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Gender analysis of environmental governance in formal institutions Mahasin Ahmed Elabass and Widad Ali Abdel Rahman.


Environmental governance is a topic that has received a fair amount of attention in the academic and applied literatures on conservation and environmental management in the last few years (Bennet 2015).

According to Carmen and Agrawal 2006, environmental governance is synonymous with interventions aiming at changes in environment-related incentives, knowledge, institutions, decision making, and behaviors. More specifically, "environmental governance" used to refer to the set of regulatory processes, mechanisms and organizations related to environment through which political actors influence environmental actions and outcomes.

For the purposes of this review, environmental governance is synonymous with interventions aiming at changes in environment-related incentives, knowledge, institutions, decision making, and behaviors. More specifically, we use "environ- mental governance" to refer to the set of regulatory processes, mechanisms and organizations through which political actors influence environmental actions and outcomes. Governance is not the same as government. It includes the actions of the state and, in addition, encompasses actors such as communities, businesses, and NGOs. Key to different forms of environmental governance are the political- economic relationships that institutions embody and how these relationships shape identities, actions, and outcomes international accords, national policies and legislation, local decision-making structures, transnational institutions and environmental NGOs.

Environmental governance was becoming central to development assistance, where emphasis was put on the sub-national scale as well as the national scale. For instance, the role of national and sub-national governments in natural resources and environmental governance was emphasized in the debriefing note of the Dutch government to the embassies.

Natural resources were a source of subsistence and income for rural people and of revenue for government and elites. The productivity and sustainability of most rural economic activities depend on the state of the environment and on the institutions that govern access and management of the natural resource base. Both the national and the sub-national level need to be addressed (DMW 2006).

Literature on environmental governance emphasized a decentralized form of management, presumed to create more room for adaptive and flexible decision-making in response to day-to-day developments. Such decentralization was likely to contribute to more efficient, equitable and sustainable resource use, and that the local willingness to invest in the sustainable management of natural resources depends on the security of rights to access that resource and benefit from the products (Shyamsunda et al. 2005). Natural resource and environmental governance at the local level frequently concerns de facto common pool resources and often the legal position of local institutions regulating access and management were weak. This insecurity of rights would affect local capabilities to regulate resource exploitation and possibilities to improve the value of products (DMW 2006).

Agarwal 2010, in her book "Gender and green governance" rectified the invisibility of women and of gender issues in the literature on the history of environmental governance in South Asia, further, she discussed how women's presence in local governance, although still limited, is a recent phenomenon and has been negotiated through a range of processes including quotas and reservations.

Also, it has recently been argued that, given their moral commitment, the existence of a critical mass of women in the decision-making process at all levels would make a significant difference in actions that affect the environment. The rationale is that women, by reason of their values and attitudes, could make a qualitative change in the decision-making process of institutions, provided a critical mass (30% or more) was attained (Zakharova 1996). Thus, given their moral commitment and their penchant for protecting the environment, the presence of women in specific institutions would make a significant contribution to the achievement of sustainable development. Consequently, their empowerment in the decision-making process would naturally lead to more sustainable practices

Environmental governance could be viewed as part and parcel of the political dynamics in the Sudan. Sudan had been characterized by political instability since independence in 1956. From that time on, all regimes that rule the country failed to lead it into a path of peace, stability or economic and social progress. Debates on Sudan's crisis had focused primarily on the political constitutional development and cultural religious issues. Little attention was devoted to the environment (Beshir 1999) and, therefore, to environmental governance. The primary cause of people in arms today was access to natural social resources, expressed in terms of justice, fairness equitable sharing and equal development (Suliman 2000).

Denying or limiting access to natural social resources is a major cause of conflicts. Key factors of governance, namely public sector management capacity, technical and management skills and organizational capacities had been undermined through the years (Al Hardallo 2002).

