New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 210

new internationalist
issue 210 - August 1990

Update

WOMEN

Invisible
Figures ignore work done by women

If statistics are to be believed, women are disappearing from economic activity in several countries. Those who do unpaid family work are becoming invisible'.

According to a study by the International Labour Office (ILO)1 there is a two-thirds decline in women's employment in Algeria and Cape Verde and a 50-per-cent drop in Bangladesh, Bolivia. Honduras and the Maldives. In industrialized countries, only West Germany has registered a decline.

In the agricultural sector, where women are traditionally active, women are simply not being counted. This shows up in the astonishing declines in female agricultural employment in national censuses conducted since 1945. Algeria leads the pack with women's share down to a mere one per cent from 37 per cent. But more than one million women work in agriculture in Algeria - unpaid workers on family farms have been excluded from the statistics.

Unpaid family workers are becoming increasingly 'invisible' in 62 of the 83 countries surveyed. Entrepreneurs apparently operate without the assistance of family members, particularly in France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Not counting women's contribution to the agricultural, industrial and service sectors distorts the productivity of enterprises in these sectors. Excluding family members from recognized economic activity in family farms and businesses gives the illusion of one-man operations. The end result is that planning is distorted and investment is misdirected away from where the workers are. Not counting women who work in agriculture, for example. exaggerates any relative increase in employment in the industrial and service sectors. This in turn may lead to women being neglected in development strategies. Sounds familiar.

1 Year Book of Labour Statistics: Retrospective Edition on Population Censuses: 1945-1989

 

AFRICA

Crossfire
Zambians caught in Angola conflict

A sudden crackling and a shattering roar: pounding and rumbling thunders on a trembling earth: waves and billows of rising black smoke: buildings crumbling on twisted bodies; muffled cries, pain, death.

This is how the few' people who have staved in the Zambian village of Chingi describe the fighting between the Angolan government and Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebels.

I am sitting on a boulder with two local guides and we are all nervous. Tom Kakoma has remained in Chingi solely to look after his ageing parents. 'Don't worry, he said, 'they fought just last week. It'll probably be quiet for a few weeks now.'

Kalipande, the small Angolan border town perching on the shores of the Zambezi River, two miles from Zambia, is a crucial zone for Unita. It is an important conduit for the food supplies needed by their starving rebels and holding on to it shows their strength to the outside world. The MPLA government is just as keen to take it over, for exactly the same reasons.

Chitengi Malasha. whose father died in the crossfire, said: 'No-one is in total control. They keep booting each other out. It's terrible for Zambians living here.' Even if anyone did have control, all that is left now' is a heap of ruins. Kalipande is a visibly lifeless town.

More than 5,000 Zambians have fled the border area since the clashes began in the late 1970s. At least 6,000 Angolans took refuge in Zambia after a recent clash. The north-western region already holds some 16,000 refugees at Meheba Camp and about 14,000 others are living among local villagers.

Henry Steiner, a senior member of the International Red Cross Committee, on a recent visit to the war zone, faced 20 Zambians who had lost limbs in the fighting. The Red Cross aims to provide artificial limbs for those who have been maimed and material support for scores of others displaced by the fighting.

Meanwhile no Chingi resident dares to cultivate a field or take a bath in the waters of the Zambezi in daylight. As a customs officer explained: 'Those who tried before never came back. We fear landmines or thug rebels taking a shot at us.'

Five years ago bananas were common and cheap. Today they are a luxury. Most farmers have stopped gardening and left. A local official said: 'Kalipande is only one town among many. So you can imagine the suffering of Zambians everywhere. Even when the war is over, the damage will have been done.'

Elias Nyakutemba

 

FINANCE

Broke
Indian farmers win debt battle

An organization of small farmers in India, the Sheikari Sanghatna, has over the past decade progressed from agitations and blockades to moving the country's highest court and winning a reprieve from debt.

It is standard practice in almost all parts of the country for small-scale cultivators to take loans from banks, co-operatives and moneylenders. Farmers hope to recover their investment if the harvest is good and fetches a desirable price at the markets. But somehow this never happens, for even if the crop is good the profits end up in the pockets of those who control the wholesale and distribution network.

The farmers found their debts mounting until they reached a point where they could no longer satisfy their creditors with the repayments after harvests. Even the co-operative agencies began confiscating their produce.

