New Internationalist

Update

Issue 150

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[image, unknown] POPULATION[image, unknown]

Balancing the sexes
Why there are more men than women

THERE are more males than females in the world - 20 million more, Compared with the world’s total population - around 4,800 million - this difference is small, But while the numbers may be relatively tiny, a variation in the sex balance can indicate significant differences between the social conditions in different countries - and throw light particularly on the status of women.

The situation varies a great deal from one region of the world to another. In the United States, the Soviet Union and in most of Europe there are considerably more females than males, while in most of the countries of Latin America. Africa and South-East Asia the numbers more or less balance out. Then in many parts of Asia and North Africa males strongly predominate.

Sexual imbalance is first introduced. however, for biological rather than social reasons - right at the point of conception, Twice as many male embryos are actually conceived. But female embryos are much more robust and more successful at surviving the hazards of the womb. So by the time of birth the proportion of boys will still be ahead - but only just. There are on average 105 boys born to every 100 girls.

Girls continue to be more robust after birth. It is usually thought that nature has designed the female to be inherently more resilient because the survival of subsequent generations depends most on female survival - on woman’s fitness for pregnancy, childbirth and nurturing the new-born infant. But the survival of children is not left entirely to nature: social factors now start to play a part.

In Western countries there are more women than men but in highly populated areas of Asia and in the Middle East the balance is tipped in favour of men, Here it is the girls, as infants, toddlers and children, who die in greater numbers than boys, This is because sons can be exceptionally highly valued. It is sons who will carry on the family name, for example, and it is they who are expected to earn money for the family - often at a very early age. So they may receive preferential treatment.

While all the family may be poor, less attention may be paid to the needs of young girls. It is they who are likely to suffer most from the lack of good and adequate food and from the lack of proper health care. In Bangladesh, for example, there are more girls under five who are malnourished than boys - and girls are 21 per cent more likely than boys to die in the first year of life, And according to the World Health Organization, young girls in some countries are less likely to be taken to a health centre than young boys. So there may be more young girls dying even though nature has given them extra help.

Fiona Gable, UNEPA

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[image, unknown] HOUSING[image, unknown]

Home truths
Third World cities planned by the poor

In Turkey they are called gecekondus, meaning ‘appearing in the night’. In Mexico they are paracaidistas or ‘parachutists’ because they materialise as if dropped from the sky. These squatters are the true builders and planners of Third World cities. They occupy land illegally and build upon it - and overwhelm the efforts of city administrators, tax-collectors and building inspectors.

The proportion of squatters and shantytown dwellers is increasing in many cities. In Guayacil, Ecuador, 60 per cent of the population lives in huts perched on poles above mud or polluted water, and in Mexico City the proportion of illegal settlements has more than doubled in 30 years.

Colonialism has shaped patterns of land use in most developing countries and the legacy has not been shaken off in either capitalist or socialist societies. Harare in Zimbabwe is still divided rigidly into commercial zones, high-income areas and low-income areas, This pattern once corresponded to racial divisions and although this is no longer strictly so, former patterns of land ownership still impede the implementation of fairer housing policies.

Building a house can be an expensive business, But banks will usually offer credit only to those with secure jobs and reasonable salaries, The Kenyan credit system, for example, is based on British models and as a result only five per cent of the population earns enough to qualify for a loan. Yet as the banks aim to attract funds from all Kenyans, they in fact transfer money from the poor to the rich.

Some governments are beginning to accept that not all squatters are criminals - and indeed that they offer an important labour force for the city, Rather than bulldoze the problem away, governments can upgrade those settlements which have grown up and, most importantly, grant legal title to the land,

Urban land and shelter for the poor’ by Patrick McAuslan is available in English or Spanish
from Earthscan, 3 Endsleigh Street,
London WCJH ODD, United Kingdom. £3.50/US$5.50.

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[image, unknown] MINORITIES[image, unknown]

Indian signs
Canada’s aboriginals demand official status for their languages.

Inuit drawings and words in the Inukitut language While the Canadian government and various provinces argue over the language rights of French and English minorities, a bitter debate has emerges in the remote Northwest Territories over the status of languages spoken by the majority aboriginal population.

Compared with the English minority in Quebec and the French minorities in Ontario and Manitoba, the numbers involved are very small. There are fewer then 50,000 people in Northwest Territories, of whom 35 per cent are Inuit (Eskimo) and below 20 per cent are Dene (Indian) and each group has different language groups within it.

There is however one language Inuktitut, which is spoken by virtually all Inuit and for which systems of writing, originally introduced by missionaries, have been in use for over 100 years.

The importance of standardising these writing systems was recognized by the main Inuit political body, the ‘Tapirisat’, which set up a language commission in 1972. The result was a dual version which could be written either in the Roman alphabet or in syllabics. By contrast, the Dene writing systems have been developed only recently and are not so widely used.

The Inuktitut and Dene languages have come under increasing pressure from English, both through schools and through television. Attempts have been made to promote aboriginal languages in elementary schools, but such projects operate on a year-to-year basis and the instructors are underpaid. The federal government has not officially recognised aboriginal languages, nor has it committed itself to supporting the language projects,

The language debate is complicated by the political interests involved. The Northwest Territory government is also confronting the Canadian federal government on a number of other important issues - notably on the central government’s plans to develop the area’s rich oil, gas and mineral deposits.

Matthew Sanger, Gemini

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[image, unknown] CENTRAL AMERICA[image, unknown]

Front-line banking
Nicaragua’s economic war

THE US Congress may have refused to provide military aid to the contras. But the Reagan administration’s other war against Nicaragua continues unabated and aims at economic strangulation of one of Latin America’s poorest countries.