Furthermore, like women in many parts of the world, Sudanese women had long been excluded from political life. They were vastly underrepresented in Sudan's political institutions, not only at the national or regional level but also at the local level, in village councils, business associations, and other local bodies. Moreover, women's representation in top decision-making positions in all government ministries and bodies was also very low. A traditional gender bias in Sudanese society had restricted women's participation in general life. For many Sudanese, the concept of gender equality and the political, economic and social rights associated with it--was only just beginning to gain acceptance (Chivusia 2007). Gendering the environment, under such circumstances remains absent.

The under representation of women in political institutions could have dire consequences on the lives of women. Most policies or legislations that directly affected the lives of women were mostly made by men who have neither empathy nor understanding of the experiences of women, including those in relation to the environment.

On the other hand Chapter 24 of Agenda 211 sub-section 3 called upon governments to take active steps to implementing; measures to review policies and establish plans to increase the proportion of women involved as decision makers, planners, managers, scientists, and technical advisers in the design, development, and implementation of policies and programmes for environment and sustainable development (Kuku and Jamal 2002).

Furthermore, the same chapter of Agenda 21 proposed for the national governments to implement the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women 2, particularly with regard to women's participation in national ecosystem management and control of environment degradation.

Although Agenda 21 outlined actions needed to ensure women's full participation in environmental management and control of environment degradation and these views are reiterated in various international agreements and legal binding instruments at the policy and decision making level women role has not been recognized and they have long been omitted in national environmental programs, and serious disparities and gaps occur in involving women in the policy/decision making structures of the existing environmental institutions which necessitate a clear vision and mission to achieve empowerment, gender equity, and equality in the policy/decision making structures of these institutions.

With the popularization of the concept of sustainable development and the participation of Sudan in the various conferences held on the environment since 1972 and its signatory to the various environmental conventions which emerged from Agenda 21 an environmental dimension began to feature among other debated issues. At the policy making level there is a new trend to review the older ideas and seek strategies to implement coordination and integration of environmental issues in development planning. Several ministries and institutions concerned with environmental issues had been formed and many environmental acts, legislations and policies have recently been promulgated with the necessary mechanisms and powers for the conservation and protection of the environment, beside many actors at the civil society level.

With these new attitudes and humble efforts, Sudan has put itself on the right track towards sound environmental governance. It is at least no longer possible to debate developmental plans separately from environmental issues (Al Hardallo 2002).

The ability of any society for the mobilization of its creative initiative and the effective use of its resources for development depends, in the first place, on the degree of democracy available in that society. Respect for human rights, the rule of law, a clear system of justice and an effective public administration to sustain a stable environment for civil society, and lend legitimacy, transparency and accountability to government are essential prerequisites for any development Process (Al Hardallo 1998).

However, within this context there is no available literature is available that document or show the composition and structure of these environmental entities from a gender perspective. Furthermore, there is no indication that shows the tendency to devote any reviewing the current system of environmental politics to attain gender equity or equality.

Therefore this study will focus on the gendered nature of the governmental institutions that have an environmental governance dimension, their mechanisms, policies and the different acts and legislations they enact with the objective to:

- Examine and explore the position of women in the different environmental mechanisms, policies and strategies.

- Understand the implications of women's existing roles and responsibilities in the management of the environmental institutions for development and institutional innovations.

Methods and design

The study is descriptive in nature which utilized two types of data sets ; first, by reviewing the existing secondary data from different sources such as reports, documents, journals and research reports which is relevant to the issue. Second, by generating field work to produce firsthand data from the study participants through the actual fieldwork.

The geographical scope of this study was Khartoum State being the central state where most of the relevant institutions are located. The population for this study comes into two categories:

1. Ten institutions dealing with environmental policy formulation, development and implementation.

2. Ten individual (men and women) working in these institutions as employees targeted as research respondents.

A plethora of existing data sources was identified. These are the national and local documents and official reports on the issue beside the documents and studies and reports by international bodies in addition to the academic studies and reports. This helped in the identification of the institutions, to be included in the study, and accordingly a sample of institutions has been purposively selected. The main criteria were the overall focus on environmental concerns, and their engagement based on mandates and community service in the environmental domain.

