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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 in partnership with USA ’s Council on Economic Education 
2006-02-01

A visit to the campus of the UFS was part of the recent NCEE workshop.  Standing from the left are Prof Soehendro (Chairperson:  National Education Standardisation Body of Indonesia), Prof Herman van Schalkwyk (Dean:  Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the UFS), Prof Elena Reshetnyak (Vice-Dean for International Programs, Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute, Kharkiv, Ukraine) and Mrs Annely Minnaar (local coordinator of the NCEE and professional officer of the UFS Department of Agricultural Economics).  Seated are from left Prof  Sutjipto ( Chairman of the Indonesian Council on Economic Education) and Dr Patty Elder (Vice-President of the NCEE's national programme).
Photo: Stephen Collett


UFS in partnership with USA ’s Council on Economic Education 

A group of 50 teachers in Economics, learning facilitators and lecturers from eight countries attended a ‘train the trainers’ workshop this past week in Bloemfontein.  The workshop forms part of the outreach programme of the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE) in the United States of America’s (USA) effort to improve the quality of the training in Economics of teachers and lecturers across the world. 

The UFS and the Free State Department of Education are the NCEE’s first partners in Africa.  “The initiative started in the Free State because of the connection that existed between the UFS and the NCEE,” said Prof Klopper Oosthuizen, from the UFS Department of Agricultural Economics and initiator of the cooperative agreement with the NCEE.

Three faculties at the UFS are involved in the cooperative agreement namely the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, the Faculty of the Humanities and the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences.

A group of 84 teachers and learning facilitators in the Free State attended the ‘train the teacher’ workshop at the UFS in December 2005 in an effort to improve the quality of Economics classes at schools in the Free State.  The last national workshop will take place in June 2006 in Bloemfontein.  During this workshop a group of 40 teachers and learning facilitators in the Free State will be trained by the NCEE.    

“Because of the success with the programme in the Free State Dr Patty Elder, Vice-President of the NCEE’s national programme, announced during last week’s workshop that the initiative will now be extended to the other provinces in the country,” said Prof Oosthuizen.  According to Prof Oosthuizen discussions around a strategy to get the other provinces on board of the programme also took place between Dr Elder and Prof Herman van Schalkwyk, Dean of the UFS Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.  Prof van Schalkwyk will take the lead in this regard.  

“The presence of Dr Elder and the executive directors of similar education networks in the Ukraine and Indonesia is an indication of the NCEE’s seriousness with the programme in Africa,” said Prof Oosthuizen.

Prof Oosthuizen explained that South Africa is competing to obtain funds from the NCEE to have a total South African representation in the workshops in the following one-year training period. 

South Africa has a good chance of establishing the network quickly because of the presentation of the last national workshop in Bloemfontein in June 2006.  “We are going to try to have as much South African representation as possible at this workshop,” said Prof Oosthuizen.

Concurrent with the workshop in June 2006, a programme will be developed that will be attended by at least five other provincial education departments and representatives of five other universities.  These representatives will then be able to observe on a first-hand basis how this action learning takes place and how the participating countries plan to establish and expand their networks,” said Prof Oosthuizen.

“The NCEE has been working together with international partners since 1992 to strengthen their Economics teaching systems.  They have already succeeded in increasing literacy in Economics of schools in the USA and more than 20 East Block countries.  More than 1,5 million learners in the East Block countries have already been served by this initiative,” said Prof Oosthuizen.

According to Prof Oosthuizen the focus of the NCEE has since 2004 moved away from the East Block countries to Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.  The representatives that attended last week’s workshop were from South Africa, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Indonesia, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay.  Countries such as Egypt, who was also present at last week’s workshop, are eager to start a similar network. 

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel:   (051) 401-2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
31 January 2006

 
 

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