support higher-education transformation, promote non-discrimination, reconciliation and human rights, build national, regional and international networks, and developing ‘new’ languages, knowledge and discourses for reconciliation and social justice, all to the benefit of our university and South Africa.”


Prof. Helene Strauss, Department of English

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Prof. Helene Strauss completed her PhD at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, where she taught courses on Film Studies, Children’s Literature and South African Literature and Culture. “I was subsequently appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada.” She joined our Department of English this year.

Prof. Strauss has an on-going preoccupation with questions concerning social justice, race, gender and ethical interpersonal interaction in South Africa and beyond.


Prof. EC Ejiogu, Centre for Africa Studies

Description: 2011 Appointments_EC Ejiogu Tags: 2011 Appointments_EC Ejiogu

After 22 years in the United States of America, Prof. EC Ejiogu decided to return to Africa – to his roots – to join our university’s Centre for Africa Studies at the beginning of 2011.

Before joining the Centre, he was Assistant Research Professor in the Centre for Innovation at the University of Maryland, College Park. As Senior Researcher at the Centre, he has already helped with the streamlining of the academic programme, restructuring it to enable students to gain skills necessary to deliver a research proposal towards a dissertation after their three years of study. He has also taken up PhD and Master’s supervision.

His latest publications include a book published in March 2011 with the title, Roots of Political Instability in Nigeria, and a book co-edited with Prof. Kwandiwe Kondlo, Director of the Centre for Africa Studies, Africa in focus: Governance in the 21st century, published in April 2011.


Pura Mgolombane, Vice-Dean: Student Affairs

Description: 2011 Appointments_Pura Tags: 2011 Appointments_Pura

Bringing with him a decade of experience in Student Affairs our new Assistant-Dean for Student Life and Leadership, Pura Mgolombane, has big plans for student development. He says his office wants to help Kovsies increase its throughput rate and produce socially well-adjusted and employable graduates in South Africa, the continent and anywhere in the world.

Before joining Kovsies, he was employed as Director: Student Life, Governance and Culture at Walter Sisulu University. Pura, who has a background in Human Resources, Business Management and Corporate Law, says his academic training has empowered him with skills to ensure that the Student Life and Leadership is properly led, governed and managed.


Prof. Hasina Ebrahim, School for Social Sciences and Language Education

Description: 2011 Appointments_Hasina Ebrahim Tags: 2011 Appointments_Hasina Ebrahim

This former academic from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal was appointed as Associate Professor at our School for Social Sciences and Language Education in the Faculty of Education. Amongst others, she is the project coordinator for the Faculty’s Early Childhood and Foundation Phase Teacher Education Programme and the MEd and PhD supervisor in the programme.

Prof. Ebrahim is also the Deputy-President of the first South African Research Association for Early Childhood Education (birth to nine). “This is certainly a milestone to profile the university in terms of its thrust towards excellence in research,” she says. One of the main aims of the association is to shape the research agenda for a marginalised field in South Africa. 


Prof. Corli Witthuhn, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences

 Description: 2011 Appointments_Corli Witthuhn Tags: 2011 Appointments_Corli Witthuhn

Prof. Corli Witthuhn, a former Bloemfonteiner, attained her PhD in Microbiology at our university. Therafter, in 1999, she was appointed as a lecturer at Stellenbosch University and later as Vice-Dean.

Currently she is our Vice-Dean in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. She hopes to sustain her research here at our University.

Her life motto? “Opportunities are presented in the form of obstacles,” she says.
 


Prof. Melanie Walker

Description: 2011 Appointments_Melanie Walker Tags: 2011 Appointments_Melanie Walker

Prof. Melanie Walker is a prominent South African scholar who has been working as Professor of Higher Education Studies at the world-leading University of Nottingham in the UK, where she been Director of Postgraduate Students and a Director of Research in the Faculty of Social Sciences. She will join the University of the Free State in February 2012 as Senior University Professor in the Postgraduate School.

She is a graduate of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Cape Town, where she completed her PhD, after teaching in disadvantaged secondary schools for a number of years. Prior to working at Nottingham she worked at the Universities of Sheffield, West of England and Glasgow, as well as the Universities of Cape Town and the Western Cape. She is also a Fellow of the Human Development and Capability Association. She is currently Director of Research Training and a senior researcher in the EU-funded Marie Curie EDUWEL project, which includes senior researchers from eight European countries and 15 early-stage researchers.

With a long-standing commitment to social-justice research and equality practices, she is currently widely recognised internationally as leading in the application of the capability approach and human development to higher education policy and practice. Among others, she has led or participated in research projects funded by the NRF (South Africa), the Higher Education Academy (UK), HEFCE (UK), EU, and ESRC/DfID, which funded the Public-Good Professionals’ Capability Index research project. 
 

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