Since it was not convenient to find a proper population frame for these institutions it was not possible to apply probability sampling, rather non-probability sampling was thought as more appropriate.

The data were obtained by the utilization of structured interviews. The interview targeted a sample of top-level employees in formal environment related institutions as well as some respondents from the operational levels, all of whom were purposively selected. The choice of top level officials was thought of because it was at these level policies and strategies were mostly formulated.

The qualitative data analysis was done manually, by coding the narrative of the interviews transcripts to create concepts and categories relevant to the research objectives and questions.

Ethical considerations

The researchers obtained written permission from the university to conduct the research. The permission was shown to the principal of the institutions and target and consent of their consensus to participate in the research was obtained

Researchers also adhered to the ethical guidelines when conducting the interviews. All individuals were assured of confidentiality. In addition, all written materials, notes, audio recordings and transcripts, were secured by researchers.

Results and discussion

This part presents the findings of the study in which the data was analyzed manually, concepts and themes were developed which showed the profiles of the institutions and respondents and their knowledge, perception and attitude towards gender equity and equality in the environmental field. The work processes within these institutions was discussed which reflected the policy formulation approach followed in the institutions and the integration of the gender in the policies and interventions as well as the gender balance in the policy design, and looked for mechanisms to ensure the integration of gender.

The operational level will give a clue about the way in which policies and strategies were translated into actions, and showed if any gaps exist at the execution stage. Thus was deemed important to reveal about the gender understanding and praxis at both levels of management within institutions working in the environmental field.

The majority of the targeted respondents were males representing 9 out of 10 respondents, about the same number fall in the age group 50 years while only one respondent was over sixty years of age.

All the respondents held advanced academic qualifications (university level and above), and high level positions in the institutions' hierarchy and with work experience in the field of the environment ranging between (15-20) years. The only female among the respondents was 55 years old, married with (8) children. She held a Master degree in Veterinary Medicine and was the General Manager of the "Microfinance Unit" in the Ministry of Livestock and Fishery. She has been involved in environment-related formal work for (18) years. None of the participants had any involvement in informal environmental work (activist, community based organizations (CBO) membership...etc.); rather they were confined to the boundaries of institutional, formal duties.

In general, the profile of the respondents clearly indicated the male dominance over senior posts, the only female was basically perceived as targeting woman. This finding in itself has gendered implications on the environment related policy formulation and implementation.

Regarding the Institutions included in the study, they were purposively selected in such a way to maintain a level of representation of the "formal" institutions engaged in formulating sectorial policies that guide the strategies and procedures within the sector/field which the institution/unit represented. Ten different institutions have been targeted; interviews were conducted for ten in total with employees holding top-level position in these institutions. This choice was acquired on the assumption that these employees were more likely to be involved in policy formulation, intervention design and implementation and follow-up. Accordingly, these institutions were considered as appropriate to reflect on the policy frame and shape, and the way gender was perceived and employed within these institutions.

The field work data has revealed the main features of the targeted institutions as follows:

1. All of the institutions were formal government units-except of those engaged in research and consultancy.

2. The majority were departments and units within state ministries, had been operating over different periods of time ranging from 1913-2005.

3. The majority of those institutions were responsible for policy formulation, all of them design relevant interventions that address environmental issues to operationalize policies and directly monitor and control the implementation of the interventions.

4. Most of the projects and programs pertinent to environmental issues were under those government-controlled institutions.

5. Very few-research and consultancy institutions were primarily focusing on research and training related to the environmental issues and practical spheres of environmental governance.

The common factor shared by all the institutions was the aim to improve knowledge and practice within the field to maintain overall enhancement of social sustainable development and contribute to economic well-being of the community.

