Tag Archives: education

#FeesMustFall and the Gendering of Student Protests in ZA

I just came across this video (11 min) and I thought it was a great example of how gender can be bent to classify race and class as much as sex. In it, the current national protests of South African students over higher education reform is explained and documented from the students’ perspectives. Several of the students bring up some important issues often raised in gender/development studies, though the students never make the link explicitly. Gender and development scholars often talk about gender or gendering a population beyond the sexual male/female dichotomy.
In this case, race is gendered in the sense that these highly mobilized black students with an important and identifiable grievance have been labeled by the ZA government as non-threatening and that the issue will soon be resolved; in this way they are “feminized” and denied important agency and respectability by the government.
This is the public position of the government, “oh, this is nothing” while on the ground, the government has deployed the national police and authorized them to use Apartheid era tactics to dispel them including tear gas, beatings, and setting student property on fire (most recently a student car was hit with a petrol bomb by police that was parked on the UCT campus near a protest site).
It really is a fascinating video and it shows a lot of footage of nonviolent peace protesting by student movements. Here it is: 

Why Gender Studies?

Girls in ZambiaI was at a regional political science conference a couple years ago presenting a paper I wrote on the signing of the 2013 peace agreement in the DR-Congo. My paper focused on highlighting the failures of the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement and outlined how these failures could be sidestepped in the new agreement. When it came time for the moderator to ask me questions and offer critiques he said, “You mentioned women several times in this paper. You kept saying women need to be involved in the process. Why? Why is it so important to you that women get involved?” He was not being ironic. He was legitimately questioning my decision to include Congolese women in the peace process. In that moment I felt a shift in my interests and worldview. Everything changed. There I was, standing in a glitzy hotel conference room next to the table of other presenters (all men), facing the moderator–a man who had achieved the highest level of education possible and was tenured at a well-known institution. Looking past the moderator, I scanned the room and saw that I was the only female present. My task, if I chose to accept: explain to a room full of college educated men why women matter.

For me, Gender Studies is about bringing a voice to the voiceless. This goes so far beyond just being a voice for women. In many of the topics I study that cross political science and peace studies, it is children who are voiceless. Minorities, the oppressed, the lower classes, refugees–the structures of society often inherently limit their agency and stifle their voices. Adopting a gendered lens allows you to see the world from a new perspective, one that amplifies the voices of these otherwise voiceless groups. This perspective can be a powerful tool for examining the complexities of a political issue, often leading us to find new policy recommendations that actually stand a chance at bettering society. If my own colleagues cannot understand the merit of giving women a voice, then the outlook may seem bleak. However, in Gender Studies I find hope–hope for equality, hope for change, and hope for deeper understanding.

See the original story featured on the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program website HERE.

Rhodes Must Fall

463px-Punch_Rhodes_ColossusShortly before I arrived here in Cape Town, a group of students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched a protest movement called #RhodesMustFall, which was initially aimed at forcing the removal of a large statue of Cecil John Rhodes from UCT’s Upper Campus. This protest movement was just one of many over the years here at UCT and at other universities across the country aimed at removing images and statuary that are seen by many students to be enduring symbols of oppression, social injustice, and colonization.

First, who was Cecil J. Rhodes? Well, where do we even begin? According to his Wikipedia page, Rhodes was a “British businessman, mining magnate, and politician.” He was also an “ardent” believer in British colonialism. You may know him from the fact that he had an entire African colony named after himself, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia). You may know him as the founder of the internationally recognized De Beers diamond company (now famous for its monopolistic practices and for trading in blood diamonds). Or you may have heard of him for being the architect of the illustrious Rhodes Scholarship.

Pure philanthropy is very well in its way but philanthropy plus five percent is a good deal better. –Cecil J. Rhodes

RhodesAccording to historian Richard MacFarlane, the history of Rhodes’ involvement on the African continent can be “divided into two broad categories: chauvinistic approval or utter vilification.” For most people I’ve spoken to since arriving, they seem to fall squarely into the latter category. It seems as if Rhodes is the archetype villain. For many UCT students, it is as if he represents every negative thought and emotion still linked to colonization…. and he is everywhere! Rhodes provided the very land on which UCT was built. The Memorial he had commissioned to honor himself stands directly above the campus. From its lofty steps you can survey his “kingdom”. Whether you are on UCTs campus or wandering around downtown Cape Town, you cannot escape the name or, in many cases, the very visage of Rhodes. Here are just some of the photos I’ve taken in the few short weeks I’ve been in Cape Town.

