EDUCATION

School girls hope community media becomes their salvation on their journey into womanhood.

Masutane Modjadji
Masutane Modjadji

By Masutane Modjadji

The most trying thing about working in a rural environment is not the lack of better roads or basic services not reaching areas that need them the most – it is watching people falling through the cracks of a system designed to improve their status quo. On any given day community media journalists get bombarded with complaints from members of the public wishing for recourse for the injustices they’re faced with. Community media is viewed as a salvation for those who are looking for affirmation that they are right in demanding better treatment from those entrusted with bringing them services.

It’s not uncommon to hear stories of local clinics closing after lunch because the nurses are too tired to continue working. Either that or they are just unwilling to do their jobs. The negative attitude public servants greet rural masses with also leaves a lot to be desired. These are people who have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to walk long distances for hours queuing to get help. More often than not it has to take a call and few follow ups from a newsroom to help someone obtain their ID from home affairs due to years of unexplained delays. Here nothing happens unless you know people who can push it. This has become a normal part of working for a community media. It can be as fulfilling as it can be frustrating.

Frustration perhaps is a word I can best describe the plight of girl students at a Ninakhulu Primary School in Lulekani villages around Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality.

From a distance their new school looks like it was plucked from a city and put in this arid area surrounded by golden grass. When you step inside and meet the students you don’t need the principal to tell you that a big percentage of the learners come from poor family backgrounds. You will still need to give your ear to listen to the situations most go back home to after each school day. When the school year calendar ends the principal identifies learners whose need for food are more urgent, in order to give what is left from the government’s feeding scheme to them.  At times their food packages get stolen as their households have no doors.

I first came across their story as a rumour that turned out to be a dire need for girls, many of whom at puberty are at the threshold of womanhood. The story was that a high rate of absenteeism among female learners had lead to an investigation that uncovered that the girls would be absent for an average of three days per week. Upon further investigation the acting principal Mrs Sibiya said she discovered that learners were absent during their periods. She had conducted this investigation talking to them and assessing their backgrounds. The majority of the girls came from impoverished households and their parents could not afford sanitary pads.

Not having sanitary towels to aid them during their periods is a problem the girls’ families cannot afford to have. The principal took it upon herself to do something about this. Armed with a zero budget and mostly hoping for donations from members of the public she started her request for help with the common of “Can your radio station please help…..” Like most people in this area community media is where she hopes her girls’ salvation will come from.

If you can assist, please contact us on feministssa@gmail.com and we will put you in touch with the principal directly.

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Daniel Sincuba
GENDER POLITICS

Billboards and chit chat won’t stop street harassment

 

Daniel Sincuba
Daniel Sincuba

By Daniel Sincuba

In 2014, street harassment remains (along with other outlets for patriarchy) a social problem globally. It remains largely under-dealt with and under-publicised. Sexual prejudice and oppression are still a thing as patriarchy is force fed down our throats. This is a serious vigil in the face of the age of information and other liberations.

It transpires that there is next to nothing being done about ending street harassment in South Africa. Recently, I was in a conversation about the idea that billboards instructing men on appropriate and inappropriate behaviour would help. I argued that while it was good thinking, the reaction has to be in scale with the offence, which is as big as we know it to be but bigger than what our reaction to it would suggest. Let me explain.

Whenever I speak to people about poverty or corruption or racism I say that you can’t simply erase a problem by looking at the surface of it. One needs to look after the cause and the cause of the cause and the cause of that and then positive results will look after themselves. Usually it is right to say that the problem is a by-product of society, not a gross departure from it. Therefore it is elements in society and social conventions/systems that need changing.

In this case, one cannot simply say “stop touching peoples’ butts on the street!” and expect anything to happen. Our nemeses are mindset, history, compliance, conventions etc. I think that a billboard or an advert or a discussion among innocent people is largely an exercise in futility. You can never get the message across in that space/time to someone who still has the wrong attitude in 2014. I think you need more time and intimacy.

We often say, as black South Africans, that colonialism/white supremacy/apartheid etc acted against the interests of people of colour for about 350 years and that we can’t expect that 20 years of freedom (and I use that term very, very loosely) will reverse all of that. So how can silence, conversation or an advert remove an outlet of patriarchy?

To be clear, I don’t have an issue with the idea of billboards, but I don’t think they’d be that effective, especially with something so deep rooted. I just think it takes way more. It appears to me as a case where teaching is needed as the people have been told, or the why of the what. How many people are likely to pass a billboard or a street ad and exclaim in shock: “Oh my God, a billboard, now I can change my attitude towards women. This was all I needed?”