The number of employees in those institutions/units ranged between (55-400) depending on the scope of responsibility of the institution, and on the unit's type and its position on the institution's hierarchy. For example the Forest National Corporation had a total number of employees all over the states of approximately 4000 employees, while the Animal Protection Section of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Physical Development had seven employees only. The representation of women in these institutions/units was approximately one third in mid-top level positions; however in the administrative positions women were a majority, where five out of seven employees were females. Research and consultancy institutions had a fewer number of employees (5-12), with fair representation of women.

In general, the interview data confirmed that the representation of women in the employee structure was very much gender biased. The majority of women fall in the junior position in the administrative and clerical jobs. The only institution where there was a balance in the representation of women in the leading positions was the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. There were eight sub-administrative units; women are heads of half of them reflecting a balance representation of male and female employees. However, two of three the units (gender integration and food safety) were normally perceived as women domains, according to their focus.

Approach of environmental issues

The most commonly used approach in carrying out the activities in most institutions within this sample was a top-down approach systematically following lines of authority and responsibility set by the hierarchies. However, in some few cases consultations among employees relevant to the issues under consideration were applied before reaching an important decision. One of the institutions, the Food Safety Unit, at the Federal Ministry of Health, stated that they normally adopt a participatory approach when taking decisions and/or formulating and changing policies.

The unit involved senior staff at the state branches in discussing the issues at concern. The level of development of staff ideas and perceptions on gender was to a great extent influenced by the leadership style and the personality features of those holding top-level positions. In some cases regular meetings in the departments and sub units allowed for exchange of views and flexible interaction between the different levels of employees, however the integration of the ideas and considering the demand for action depend greatly on the leaders and their perception of the need to employ what had been raised in the meetings. Accordingly, the outcome in such situations may imply two main aspects:

1. The policy making process did not reflect a gender balance in the representation of the view points, interests and needs, since the meetings were mostly dominated by male employees who mostly did not consider gender issues serious enough to build programs relevant to it.

2. The consideration of what was advocated in the meetings and the level of commitment to whatever was reached regarding the gender issues often drops-out of the implementation priority agenda.

Policies and interventions were designed in such a way that enhances gender equity and equality in the realm of environment. The focus was on the implication of the gender ideology on policy formulation and program design. Gender norms, values and attitudes, the gender power-relations, division of roles and responsibilities and ownership and control over resources were concepts which constituted the gender ideology. The level of awareness of these concepts influenced policy formulation and interventions' design, as well as the need to design policies which were transformative if gender equity and equality were to be achieved and maintained. To do that, it was crucial that gender analysis and gender needs' assessments became core to the process of policy and intervention design.

The interview results had shown that the majority of these institutions paid scant attention to the aspects pertinent to the gender ideology. In totality, when people talked about the integration of gender they confused it with sex and always referred to women/men. The reduction of the concept 'gender' to sex led to the shortcoming in deeply examining the root-causes that create the gender disparities. The majority of the interviewees neglected the components and structures of the gender ideology (mainly power-relations) and focus on the male/female divide.

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture was the only institution whose interviewees reflected good knowledge of the gender ideology which was due to the role played by a gender focal-point unit as part of the structure of the Ministry. It was considered as the main body to grant more focus and integration of gender concepts in the overall work processes, and mainstreaming of gender. When asked about the process of policy design, and to what extent was gender analysis used as an approach to assess current polices, formulate new polices and design relevant interventions to meet gender needs, almost all the institutions did not systematically use gender analysis and gender needs assessment as part of the policy/intervention design. The few institutions with claim to have some awareness of gender concepts still seemed to follow the Women in Development (WID) Approach when it came to the actual processes.

The interviewees' reflection on the issue of the gender balance in police design was compatible with what had been mentioned previously; the top-level approach in policy/intervention design, and the little representation of women in top-level positions where most decisions were made. This implicitly indicated lack of gender balance in policy/intervention design both in terms of the representation of women and the consideration of the gender disparities and the need to address them to create a better level of equity in the field of environmental governance.

