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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

Conference: Expanded ARV treatment
2005-03-02

VENUE: University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
DATE: 30 March 2005 - 1 April 2005

  • ARV Programme as on 24Feb Download Word document
     
  • Programme Special events Download Word document


    Official web site www.fshealth.gov.za/subsites/arvc

     


    Rationale for the Conference
    At the time of the planned Conference, much ground would have been covered, both in the Free State and in South Africa, in respect of the expanded public sector ARV treatment programme in respect of research, experiences in practice, training of staff, treatment of patients, lessons learned, successes and failures, etc. The time would then be quite opportune to share these in a systematic manner with other provinces and countries, as well as with the large variety of stakeholders and role players in the ARV and related domains, be they academics and researchers, policy makers and service/facility managers, the variety of caregivers, and the community organisations and affected patients.

The Conference and current research
The proposed Conference is, firstly, directly linked to the current research on the public sector roll-out of ARV treatment in the Free State conducted by several research institutions (e.g. CIET, CHSR&D, UCT Lung Institute). Secondly, the Conference could and would serve as a forum for other research groups in the country and further a field to report and share knowledge and experiences on ARV treatment and related initiatives. Lastly, the Conference will stage a golden opportunity for researchers and scientists, on the one hand, and policy makers, managers, and caregivers (as knowledge users), on the other hand, to engage in cross-disciplinary discourse on this mutual and topical theme.

Theme of Conference
Expanded ARV treatment in the Free State: sharing experiences

Focus
The focus is primarily on public sector ARV treatment in the Free State, but also initiatives/activities/perspectives of relevance to the Free State elsewhere in the country at large and further a field, as well as relevant ARV initiatives in the public, private, NGO and FBO sectors. Bear in mind, however, that ARV treatment is but part of a much more comprehensive approach to HIV and AIDS. The Conference will, therefore, not narrowly focus on the ARV treatment programme only. The broader context, other relevant dimensions, and a comprehensive approach to the challenges of HIV, AIDS and TB are of equal importance.

The purpose of the Conference
Enhance meaningful exchange, mutual understanding and collaboration among researchers, scientists, policy makers, managers and practitioners in the field of ARV treatment and related fields.

Share experiences in the various spheres of ARV treatment and related spheres (policy, management, practice, research, training, public-private-civil society sectors).

Record, reflect and report on the establishment of the ARV treatment programme in the Free State, and in within the context of the comprehensive HIV/AIDS programme.

Disseminate important research results on ARV treatment and related themes to health policy makers, managers, practitioners, communities and to the research community.

Stimulate discourse among various disciplines and various stakeholders/role players involved in ARV treatment and related programmes.

Sensitise and acquaint researchers to the requirements of policy makers, managers and practitioners in respect of ARV treatment and related fields.

Facilitate the implementation of research results in ARV treatment policy, programmes and practice.

Dissemination of Conference-related information
Information generated during the Conference could feed into policy, management and practice of ARV treatment, the training accompanying such programme, and the existing body of knowledge. After the Conference the information will be disseminated via the Internet and by scientific and popular publications.

Date and duration
Set for 30 & 31 March & 1 April 2005; to commence at 09:00 on the first day (30 March) and to end at 16:30 (1 April) the third day.

Format and scope of Conference
Alternating plenary, parallel sessions and debates focused on topical issues and interest groups. The Conference will strive to be maximally interactive and participative.

Themes and topics to cover:

  • Policy, management and health services/practice (various levels and contexts – clinical treatment, information, IT systems, pharmacy, laboratories, nutrition)
     
  • Research covering all relevant disciplines and diverse dimensions of ARV treatment and related themes
  • Training and evaluation of training
  • Patients, communities and civil society organisations
  • Public, private, NGO, FBO initiatives and partnerships

Emphasis will be on the Free State, however, with of significant involvement from other provinces, SADC countries, and countries further a field. The thrust will be to export lessons and experiences from the Free State, but also to import lessons and experiences from other provinces, countries and sectors.

Presenters
Key presenters from the Free State, other provinces, South Africa, from the private, FBO and NGO sectors, and from several other countries

Delegates
About half of the delegates will be Free State stakeholders and role players (all levels and all contexts). The other half will be role players and stakeholders in the ARV and related fields from other provinces, the national level, and other countries, as well as from the private, public and non-governmental sectors.

Focused workshops
Provision will be made for half-a-day or one-day workshop initiatives on the third day (1 April 2005).

Enquiries
For more information please contact:

Prof Dingie van Rensburg
Centre for Health Systems Research & Development
University of the Free State
PO Box 339
Bloenfontein
SOUTH AFRICA
9300

Contact:
Carin van Vuuren
Conference Organiser
Centre for Health Systems Research & Development
University of the Free State
P.O.Box 339
Bloemfontein
South Africa
9300
Tel +27 (0) 51 401 2181
Fax +27 (0) 51 4480370
Cell 0832932890
e-mail: arvconference.hum@mail.uovs.ac.za

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