Also, people have to buy into it first. People buy into patriarchy because they were walked into it by convention and a social system that is blatantly patriarchal. So without the appropriate respect for women, a billboard advertising something with the use of female sexuality is acceptable. Or when you have no respect for a TV show, a billboard about it holds no interest to you. Also, it’s easy and comfy on our selfishness. We weren’t told: “OK, it’s time to be patriarchal,” we were trained and continue to be trained on a daily (hourly even?) basis. That is what has to happen in reverse to reverse the curse.

In any case, are we not undermining the intelligence of the people by assuming that they don’t know that it’s wrong to harass other humans? Are we saying that they have had no way of telling that the ‘harassees’ have misgivings about their actions? It would seem to me that this is case of arrogance, conformism, laziness, cowardice, opportunism, being normal and stupidity. Not ignorance.

Furthermore, we are currently being afforded the opportunity to look away from our weakness. We don’t have to confront the current level of noise on patriarchy because it just isn’t forceful. Even if one finds him/herself engaged in a conversation it is easy to wait a few days to convince yourself that it never happened or that it was just one person’s opinion. It is also the natural reaction to get defensive and feel hard done by when your stupidity is confronted, as I did in my conversation. You scapegoat feminism in the heat of trying to remove yourself from the blame.

In the aforementioned conversation (which led me to writing this,) I suggested that the troops over at www.stopstreetharassment.org were on the right track. They hold talks to teach people about street harassment. The other person in the conversation said that harassers who are poorer (street vendors, builders, domestic workers etc) would not have access to these talks. But what if we don’t go to them as vendors but as residents of their communities at the community school/hall? Or if we go to them while they are school kids or if teachers do it once or twice a week. Not just on street harassment but sexual respect and equality and more.

There are free workshops to teach people how to run businesses, free tertiary education, free religious services and workshops, free sport workshops and more. Do we not have the time or will for the safety and respect of humans?

In any event, I think the real question is the following: why is it that most of us (including yours truly) are only talking about this and speculating instead of doing things to cull the flow of bullshit?

 

Jen Thorpe
CURRENT AFFAIRS, EDUCATION, GENDER POLITICS

MEC cannot ask for an ‘apology’ for the sexual violation of learners

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jennifer Thorpe

This is your chance to show that you take children’s rights seriously and object to the violation of female sexuality in our country, and in our schools.

It is Child Protection Week this week in South Africa. Last week a bloodied condom was found in the girls bathroom at Jordao College, a private school, in Gauteng. Instead of using this as an opportunity to encourage positive and healthy discussions around sexuality, the principal instructed teachers to conduct ‘tests for sexual activity’ on all female learners between grades 10 and 12 (average age at starting grade 10 – 15 years old). The way they chose to do this was to force female learners to remove their underwear so it could be inspected.  Girls were not given a choice.

In South Africa we have clear legislation around virginity testing. A guide by the Children’s Institute at UCT on the Children’s Act makes it quite clear that virginity testing can only be conducted in South Africa under very strict circumstances and by qualified health care professionals.

The guide states:

“The Children’s Act, Section 12(4) prohibits virginity testing of children under the age of 16 years. Anyone who contravenes the prohibition is guilty of an offence and can be fined or imprisoned for 10 years or be given both a fine and a term of imprisonment (section 305(1)(a) and (6)). Virginity testing of children older than 16 may be performed but only under strict conditions that are specified in the Act and the Regulations:

• the child must consent to the test – i.e. it must be the child’s choice

(the child must sign Form 1);

• the test may only be performed after the child has been counselled properly;

• the child’s age must be verified;

• each child should be tested individually and in private;

• the test must be done in a hygienic manner (in particular, a separate pair of sterile surgical gloves must be used for each child);

• only a female can test a girl child and only a male can test a boy child;

• the results of the test may not be disclosed without the child’s consent; and

• after the test, the child’s body may not be marked in anyway (i.e. the outcome of the test must be kept confidential).

It is an offence not to comply with these requirements and a person is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for up to two years in some cases, or even up to 10 years in other cases, or to both a fine and imprisonment.”

Instead of taking decisive action against all those involved in this violation of girls’ dignity, and stigmatisation of female sexuality, the Gauteng MEC for education has simply asked the teachers to write an apology, to the parents of the learners, not even to the girls.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007 also describes the offence of ‘compelled self-sexual assault’ which applies to this situation. It states as Section 7:

“A person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally compels a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, to:  (b) engage in any act which has or may have the effect of sexually arousing or sexually degrading B, is guilty of the offence of compelled self-sexual assault.”