The moneylenders were even less subtle. With the protection of gangsters and even the police, they began to seize houses, jewellery, cattle and farms, sometimes throwing out the owners.

The first concern was to protect the farmers from harassment and safeguard their property. Advocate Sharad Bobde of Nagpur struck upon the idea of filing insolvency petitions in the courts.

By December 1988, 620,000 farmers from four Northern states had flooded the courts with their petitions. Within three months the Supreme Court had issued an order restraining the co-operative societies, the development banks and other creditors from forcibly collecting debts owed to them by the petitioners.

The Government, too, reconsidered the situation and wrote off loans over 20 years old worth 2.2 billion rupees ($107 million).

This victory of the farmers, besides being the first of its kind in the country, was also totally nonviolent - unlike previous debt agitations. Equally remarkable was the speed at which it managed to prod the normally sluggish long arm of the law.

Ajoy Chaudhari / Third World Network

 

KENYA

Shaved
Storm grows as beard goes

Bearded Kenyatta is no example.
Photo: CAMERA PRESS

A beard is at the centre of a nationwide legal row in Kenya that has involved nearly everyone from a local schoolteacher to the President himself.

Fred Mwango, a former district commissioner in Kiambu district near Nairobi, ordered Joseph Mwaura, a respected primary-school head teacher, to 'dry shave' his treasured beard in the presence of armed police. Mwaura nicked himself several times because he had no water or soap and no mirror either. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) have condemned Mwango's action.

'You look like a he-goat,' Mwango is reported to have told Mwaura following an argument over the closure of a trouble-torn African Independent Pentecostal Church. He claimed that growing a beard was against public-service regulations and ordered the teacher to remove it.

The press were not slow to make the story front-page news. Meanwhile bearded Kenyans are singled out as radicals, though Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of Kenya, wore one himself. Present President Moi (who sports a baby-smooth chin) tried to defuse the growing row by asserting that teachers have the right to keep beards. But he warned that lice should not be allowed to turn them into breeding grounds.

Even so. the Teacher s Service Commission, the teachers' employer, reopened the issue recently by threatening to dismiss Mwaura unless he shaved his sprouting beard, apologized to Mwango and withdrew the lawsuit they had filed against him.

Stopping aggrieved parties going to court is nothing new in Kenya. Kenya has suffered untold embarrassments at the hands of erratic administrators who operate beyond reach of the law. Recently people were arrested for not attending a public rally, a car owner was jailed for not offering an official a lift, journalists caned and a wife ordered to shave her husband as a means of settling a domestic dispute. Administrators have powers to order compulsory deductions from civil servants' salaries.

All this looks to be leading up to open confrontation between corrupt and erratic administrators and their public victims.

Paul Amini / Gemini

 

WATER

Undermined
Bangkok sinking fast

Staying afloat in Bangkok: more may have to take to the boats.
Photo: Dexter Tiranti

You may not have seen it in the headlines just yet but Bangkok is sinking into the sea. As the population passes six million, the huge consumption of water from the city's wells is depleting the supplies of the underground aquifers. Without water pressure to steady them, the sand and clay layers of these water traps are breaking down. As the earth compresses, the city above sinks, making it increasingly vulnerable to flooding.

The worst of it comes with the monsoon rains and tides in October and December which reach as high as 1.35 metres above average sea level. Bangkok is only 1.5 metres above the sea and some districts are sinking by up to 30 centimetres per year.

When tides are high and the rainfall heavy, the Chao Phraya river rises and cannot empty back into the sea. Six centimetres of rain can leave some streets flooded for a day. In 1984, however, things got considerably worse with a flood which lasted four months and caused damage worth 5264 million.

The problem is not confined to Bangkok. Several cities in Asia are sinking, including towns in Vietnam and Kampuchea, where silt- carrying rivers fan out into deltas as they meet the sea.

But a joint Thai-Canadian engineering team may have found a solution to Bangkok's problem. They are proposing to pump clean treated water drawn from the Chao Phraya, Pasek and Suphan rivers upstream of the city, 50 to 600 metres down into the aquifers to stabilize them and stop the land from subsiding.

Researchers at Bangkok's Asian Institute of Technology where this plan has been developed now need $85,000 to field-test it. But this is relatively cheap when compared to alternative strategies because, as Dr. Prinya of the Institute points out, filling in the lost land could cost about S5 billion. And then there is the huge cost of recurrent flooding which the plan could put an end to.

Mack Laing/Gemini

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