The economic war surfaced last February when US Secretary of State George Shultz pressured the Inter-American Development Bank not to consider a $58 million agricultural credit loan to Nicaragua because ‘it could be used to consolidate the Marxist regime’. Despite objections from the previous Liberal government in Canada and other Bank members the Bank is being held hostage to White House policy in Central America. This is in direct violation of its charter which states that the Bank should not be influenced by ‘the political character of the member or members concerned’.

Economic pressure escalated after the Congress defeat on contra funding. The Reagan administration declared a total US trade embargo on Nicaragua and cancelled landing rights in Miami for the country’s airline AirNica. The boycott is serious for the Nicaraguans who export $57 million worth of goods, mostly agricultural, to US ports and import $1 11 million worth from the United States - mainly machinery and spare parts. This makes the United States Nicaragua’s biggest trading partner.

The boycott, which would seem to go against Reagan’s declared commitment to free trade, has been condemned by Canada and most US allies in Europe. But the White House is holding firm and the Sandinistas will be hard pressed to find alternate trading partners. There seems little likelihood, however, that the boycott will achieve Reagan’s objective. Critics in and out of Congress point to a similar boycott on Cuba which only succeeded in deepening Cuban dependence on the Soviet Union.

According to Shultz, Nicaragua is already ‘behind the Iron Curtain’ so any measures adopted by the US are legitimate to counter ‘another Cuba’. Yet there are significant differences between Nicaragua and a communist system. For one thing, in the elections normally held by a communist regime the Party never receives less than 98 per cent of the vote, while in Nicaragua the Sandinistas only got 67 per cent and opposition members have taken their seats in the Nicaraguan assembly. Then again 60 per cent of the economy remains in private hands - hardly textbook marxism.

On the positive side too, the World Health Organization cited the Sandinistas for the best health achievements for a Third World country in 1982. Malaria and polio have virtually been eliminated. Nearly every child has been immunized against basic diseases and the infant mortality rate has been reduced dramatically. Compare this latter achievement with El Salvador where, in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid, diarrhoea remains the major childhood killer.

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[image, unknown] WORK[image, unknown]

Pucong, Malaysia
8th August 1984

Sunrise as usual
workers at breakfast
a morning taken for granted but for some
the man asked. who will look after you if i don’t return?’
strange question for an ordinary morning
another walked sullenly down to the mining pool friends greeted each other with smiles
ada baik?’
kapal korek tu rosak’
the iron grey contraption mid-way in the pool

the few left behind
to grapple with the sick metal monster
the men arrived in a small boat climbed in
set to work
Final day of work sunset
a load crash drew folk out of their homes the dredge turned turtle
one survivor
mourn and wail bereaved wives children weep blinded with grief hysteria
where in the murky waters do your husbands lie?
in desperate prayer sit stupified

frogmen volunteered to search
hut only the rich who die have the rich to care can the man from the shack on the nearby hund be found?
officials seem to do their best
water too muddy, too murky for good vision
can the frogmen do no more than complain
the department’s minister arrives to say something
some of the banks have fallen away.

a grave situation
an opportunity to solicit political support
vote wise
common people show gratitude for soft words
seeming sympathetic
corpses restored to their respective owners

mind’s recesses imprison the reverberating
truth
have given my rice bowl to the rich stranger who broke it’
its corpse lies in my arms
one cold as stone forever.’

Angeline Loh

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[image, unknown] MENTAL HEALTH[image, unknown]

China syndromes
How the Chinese cope with mental illness

THE patients wear identical drab pyjamas, rather like nineteenth century prison suits. They sit quietly on their beds waiting for medical rounds. One is reading, two are talking, another is doing nothing.

Further down the hall are two isolation rooms. There is one woman in each. These patients are screaming and are restrained loosely, but securely, by broad white bands fastened around their wrists and chests.

Two nurses speak soothingly while one tries to administer medication. Another woman, who might be the daughter of one of the patients, stands and looks distraught.

This is a women’s ward of the Shanghai First Medical College Department of Psychiatry. Despite its old-fashioned appearance, the hospital is one of the foremost in research and treatment in a city with an impressive system of mental health care.

The incidence of mental illness in China, according to doctors at the hospital, is 7.2 per thousand - far lower than reported anywhere in the West. In the United States some studies estimate that as many as one person in ten is affected by a form of mental illness at some point in life.

The symptoms of certain mental illnesses can take different forms from one society to another. A patient in one country may believe he or she is being persecuted by a witch, while in another the blame will be put on the CIA. Hallucinations in China often involve important figures in government, with patients claiming to be Mao or Deng or a long-gone emperor.

Treatment in China is strongly oriented towards modifying behaviour so that patients can function appropriately, or at least acceptably, with other people. They are unlikely ever to have to live alone in a country where families of five or six often live together in two tiny rooms.

Methods used are similar to those in the West, relying heavily on the same kind of drugs, with comparatively little therapy. Traditional Chinese medicines are employed experimentally or in conjunction with other drugs. Only neurotic patients get individual therapy and then with the emphasis on eliminating undesirable habits rather than understanding the causes of the problem. Psychoanalysis is not practised, nor is it generally considered pertinent or appropriate in China.

In the countryside, care is much more limited. The mentally ill are usually watched over by their families and receive little treatment. In some cases their existence is kept a secret for fear of jeopardising their brothers’ and sisters’ chances of making a good marriage.

Deirdre Chetham, Gemini

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Punchlines by C Christian


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