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Woman Power

A Champion of Women’s Rights

Babette Kabak (nee Braude) is a self-described late bloomer. Although she became one of the architects of the South African women’s movement, she wasn’t involved in many extracurricular activities as an economics and political science major at Pitt in the 1930s.

“I became a political junky,” she says. “I was always concerned about what was going on in the world, but didn’t find my niche until later in life.” She found that niche on another continent.

Kabak, a New York native, graduated from Pitt in 1939. Several years later, while working as a copywriter at a leading New York advertising agency, she met and married her husband, Sam. They traveled to his home in South Africa soon after the United States entry into World War II. That trip was the beginning of many trips to foreign countries with her husband. Later, their two children joined the couple on these trips.

When she arrived in South Africa in 1942, Kabak was appalled by the social injustice she saw. She began by volunteering for various communities. She also continued copywriting and writing freelance articles for periodicals.

Kabak was especially concerned about the state of black and biracial women. In the early 1970s, she joined the Black Sash, an internationally respected organization of women who opposed apartheid, and worked hard to erase the disparities between racial groups. South Africa’s 40 million people are roughly divided into four groups: 29 million who are black, five million who are white, three million who are biracial, and about 600,000 who are of East Indian origin.

In 1975, when the United Nations declared the International Year of the Woman, Kabak helped start the Women’s Legal Status Committee. For nearly 20 years, WLSC was in the forefront of monitoring black and white women’s rights, including laws focused on marriage, divorce, inheritance, abortion, and employment. Kabak aptly named these laws the “sex clauses.”

At the request of a key labor commission, the WLSC investigated women’s working conditions and found 241 examples where women were legally paid less than men for doing the same job. The investigation ultimately led to the repeal of the “sex clauses” through legislation.

The WLSC influenced many changes in the law. “We weren’t aggressive; we made friends in government and on important commissions instead of enemies,” she recalls. “And we had wonderful relations with the media, so we could get our message across.” One political science professor described WLSC as the first lobbying organization in South Africa.

In 1991, when the negotiations began between the African National Congress, headed by Nelson Mandela and the Nationalist Government, Kabak formed and chaired The Women’s Lobby. The organization was the first in South Africa to campaign for women’s inclusion in the political process, including decision- and policy-making at all levels. Kabak lobbied the two judges in charge of the negotiations for a democratic government, requesting women representatives in all delegations. “I became convinced that women would never get anywhere without being in the political arena.”

Kabak’s work paid off. Today, South Africa has more women represented in parliament than any country outside Scandinavia.

Because of Kabak’s experience working with women in South Africa and her belief that the public should begin to recognize the qualities women possess, she has donated $30,000 to the University of Pittsburgh to host a conference centering on conflict resolution and women in the global sphere. “I want to foster the idea of women as negotiators,” she says. Pitt will host the conference sometime this fall.

—Jennifer Meccariello

Land of Opportunity

Robert O. Agbede Awards

Every morning on the youngster’s walk to school, he passes boarded-up buildings and vacant lots. Stepping over garbage on the playground, he thinks of the day ahead. Physics, followed closely by math, are his favorite subjects. He’s fascinated by how things work.

Yet no matter how much he likes school, his family cannot afford to send him to college, even if he adds in the money he has saved from working evenings and weekends at the neighborhood supermarket.

This is the type of student Robert O. Agbede wants to help.

After moving to Pittsburgh in 1976, he attended the University of Pittsburgh on an academic scholarship. Within five years, he obtained both a BS and MS in engineering.

Today, he’s the president and CEO of Advanced Technology Systems, an engineering and scientific research firm. He’s also a Baptist minister. On weekends, he often preaches or performs weddings. And now, in accord with his role as chair of the African American Chamber of Commerce, he is helping underprivileged students by providing them with an opportunity to attend Pitt.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” he says.

Through Agbede, Advanced Technology Systems recently pledged $50,000 to the University of Pittsburgh for the creation of the Robert O. Agbede Student Award and the Robert O. Agbede Award for Diversity, both in the School of Engineering. These awards provide money for outstanding undergraduate students in financial need and for faculty members who serve as mentors for School of Engineering minority students.

“I’m not doing this,” he says, “because I was born poor or from a one-parent family, but because not enough attention is paid to good kids to make them better; we spend far too many resources on the bad ones. The good ones need a role model and access to opportunities. We can’t afford to continually let them fall through the cracks.”

—Mark Dragotta

Building Blocks

Each year, in the Honor Roll of Donors, the Office of Institutional Advancement thanks a distinguished group of alumni, faculty, and friends. The following, who are Pitt Alumni Association members and William Jacob Holland Society donors (donors of $1,000-$2,499), were inadvertently omitted or not listed correctly in that publication:

Gwen M. Gallagher (EDU ’89) and Robert P. Gallagher, Jay Alan Hlavay (CAS ’83, BUS ’89), David A. Lower and Maureen R. McBride, Marjorielu Schramm McManus (CAS ’76, FAS ’78) and Dennis Patrick McManus (CAS ’76, EDU ’84), and Donna Hoffman Sebes (CAS ’73) and Philip J. Sebes (CAS ’69).

Jazz musicians are snapping their fingers: The Department of Music received a pledge from John A. Yokim (CAS ’68) and his wife, Marlene, in addition to a corporate match from U.S. Steel. The endowment totals $25,000 for buying instruments for the Pitt Jazz Ensemble, a group that Yokim’s son, Mark (CAS ’01), played double bass with during 2000 and 2001.

Stephen and Karen Miner founded the Lt. Ann Visnovsky Miner—Class of 1948 Scholarship Fund in memory of Stephen’s mother, who served in the WWII Army Nurse Corps and later earned her degree from Pitt’s School of Nursing. Now a retired engineer, Stephen remembers struggling to pay for college as a cadet in the ROTC program. He endowed the gift for nursing students with a military background.

Generous contributions from Pitt alumni and friends help lay a solid foundation for future students.

—Ann Visnovsky Miner

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