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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

Help to rural women to become entrepreneurs
2006-10-24

Some of the guests who attended the ceremony were, from the left: Mr Donray Malabie (Head of the Alexander Forbes Community Trust), Ms Jemina Mokgosi (one of the ladies from Tabane Village who is participating in the Women in Agriculture project), Dr Limakatso Moorosi (Head: Veterinary Services, Free State Department of Agriculture), Prof Johan Greyling (Head: UFS Department of Animal and Wildlife and Grassland Sciences) and Ms Khoboso Lehloenya (coordinator of the project from UFS Department of Animal and Wildlife and Grassland Sciences). Photo: Leonie Bolleurs\

Alexander Forbes and UFS help rural women to become entrepreneurs
 
Today, the Alexander Forbes Community Trust and the University of the Free State (UFS) joined forces to create an enabling environment for rural women to become players in the private sector.

Three years ago the UFS set up a unique small-scale household egg production project called Women in Agriculture in Thaba ‘Nchu as a pilot project. The project was officially launched today by Mr Donray Malabie, Head of the Alexander Forbes Community Trust.

The aim of the Women in Agriculture Project is to create jobs, provide food security and to help develop rural women into entrepreneurs. A total of 25 women based in Tabane Village in Thaba ‘Nchu are the beneficiaries of the project.

“This is the first project in the Free State the Alexander Forbes Community Trust is involved with.  The project would help rural women acquire the skills they need to run their own egg-production business from their homes,” said Mr Malabie. 

“The ongoing debate on the shortage of skills ignores the fact that people with little or no education at all also need training. This project is special to the Trust as it provides for the creation of sustainable jobs, food security and the transfer of much needed skills all at once, particularly at this level,” he said.

Every woman in the group started with two small mobile cages that housed 12 hens each. The units are low in cost, and made of commercially available welded mesh and a metal frame. Now, each woman has four cages with 48 hens. The group manages to collectively produce 750 eggs daily.

The eggs are currently sold to local businesses, including spaza shops and the women are using the income generated to look after their families and to further develop their business.

The Department of Animal and Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the UFS identified the project and did the initial research into the feasibility of setting up such a project.

“A demonstration and training unit has been established at the Lengau Agricultural Development Centre and the women attended a short practical training course. Subsidies are provided for feeding, together with all the material and the lay hens necessary for the start of the business,” said Ms Khoboso Lehloenya, coordinator of the project from the Department of Animal and Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the UFS. 

“The advantage in using lay hens is that they are resistant to diseases and the women will not need electric heating systems for the egg production,” said Ms Lehloenya. 

According to Ms Lehloenya, the women are already benefiting from their egg production businesses.  “Some of them have used the profit to buy school uniforms and tracksuits for their children and others are now able to make a monthly contribution to their household expenses,” said Ms Lehloenya. 
“In South Africa, possibly due to cultural reasons and circumstances, most black people prefer to eat older and tougher chickens, compared to younger soft commercially available broiler chickens. This preference creates a further advantage for the women. At the end of their production cycle, old hens can be sold for a higher price than point-of-lay or young hens. This brings in further money to pay for more hens,” said Ms Lehloenya.

The Alexander Forbes Trust contributed R191 000 towards the project aimed at expanding it to benefit 15 more women.

“We are in the process of recruiting an additional 15 women in Thaba ‘Nchu who will be trained by the Lengau Agricultural Development Centre in order to replicate the model and extend its reach”, said Ms Lehloenya.

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

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