AFRICAN NEWS FEATURES
a SARDC Service
15 December 1999
EXPO 200 AND WOMEN IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
by Tinashe Madava
As the EXPO 2000 to be held in the Germany city of Hannover next year
approaches, women from southern Africa are bracing for the occasion which they see as a
lifetime opportunity to show the world that they can stand out there and be counted too.
A gender-specific event, which will mark the turn of the century at the Exposition 2000,
will be in the form of an all "women's university" called the International
Women's University (IFU).
IFU is an international university, interdisciplinary in scope and methodology of academic
work, and intercultural across all political borders as well as ethnic and religious
With the theme "Technology and Culture", the IFU is being touted as the first
and, so far, only gender-specific university of its kind in Europe, a bold innovation by,
for and about women.
Among the lecturers for the university are two academics from the region, Professor
Patricia McFadden based in Zimbabwe and Mapula Lebone from South Africa.
"To be the first students of this international endeavour, which is a milestone in
itself, will enable women from the region to interact with their peers from the globe, not
as the stereotyped poor illiterate African women but as intellectuals," said
McFadden, one of the academics from southern Africa who is one of the deans of the
University, in an interview recently.
Describing the opportunity as a perfect way to enter the next century, McFadden said that
women from southern Africa should take the opportunity to show that the region is vibrant
in terms of the discourse in feminism and governance.
"The dynamism of the continent is here, the region has consolidated itself
well," she said.
Since this will be an international university, questions have been asked on how it will
seek to advance the causes of women in developing countries. Gender activists in southern
Africa, though praising the idea as a bold innovation and a step in the right direction
towards women's emancipation, have expressed concern on how this will benefit the
underprivileged in the region.
Between 15 July and 15 October during the Expo 2000, the IFU will offer 900 female
students from around the world the opportunity to participate in a postgraduate research
and study programme in English. The application deadline was extended to 30 November.
To ensure a broad cultural spectrum, a regional quota has been fixed: Germany should
account for no more than one third of the total number of students, and at least a third
should come from the developing countries; the remaining third should come from other
industrialized countries as well as from Eastern Europe.
It's first semester, under the overall theme of "Technology and Culture", will
offer postgraduate academic work in six project areas which are of special interest to the
women of the world in the new millennium: Body, City, Information, Migration, Water and
Work. These themes are of global significance, politically and socially explosive because
of their strong focus on gender.
IFU will provide three months of regular classes and cooperative research, with more
traditionally set-up courses, lectures and workshops combined with more non-conventional
forms of expression, for example theatre performances, video presentations and other forms
of cultural expression and communication, based on the participants' cultural backgrounds
and heritage. In addition, IFU will provide excursions to other parts of Germany, for
inspiration, socialising and recreation.
After Expo 2000, a permanent women's network is planned for an exchange of ideas and
knowledge transfer among IFU alumnae. In a long-range perspective, and supported by modern
information technologies, the setting up of a virtual university is planned to serve this
purpose systematically and with various forms of institutional support.
IFU was originally founded as the registered society "International
Frauenuniversitat" in July 1997. On March 31 1999, the Federal State of Lower Saxony
and the International Women's University Association jointly founded the International
Women's University as a private company.
Fund acquisition is carried out by IFU's initiators at both national and international
level, enabling grants to be awarded to at least 40 percent of the students. The main
objective is to ensure the participation of students from the developing countries and
Eastern Europe. The grants will be awarded on the basis of academic criteria by
commissions of experts.
The university was brought into existence by a loosely connected group of committed
academic women at German Institutions of higher education who have been successful in
gaining the collaboration of about 150 women instructors from culturally and
geographically diverse backgrounds to form the teaching staff for the university, and in
securing the support of government agencies, political and industrial foundations as well
as private philanthropists.
For southern African intellectual women, the International Women's University brings an
opportunity of hope, intellectual challenge and a "really perfect way to enter the
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