The Act defines consent as follows:

“‘consent’ means voluntary or unforced agreement.”

It is alleged that the girls were not given any choice, and in fact were threatened by teachers. If this is the case then these teachers have committed a crime in terms of the Sexual Offences Act and should be removed from their positions with immediate effect, and charged for the failure to do their duty to protect learners from harm.

Nowhere in the article does it make mention of inspecting the boys and thus this is a clear instance of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence cannot be something that is let off with an apology. That is what we have the law for. It is not acceptable that we continue to allow the violation of children’s rights, especially not in such a critical period as children’s week. The MEC has an opportunity to show South Africa that the Government takes children’s rights seriously.

An apology is not enough. I encourage you to email the MEC and the Gauteng Department of Education (gdeinfo@gauteng.gov.za) and ask him to follow the law in terms of removing the principal, removing those teachers involved in this abuse, and holding all responsible parties accountable. Girls should not face fear when they go to school, and should not wonder about whether their dignity will be violated.

Athambile Masola
EDUCATION

A case for gender parity in education

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

Until Malala Yousafzai’s story became well-known, I doubt many people considered what it means to be young and female and seeking an education in a conflict-ridden society that has a bias against the education of girls. Recently I read about a teacher from Afghanistan, Nahida, and I realised that in another part of the world a girl’s education is not a given. Nahida is a school principal for a girls school in Kabul. She has persevered through many difficulties in making sure the education of girls in Kabul matters. Her experiences also reveal that when a country is conflict-ridden for three decades, the people who suffer the most are girls and the women who teach them.

If we focus on Afghanistan alone, Nahida’s story brings to light the interconnectedness of politics, security and education. She points out that

In the last period of time when Mujahidin came to power, different portions of Mujahidin started fighting in Kabul and other provinces. Schools closed because of security, especially girls schools. Schools become a target for Mujahidin. Slowly when stability came to Afghanistan and Kabul for me it was priority to encourage girls and their families to come back to school. I gave the message to their families and asked them to send their daughters to school again.”

Nahida’s story is relevant when we consider the education of girls in other regions because girls living in the Arab States are at a greater disadvantage: the share of females in the out-of-school population is 60%, compared with 57% in South and West Asia and 54 % in sub-Saharan Africa.

A more gendered narrative reveals that girls education can still be sacrificed at the altar because of sexist ideas that reveal that women and girls do not matter. This is especially the case with the Taliban’s laws in Afghanistan. Nahida reveals that

When the Taliban came to power, it was their policy to close all the schools for females. For me, it was difficult to go to school to teach. When I went to my school, the principal of the school was a Mullah and he didn’t allow me to enter the school and asked me after that not to come to school. But for the boys, school was open. When I understood the policy of Taliban was not to allow girls and female teachers to go to school, I started a home school for girls because families and their parents asked me to teach their daughters.”

Let’s consider some statistics from UNESCO’s EFA report related to education in Afghanistan and the Arab states:

  • 175 million young people in low and lower middle income countries are unable to read a single sentence, of whom 61% are female. In South and West Asia, two out of three young people who cannot read are young women.
  • Afghanistan has the highest level of gender disparity in primary education in the world with only 71 girls in primary school for every 100 boys. It is likely to remain very far from the Millennium Development Goal target of gender parity in primary education by 2015.
  • No girls were in secondary school in 1999 in Afghanistan. By 2011, the female gross enrolment ratio rose to 34%, which meant there were only 55 girls in secondary school for every 100 boys.
  • While almost 80% of the richest boys in urban areas were completing primary school in 2011, the same was true for only 4% of the poorest girls living in rural areas.
  • In Iraq, not only has progress towards gender parity been slow, but poor, rural girls have not benefited. The lower secondary completion rate was 58% for rich urban boys and just 3% for poor rural girls in 2011. Safety remains an issue for girls’ schooling, particularly in areas of major instability and insecurity.

What do these numbers suggest about the education of girls? Beyond considering the role of the teacher, it seems that in societies where the girl child’s education is not taken seriously, a cultural shift needs to happen alongside the change in policies that recognise that the education of girls is central to the development of any country. Girls born in middle class homes (where both parents are usually educated) have chances of escaping the narrative however for poorer women and girls more needs to be done politically and socially.

Writing about the education of girls immediately invokes the position of boys. It matters for both boys and girls that girls should be treated equally and have access to the same education. Boys that do not grow up around girls  whose minds and opinions matter become men who may interpret that as the default setting for women. An equal education is a good idea for both boys and girls.

