Saturday, October 21, 2006

Overcoming Fragmentation

Barbara Weyermann from OPSI has just published the article "Overcoming Fragmentation: Links between Income Generation and Psychosocial Counseling in Gaza". Summary: armed conflict and violence affect women psychologically, socially and almost always economically. Support programs, however, often address these dimensions separately: women attend skills trainings to improve their economic situation and counseling sessions to deal with their traumas. Consequently, women are often unable to convert their skills into income or to improve their psychosocial situation. This paper presents the findings of a guided self-evaluation by a Palestinian non-governmental organization (NGO) in 2004, which both highlighted the insufficiencies of this fragmented approach and developed solutions to better serve the organization’s program participants. To download visit OPSI.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Where are the men in the battle for equality?

In the song There is a War, by Leonard Cohen, there are the lines: “There is a war...between the man and the woman. There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t.” These words capture the essence of research colleagues and I carried out over the last two years on gender and security in a number of countries in transition. As part of the study, we looked at whether the security of women has increased or decreased since 1994 in South Africa. Security includes, according to the United Nations, not only freedom from fear, but also freedom from need or want. So security is tied up with economic and social security, not just protecting yourself from physical harm.

If we think about the security of women in this broad sense, South Africa has made advances with greater representation of women in government and business. Disturbingly, however, our research found that many men think that women have advanced disproportionately. These men argue that the so-called war between men and women Cohen speaks of was over years ago. Some think the victors (women) are now taking their revenge on men and excluding them, making men the new victims. But statistical evidence shows this view is desperately mistaken. It is true that 30% of parliamentarians are now women, positioning South Africa eighth in the world in terms of gender equality in government. This means the country jumped 133 places in world rankings from 1994. A greater number of women are also now moving into managerial positions. But the changes are still miles off 50:50 representation. In the business field, for example, 80% of senior management positions are held by men.

So the war is hardly over and inequality exists on a massive scale. But where does this leave the men in our society who feel they are the victims of the transition? On one level, we have to take their views seriously and listen to what they have to say because some men may have lost their jobs since 1994. But, on the other level, we cannot back away from an agenda that wants equal representation of women. Surely, if we want South Africa to be everything it can be, we must harness the potential of all citizens, regardless of gender or race for that matter.

But furthering this agenda can have devastating consequences. Many of the women and some of the men we interviewed believe that the frustration some men are feeling at being challenged by women in the workplace, or being usurped as the breadwinner in a home, is causing them to act violently towards women. This goes some way towards explaining the high levels of domestic violence in South Africa. At least 50% of women report experiencing domestic violence, whether psychological, physical or financial. This is sickeningly high.

Feeling frustrated or challenged by social developments cannot justify violence. This means that, although we must seek to understand the challenges some men are feeling and address their economic hardships too, we cannot pander to violence as a justifiable reaction to the advancement of one sector of society.

So the war between men and women rages, but the time has come for new alliances. Men need to stand up and be counted. This means not only speaking out about violence against women, but also addressing some of the root causes of it. Inequality is one of these. It is not enough, my fellow brothers, to be horrified at domestic violence or shake your head knowingly next time some awful statistics hit the headline. We have to begin to actively promote gender equality. So let us stop pretending it is someone else’s problem and be man enough to bring this war to an end.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 20 October 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Apologies and Reparations: Working papers

The website on Political Apologies and Reparations maintained by Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann at Wilfrid Laurier University invites submissions for its working papers series. Please see the Submission Guidelines on the website: Papers should be submitted to

Friday, October 6, 2006

Sport and politics uncomfortable bedfellows

Oddly, it was the old chestnut of whether sport and politics mix that came to mind while watching the golf Ryder Cup recently. This was not because the Ryder Cup is particularly political, but because it appears so apolitical. The two world super economic powers, the EU and US, competing is presented as a jolly good struggle going back for decades. On one level, it is simply that, yet on another the tournament is laden with symbols. The ostentatious economic power driving the event, the lack of racial diversity on the course (sorry, Tiger) and in the stands, George Bush Snr relaxing and taking in the action, and that it is one place where people can chant “USA! USA!” these days without starting a riot, all belies a wider context in which the event took place.

2006 Ryder Cup K Club Dublin
Credit: Vivienne Smith
Of course, one would not want to turn such events into political footballs. The tournament’s acontextual and trouble-free environment is exactly what makes it easy watching. But it does beg the question – how closely should sport and politics be related? The Olympic Charter opposes political abuse of sport and athletes, a point with which most of us would agree. Take, for example, the recent Formula One Grand Prix in Turkey. The Turkish government abused the occasion politically. Mehmet Ali Talat, who presented the winner’s trophy, was introduced as the “President of the Northern Turkish Republic of Cyprus”. This was a piece of political theatre, as it is only Turkey that recognises the northern part of Cyprus as a separate entity. The result was a $5-million fine by the sports governing body.

The tricky issue, however, is not about the political abuse of sport, but whether political abuse can be prevented by sport. The most notable case was the sporting boycott against South Africa, aimed at ending apartheid. The South African case set a precedent, and it continues to throw up complications today.

Arguably, the South African sports boycott was made easier because apartheid was declared a crime against humanity. But where do sports boycotts stand in relation to other types of abuses and actions? Should the US have been prevented from playing in the Ryder Cup because its government is engaged in an illegal war in Iraq? Should there be a sports boycott, as many lobby groups profess, against Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians? I do not want to get into the validity of such cases, as I will upset someone and I am not very fast over 100m, but the cases clearly demonstrate the intricacy of the relationship between sport and politics. The mere mention of these examples is, no doubt, enough to make some people spitting mad. Perhaps, the real question then is: why does the issue of sport and politics evoke such an emotive reaction? One reason is that sport is a way of taking refuge from the world of politics. Sport pretends there is no wider context. The sports arena is allegedly an uncomplicated place, where the best person wins. But the best person does not always win: socioeconomic status, political conditions and equality of opportunity, not to mention drugs, can all influence your chance of success. Sports have also always been mixed with nationalist fervour. They can also be used to cement political projects. Think of the impact of Nelson Mandela’s donning the Springbok rugby jersey in the early 1990s. So, believing that sport is unrelated to politics is about as unrealistic as thinking Tiger Woods is going to miss a six-inch putt. The so-called gap between sport and politics is a false distinction.

The question, therefore, is not whether sport and politics are linked, but how we can discuss them in a rational way. Or is looking for a constructive and unemotive approach to the sport and politics debate as dim-witted as attempting the pole vault with a matchstick?

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 6 October 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.