rhodes 2 rhodes 1 rhodes 3

So why do UCT students see Cecil J. Rhodes as the embodiment of colonialism? Well, let’s just take a quick look at one passage from his last will and testament where he mentions the British people: “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives.”

statueReading this, is it so hard to understand why UCT students–regardless of race–might find it difficult–if not morally impossible–to appreciate the influence of Rhodes and his lifetime of work shaping modern southern Africa? For them, to promote a man who believed so ardently in the subjugation of races, a man who saw them as “despicable specimens”, is unconscionable. And can you blame them? Even the Vice Chancellor of UCT, Max Price, found common ground with the rhodes girlstudents, admitting in an interview that while Rhodes was considered a “great man” and a “great politician”, the attitudes and means he used “were not right.” Price concluded, “He was racist. He used power and money to oppress others. So on balance he was a villain.” After weeks of protesting, the University voted in April to remove the statue and the vote PASSED! The next day at 5pm, the statue was removed. Watch the video here:

capitalismHOWEVER, removing the statue of Rhodes is only the beginning of a conversation that–in the minds of many African students on UCTs campus–has never taken place. What the removal of this statue will hopefully spark is an honest, open conversation about how the very structure of the UCT system promotes social inequality, injustice, and enduring colonialism. Watch the video below to hear the opinions of some UCT students about why it is so important that the statue come down, but ALSO why it is vital that the #RhodesMustFall movement should continue to move the conversation on issues like South Africa’s enduring colonial past and UCT’s entrenched system of inequality. Finally, the conversation must focus on where UCT as a community can go from here to promote an institution that is free and equal:

What do YOU think about Rhodes colonial legacy and the removal of the Rhodes statue from UCT’s campus? Leave a reply below!

National PhD Level Gender Gaps

Follow the link below for an interesting interactive visual provided by Scientific American that details the gender gap in 2010 at the PhD level for 56 nations. This visual is quite interesting, not only to know that in the US females are roughly on par with males at receiving a PhD, but in some surprising countries like Mongolia, Latvia, and Uruguay, females are far outstripping their male counterparts. The winner? Portugal, by a whopping 62%. Keep up the good work ladies!


A Farewell to TOMS

TOMSAs I prepare to embark on three weeks of volunteering in Africa, I can’t help but reflect on some of the ongoing issues with providing aid to the continent. An analysis of the cause and effects of various aid schemes is vitally important if organizations are to understand whether their programs help or harm local people and economies. This article, published by the Matador Network, looks at SEVEN terrible international aid ideas, including the largely touted TOMS one-for-one shoe program. Built on the business model of manufacturing two cheap pairs of shoes for the price of one good pair (using labor and materials from China), author Richard Stupart argues that TOMS has the potential to completely destroy the market for shoes in the towns and villages where truckloads of free shoes are shipped and delivered. Journalist Amy Costello and host of Tiny Spark makes a great point here:

We think that by simply giving people things that we enjoy – like soccer balls or shoes – that we are somehow doing good…And I think that we really need to start questioning that a lot more, and figuring out is there something we can do that is a lot more effective? [Are] consumer products what a impoverished community needs?

Here is what I think….

Like Stupart and Costello argue, giving someone a free pair of shoes does not end their poverty, or provide them a job, it just provides shoes. Yes, I freely admit that shoes are vitally important for improving health standards and cutting down on a number of health issues from communicable diseases to infections that are usually spread by cuts and wounds suffered by exposed feet. And yes, in some areas of the world children are denied access to school without a pair of shoes, so providing them with a pair gets them one step closer to an education. And YES, if you look in my closet I have a pair of well-worn, well-traveled TOMS.