Whenever the issue of gender equality comes up amongst the boys I teach there’s always the rolling of eyes and defensiveness. Boys have misunderstood gender equality: they have been duped into the idea that the equality of girls means that boys do not matter; that boys are the enemy that are the target when women and girls are being empowered. Boys need to be given a new narrative not only about their masculinity but also about femininity and an equal education with equal opportunities is central to making those changes.

I went to a girls school for 12 years of my life. My learning was never disrupted, not even by teacher strikes. I never had to contemplate whether my education mattered or not because whenever I went to school, I knew it mattered and it made me believe that I matter too. Apart from the criticism against girls’ schools, when we consider the global context, we need to prioritise the education of a girl child even more. Girls who stay in schools that function are more likely to make different decisions for their lives and these decisions are important for their families, communities and the rest of the world.

JOBS

JOB: Advocacy Director for the Malala Fund

The Advocacy Director will lead the Fund’s advocacy work, with the goal of creating a campaign that brings increasing government and donor attention to girls’ education, and gives visibility to effective solutions.

Deadline:           Open until filled

Location:           New York, USA

Organization:    Malala Fund

About Malala Fund

The Malala Fund is the organization founded and inspired by the Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Malala campaigned in Pakistan for the right of all girls to go to school in the face of a ban on female education by the Taliban. She was shot by the Taliban for her campaign at the age of 15 on her way home from school, causing global outrage. Malala survived the attack and went on to become a world-renowned leader for peace and education, the youngest ever Nobel Prize nominee, and the most powerful advocate for girls’ rights of our time.

Malala launched the Malala Fund launched in October 2013, along with co-founder Shiza Shahid and a group of advisors, with the goal of creating a world where every girl has access to an education that empowers her to recognize her potential. The Fund has a two-pronged approach to its mission. First it invests in local entrepreneurs: working in communities to develop education solutions that are grounded in the reality of the girl and teaching her skills that empower her to lift herself out of poverty. Second, it aims to take these solutions to scale by pushing governments and donor organizations to prioritize high quality girls learning programs for girls. Malala and the Fund direct attention to the current state of girls’ education, and the potential of girls as an unparalleled force of change and development. The Fund then spotlights high-impact solutions that can de adopted and scaled by governments and multilateral institutions.

The organization is a start-up in its early stages. It is run by Shiza Shahid, who is the CEO, and advised by a cross-functional group of committed and passionate advisors including a partner at McKisney and a VP at Google. The team and the board will be built over the course of 2014.

Major Duties and Responsibilities

The Advocacy Director will lead the Fund’s advocacy work, with the goal of creating a campaign that brings increasing government and donor attention to girls’ education, and gives visibility to effective solutions.

This includes:

  • Work with CEO to develop advocacy strategy and implementation plan;
  • Keep informed about and engaged with relevant research, debates, innovations and policy changes in education
  • Help prepare written materials, including policy analyses, innovation briefs, advocacy documents, and op-eds
  • Co-develop papers with partner organizations with key policy recommendations
  • Present policy recommendations to relevant groups, such as high-level government officials, international and regional institutions, media and general public;
  • Develop and maintain core partnerships with NGOs, UN, World Bank, Governments and communities;
  • Represent the Fund along with CEO, and sometimes Malala, at key international meetings at UN, World Bank
  • Be part of the start-up team and willing to contribute to other areas of work as need arises

Profile

Required Skills & Qualifications 

  • Experience in designing and implementing advocacy initiatives at the international, national land community level on gender/education/ related areas;
  • Strong relationship building skills with UN/multilateral agencies, government, and civil society/communities
  • Good analytical skills – ability to understand complex issues and present positions to governmental and intergovernmental bodies as well as to media and staff;
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English;
  • Creative thinker – eager to explore out-of-the-box ideas rather than simply fit within the traditional framework
  • Passion for start-ups, willing to play different roles as necessary, work in a small-team and get things done

To Apply

Mission Talent has been tasked by the Malala Fund to undertake this search. Therefore, all applications must be addressed to Mission Talent via email to applications@missiontalent.comstating MF-DA-NY/+your surname in the subject line.

To apply for this role, kindly attach your CV (in English) and motivational letter (of 350 words or less) which summarizes how your profile aligns with the key requirements, skills and abilities of this role. Kindly send these documents as word files to us.Thank you in advance for your interest in this position. Please note that only candidates under serious consideration will be contacted by Mission Talent for follow-up.