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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

Inaugural lecture: Prof Robert Bragg, Dept. of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology
2006-05-17



Attending the inaugural lecture were in front from the left Prof Robert Bragg (lecturer at the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology) and Frederick Fourie (Rector and Vice-Chancellor).  At the back from the left were Prof James du Preez (Departmental Chairperson:  Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology) and Prof Herman van Schalkwyk (Dean: Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences). Photo: Stephen Collett
 

A summary of an inaugural lecture delivered by Prof Robert Bragg at the University of the Free State:

CONTROL OF INFECTIOUS AVIAN DISEASES – LESSONS FOR MAN?

Prof Robert R Bragg
Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology
University of the Free State

“Many of the lessons learnt in disease control in poultry will have application on human medicine,” said Prof Robert Bragg, lecturer at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology during his inaugural lecture.

Prof Bragg said the development of vaccines remains the main stay of disease control in humans as well as in avian species.  Disease control can not rely on vaccination alone and other disease-control options must be examined.  

“With the increasing problems of antibiotic resistance, the use of disinfection and bio security are becoming more important,” he said.

“Avian influenza (AI) is an example of a disease which can spread from birds to humans.  Hopefully this virus will not develop human to human transmission,” said Prof Bragg.

According to Prof Bragg, South Africa is not on the migration route of water birds, which are the main transmitters of AI.  “This makes South Africa one of the countries less likely to get the disease,” he said.

If the AI virus does develop human to human transmission, it could make the 1918 flu pandemic pale into insignificance.  During the 1918 flu pandemic, the virus had a mortality rate of only 3%, yet more than 50 million people died.

Although the AI virus has not developed human-to-human transmission, all human cases have been related to direct contact with infected birds. The mortality rate in humans who have contracted this virus is 67%.

“Apart from the obvious fears for the human population, this virus is a very serious poultry pathogen and can cause 100% mortality in poultry populations.  Poultry meat and egg production is the staple protein source in most countries around the world. The virus is currently devastating the poultry industry world-wide,” said Prof Bragg.

Prof Bragg’s research activities on avian diseases started off with the investigation of diseases in poultry.  “The average life cycle of a broiler chicken is 42 days.  After this short time, they are slaughtered.  As a result of the short generation time in poultry, one can observe changes in microbial populations as a result of the use of vaccines, antibiotics and disinfectants,” said Prof Bragg.   

“Much of my research effort has been directed towards the control of infectious coryza in layers, which is caused by the bacterium Avibacterium paragallinarum.  This disease is a type of sinusitis in the layer chickens and can cause a drop in egg product of up to 40%,” said Prof Bragg.

The vaccines used around the world in an attempt to control this disease are all inactivated vaccines. One of the most important points is the selection of the correct strains of the bacterium to use in the vaccine.

Prof Bragg established that in South Africa, there are four different serovars of the bacterium and one of these, the serovar C-3 strain, was believed to be unique to Southern Africa. He also recently discovered this serovar for the first time in Israel, thus indicating that this serovar might have a wider distribution than originally believed.

Vaccines used in this country did not contain this serovar.  Prof Bragg established that the long term use of vaccines not containing the local South African strain resulted in a shift in the population distribution of the pathogen.

Prof Bragg’s research activities also include disease control in parrots and pigeons.   “One of the main research projects in my group is on the disease in parrots caused by the circovirus Beak and Feather Disease virus. This virus causes serious problems in the parrot breeding industry in this country. This virus is also threatening the highly endangered and endemic Cape Parrot,” said Prof Bragg.

Prof Bragg’s research group is currently working on the development of a DNA vaccine which will assist in the control of the disease, not only in the parrot breeding industry, but also to help the highly endangered Cape Parrot in its battle for survival.

“Not all of our research efforts are directed towards infectious coryza or the Beak and Feather Disease virus.  One of my Masters students is currently investigating the cell receptors involved in the binding of Newcastle Disease virus to cancerous cells and normal cells of humans. This work will also eventually lead to a possible treatment of cancer in humans and will assist with the development of a recombinant vaccine for Newcastle disease virus,” said Prof Bragg.

We are also currently investigating an “unknown” virus which causes disease problems in poultry in the Western Cape,” said Prof Bragg.
 
“Although disinfection has been extensively used in the poultry industry, it has only been done at the pre-placement stage. In other words, disinfectants are used before the birds are placed into the house. Once the birds are placed, all use of disinfectants stops,” said Prof Bragg.

“Disinfection and bio security can be seen as the ‘Cinderella’ of disease control in poultry.  This is also true for human medicine. One just has to look at the high numbers of people who die from hospital-acquired infections to realise that disinfection is not a concept which is really clear in human health care,” said Prof Bragg.

Much research has been done in the control of diseases through vaccination and through the use of antibiotics. “These pillars of disease control are, however, starting to crumble and more effort is needed on disinfection and bio security,” said Prof Bragg.

Prof Bragg has been working in close co-operation with a chemical manufacturing company in Stellenbosch to develop a unique disinfectant which his highly effective yet not toxic to the birds.

As a result of this unique product, he has developed the continual disinfection program for use in poultry. In this program the disinfectant is used throughout the production cycle of the birds. It is also used to ensure that there is excellent pre-placement disinfection.

“The program is extensively used for the control of infectious diseases in the parrot-breeding industry in South Africa and the product has been registered in 15 countries around the world with registration in the USA in the final process,” said Prof Bragg.

“Although the problem of plasmid mediated resistance to disinfectants is starting to rear its ugly head, this has allowed for the opening of a new research field which my group will hopefully exploit in the near future,” he said.

 

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