The results of the study revealed that the majority of the institutions did not have a specific mechanism to ensure the integration of gender into their work. The only institution where institutional structures were targeting gender mainstreaming was the Federal Ministry of Agriculture through the gender focal unit. In the other cases the interviewees considered that the overall policies and programs within their institutions were targeting the enhancement of social development and social justice without differentiation by gender. One interviewee in The Environmental High Commission for the Businessmen Union stated that: "Our most effective mechanism is our commitment to the global environmental frame and conventions such as Agenda 21 when we do our work".

However, he did not specify on claiming gender equity when dealing with the business practice and the environment.

It had been stated that women suggestions decisions were to a great extent framed by women's position on the hierarchy. To be followed and taken seriously women suggestions /decision mainly depended on:

1. The post held by the women and the level of authority endowed to the women as a result of their job position and the lines of authority and responsibility inherent in them.

2. The personality of the women as a leader and decision-maker.

Many interviewees perceived the low level of acceptance of women's decisions as an issue of qualification, skill and capacity and did not attribute it to any gender dynamics. Very few, of the interviewees from the consultancy institutions, the representative of the Businessmen union and the Forest National Corporation were aware of the impact of gender norms and attitudes on the level of respect and response to women's decisions or suggestions even if these decisions were supported by institutional powers.

To envision the understanding of the knowledge, perceptions and attitudes towards gender equity in the environmental practices within societies. It was about understanding how people perceive masculinity and femininity as factors influencing gender governance. Cultural and social norms and expectations shaped women's lives. It also shaped "a system of constraints and prohibitions often invisible but profoundly important in shaping women's own self-conception, aspirations and functioning" (Nussbaum 2003).

Against this background the interviewers tried to go in-depth with the study participants to reveal the level of knowledge about the gendered realties and their impact on women's access to and involvement in environmental governance.

Many interviewees considered that the reproductive roles were the "natural" role of women, and it was rarely identified as a constraint or a hindering factor to women's involvement in formal employment, community activities or civil society organizations. As the female interviewee from the Ministry of livestock and Fisheries put it; "women can organize their time to achieve home and work responsibilities. Women in our institution have clear finger-prints in all sections, they even cover evening shifts". She stressed.

Some interviewee saw that women faced constraints due to the "normal maternal conditions" which made some people, due to the fact that some women benefit from their right of maternal leave, stereotype all women as less productive, and this created a problem for women. Some clearly differentiate between women's performance, quality of work and commitment to work before and after marriage in a gesture of the added burden to women due to domestic and household obligations. From the interviews it was very apparent that almost all the respondents hold little or no concern about how gender norms and the issues of women reproductive role could constitute a discriminative and negative perceptual factor. Knowledge about gender equity and the gender ideology in general was very meager.

The majority of the interviewees expressed repeatedly that women in their institutions had no apparent issues due to gender. Only one participant has stated that, "Women need to organize their activities well to balance family and work responsibilities; also men should contribute to home and children responsibility". Most participants thought that women were achieving to the utmost level in the mixed environment which act as a motive for "productive competition" at the workplace; formal as well voluntary work in community based organizations (CBOs) and NGOs in the field of the environment.

Regarding the perception of the way women relate to the environment it was reflected by the majority of the respondents that women's roles and responsibilities imply direct connections between women and the environment around them. Women's involvement in agricultural activities and food production, fetching water and collecting firewood raised awareness of environmental protection and motivate them to form/join CBOs and NGOs concerned with environmental protection and regeneration. On the other hand a remarkable number of participants saw that women among the poor and rural communities are being severely affected by environmental degradation, pollution, and desertification. In this type of responses the link between women and the environment could be seen as dependent on the views held and knowledge gained about the organization of the roles of production and reproduction.