HOWEVER after learning more about the company and the ways in which free “stuff-we-don’t-want” can devastate local economies that are in desperate need of their citizens to invest money and BUY local, I will never buy another pair of TOMS. In all my travels to “developing” countries, the message is loud and clear: “please buy local!” Don’t give to beggars on the street because it disincentives them to go seek real work. Don’t buy $60 worth of school supplies at the Dollar Store and ship them to your orphanage in Tanzania, buy these supplies in town and support the local economy.

buy localEven here in Louisville you see everywhere the huge push to buy local. Places like NuLu actively promote the use of local produce and community gardens have spread across the city. Keep Louisville Weird is another popular initiative for Louisvillians to eat/buy/sell/stay local. Everywhere the message is the same–why pay to have things imported when we can make it/buy it/grow it/ manufacture it here?! And why should it be any different in other cities and towns across the world? If I can buy school supplies from a Zambian market to give to Zambian children to be used in a Zambian school, isn’t that better than importing my cheap Dollar Store crap made in China bought in Louisville?

Regarding the issue of shoes and school– shoes are not the only barrier keeping children from going to school. In countries around the world, particularly African countries like Uganda and Zambia, the school fees charged by government schools are far above what the average family living below the poverty line can afford. In these cases, it’s not a matter of if a child has shoes to go to school, the families cannot pay the fees either way.

So you can buy a pair of TOMS Blue Basket Weave Women’s Desert Wedges for $185.00 and tell yourself you are at the same time in some way abstractly helping a shoeless child, or you can take that money, donate it to an on-the-ground organization like Dream Livingstone Zambia that works directly with orphaned and poor children, and pay over SEVEN months of school fees for a very real, very needy child.

Boko Haram and the Abducted School Girls in Nigeria

untitledNews is continuing to pour out of Nigeria regarding the abduction of roughly 230 girls from the Chibok government school in Borno State. Since the story first broke over a week ago, reports on the number of girls taken have varied from 77 to 130 students. While the Nigerian government and military have at various times claimed credit for rescuing a number of the girls, the school administrators and parents are adamant that the recovered girls escaped on their own. This has called into question the effectiveness of the Nigerian military in securing the Northeast region of the country against the growing threat of Islamist extremism. The latest reports by news outlets like the BBC and CNN claim that roughly 187 girls are still missing.

The culprit behind these abductions in assumed to be the Islamist group Boko Haram (watch this 60 second BBC special), which has targeted Western educational establishments in the past. The name Boko Haram in Hausa translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden.” The group is dedicated to establishing Islamic law in Nigeria and fights to rid the Nigerian people of Western influences, which begins with abolishing the Western education system.

abubakarIn an online video posted by Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, he exclaimed: “Everyone that calls himself a Muslim must stop obeying the constitution, must abandon democracy, must stay away from Western Education.” While in the video Shekau claims that Boko Haram was responsible for the Abuja car bombing which killed at least 75 people and left nearly 150 wounded, he said nothing about the abducted girls.

The abducted girls were taken from their school dormitories late in the night and loaded onto trucks. A number of girls made their escape by jumping from the trucks and hiding in the cover of darkness. However, those still in captivity are now believed to be trekking on foot through  the Sambisa Forest in Borno State, which is a known hiding place for Boko Haram fighters. A number of locals in the area claim they saw the girls unloaded from the truck and forced into the dense forest.

Confidence in the military and in the government is eroding as desperate parents wait for any news about their abducted children.  As J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center explains, “The failure of the government to even get a clear count further reinforces a perception of systemic governmental failure that plays into the narrative not only of Boko Haram, but also other dissident groups opposing Nigeria’s constitutional order.” This analysis is supported by the former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell (2004-2007), who said that these kidnappings show that Boko Haram’s strength “appears to be increasing. The government’s ability to provide security to its citizens appears to be decreasing.”

While the growing strength of Boko Haram is worrisome to say the least, it is important to note that Nigeria is not a predominately Muslim state. The country is actually split almost equally on a North-South divide between Muslims and Christians. That’s what makes this massive abduction so interesting. Boko Haram blatantly opposes the education of girls and has kidnapped a number of girls in the past and targeted schools…but never on this scale. As Oren Dorell for the USA TODAY writes, “…the massive kidnapping by militants who want to create an Islamic state in this oil-rich country that is half Christian and half Muslim is unprecedented.”

As this story continues to unfold it will be important to see to what degree the Nigerian government is able to regain control of Boko Haram-controlled areas. Looking to the region, we already have an example of what it means to have a powerful Muslim North in control of a weaker Christian South–this is the century-long story of Sudan. It would be devastating to say the least to see Nigeria repeat Sudan’s long and bloody history.