In dealing with the issue of women's role and capacity in environmental governance the majority of the participants thought that women could play a prominent role in the arrangements related to the environment especially through membership in semi-formal institutions such as CBOs and NGOs. The majority thought that women were conscious about environmental concerns and they reflected high capacity to deal with the environment and cope with environmental challenges related to, "home agriculture, food preparation, waste recycling...etc.".

Few respondents thought that women's roles and capacities in dealing with the environment from within formal institutions greatly depend on women's individual personality and responsibilities. One interviewee explained, "A woman with positive personality attributed such as leadership gauges women's capacity to play a role in environmental governance".

Examining the environmental interventions and to what extent did the participants perceived it as gendered practices, the participants persistently confirmed that these interventions were, more than not, targeting women. However, none of the participants was able to identify if these interventions were gender transformative.

Regarding the gender equity/equality in terms of the benefits of the environment- related interventions most of the participants considered that both man and women were equally benefiting from the environment-related interventions. Few participants saw that environment related policies and interventions were mostly targeting women, which implied that women were the primary beneficiaries. Most participants considered that in most cases these interventions were meant to improve women's status and solve their problems which were created by their interaction with the environment.


As a conclusion of this study one could say that; the profile of the respondents in the institutions clearly indicated male dominance over senior post, as for the institution profile, all of them were formal government units-except of those engaged in research and consultancy. The majority were departments and units within state ministries, had been operating over different periods of time ranging from 1913-2005. The majority of those institutions were responsible for policy formulation and all of them designed relevant interventions that address environmental issues to operationalize policies and directly monitored and controlled the implementation of these interventions. Most of the projects and programs pertinent to environmental issues were under those government-controlled institutions. Very few-research and consultancy institutions were primarily focusing on research and training related to the environmental issues and practical spheres of environmental governance.

Regarding the work process within the studied institutions the study tackled the following elements: Policy formulation in the institutions, the most commonly used approach in carrying out the activities was a top-down approach systematically following lines of authority and responsibility set by the hierarchies. Accordingly, the policy making process did not reflect a gender balance in the representation of the view points, interests and needs, since the meetings were mostly dominated by male employees who mostly did not consider gender issues as serious enough, and even what was advocated/reached in the meetings regarding the gender issues often dropped-out of the implementation priority agenda.

Regarding the integration of gender in policies and interventions; it was found that almost all the institutions did not systematically use gender analysis and gender needs assessment as part of the policy/intervention design. The few institutions with claim to have some awareness of gender concepts still seemed to follow the WID approach when it came to the actual processes.

Despite the integration of gender perspective in policies and interventions the results of this study showed a gender discrepancy in the representation of women that influenced the consideration of the gender disparities and the need to address them to create a better level of equity in the field of environmental governance.

It could be concluded that although gender equality was asserted as a fundamental aspect of sustainable development by Agenda 21 document that came out of Rio 1992, and the issue was discussed in depth in chapter 24 "Global Action for Women Towards Equitable and Sustainable Development" (UNEP 2012) and that since 2012 Parties to the UNFCCC have recognized the importance of involving women and men equally in UNFCCC processes and in the development and implementation of national climate policies that are gender-responsive by establishing a dedicated agenda item under the Convention addressing issues of gender and climate change and by including overarching text in the Paris Agreement 2016.

Yet many concerned organizations are not dedicated to implement gender as a point of differentiation in environmental issues. The results of the studied governmental institutions which were responsible for policy formulation, and the design of relevant interventions that address environmental issues, showed gender gaps in the operationalization of the policies and strategies. Most institutions lacked mechanisms to integrate gender in the overall processes of environmental governance.

Note on contributors

Mahasin Elabass is an assistant professor of Gender and Development in the Regional Institute of Gender, Diversity, Peace and Rights, Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman/Sudan.

Widad Ali is an associate professor of Gender Microfinance and Gender Policies; is a Lecturer at School of Management, Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman/Sudan.


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