New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 229

new internationalist
issue 229 - March 1992

Letters
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Raising funds not hell
Cover of the NI Issue 228 The profile of a charity in crisis by Sue Montgomery (NI 228) is old and dirty news. Changes have been made to deal more effectively with how staff handle funds and the images used to raise support. Oxfam-Québec fundraising techniques are definitely out of the mainstream but there is nothing 'crass' - we really resent the term - in the use of innovative techniques to access new types of financial supporters. Many in the NGO community have inquired about our golf tournaments (including Oxfam America).

We do not have to justify our approach, our fundraising techniques or our advertising strategies. They are not illegal or immoral and should be questioned and criticized only if impeding our relationship with our partners and donors. Did Ms Montgomery ever talk to them?

Out of the first 72 lines of her article, only 4 talk about our work overseas which - Sue Montgomery mentions - 'is less in question'. Overseas programs are our raison d'être! No business succeeds without increasing its productivity and productivity simply cannot increase without upgrading and concentrating on innovation. That is exactly why Oxfam-Québec has been able to allocate $20 million for development projects in the past five years.

Finally, the real scandal in this article is the use of unnamed parties to make an inflammatory and accusatory comment - which is journalistically highly unethical.

At Oxfam-Québec we have learned to think positive and we apply this principle every living day (not all used cars are lemons).

Gaston Truchon
Executive Director,
OXFAM-Québec

Feminist unions
Although we bear the scars of successive macho Tory governments, the prospects for UK feminists in 1992 are not all bad (We've only just begun NI 227). Though British trade unions have never been renowned for progressive attitudes towards women, their prejudices are gradually being eroded. Virtually every union now has an equality officer responsible for the rights of both women and ethnic minorities. All devote space to questions of equal job opportunities for women, equal pay, sexual harassment and child care at work. There's a long way to go, but in the UK trade-union movement at least there is some evidence of change.

John Arnold
Maidstone, UK

Damning Bly
Erica Simmons writes that because Bly's 'masculinist' movement is still in its infancy and apolitical on principle, it may be slightly unfair to attack it on political grounds' (NI 227). Not at all. Social movements which claim to be apolitical are always reactionary and should be identified as such. Bly's 'mythopoetic' approach is at best romanticist garbage and at worst an attempt to reassert male supremacy.

It is seductive only because it appears to offer an easy escape for men. What they really need to understand is that there can be no escape from their domestic and other human responsibilities.

Peter Somerville
Manchester, UK

Don't patronize me
Tom Tunney's praise of Arthur Seaton, the 'hero' of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, is insulting and somewhat out of place in an issue of NI focusing on feminism (NI 227). Seaton is a despicable character who regards women as existing for men's pleasure and who plays dirty tricks on a fellow worker. I come from a working-class socialist family, where this kind of behaviour was not practised or condoned.

Kathleen Jones
Bishops Castle, UK

Equal rights
I was disappointed that your feminism issue (NI 227) failed to rise above the useless call of equal rights for women. I am a male feminist because it is clear that men can only develop a free, peaceful, cultured social life if women take their rightful place. But that is not equal rights.

These are a biological impossibility. A few seconds of enjoyable activity by a male can condemn a female to years of nurturing the resulting child. And running a home in this country is a technical business; it is inefficient and stupid to dilute responsibility.

Only one person can ensure that bread is available or that the machine and dishwasher are utilised to the optimum degree. Agreed, this person can be male, thus freeing the female. But that is not equal rights.

Forget these. Concentrate instead on ensuring that homo sapiens learn to live peaceful, unselfish, co-operative lives in harmony with the rest of nature.

R G Sargent
Cornwall, UK

Patient planting
If they are sinking 200 water wells in the Sahara, (Updates NI 226), it would make sense to irrigate several square kilometres around each plant and tend trees and be patient until they attract the vital rain; then plant more trees and vegetation, and slowly reclaim this huge desert. Such action might save our planet from other human degradations.

Arnold Fullerton
Devizes. UK

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Bending rules
In case anyone looking at page 24 of your January issue (NI 227) thinks that one of (British socialist) Tony Benn's seventeenth-century ancestors was a notable feminist, may I point out that the lady in question was Aphra Amis, who married a Mr Behn not Benn.

Eileen Davies
Oxford, UK

Kind killing
In response to two letters in NI 226 (Feeding the Few and Meat Greedy), there are vast acreages of farmed land where the only 'crop' that grows is grass. Surely it is still ethically sound for us (yes, I am a farmer) to produce meat from our hills and uplands - providing we do it humanely - rather than let the land go, and put ourselves out of work?

If your correspondents are as 'affluent' as Rob Preston and Jane Ashworth suggest, it is perfectly possible to demand meat which is not produced by 'cruel, environmentally-damaging intensive-farming methods'.

Joyce Hunter Blair
Carsphairn, Scotland, UK

Crossed wires
I am very interested in some of the facts given about Christopher Columbus in NI 226, as they differ significantly from those in Washington Irving's Life of Columbus published in 1831, and I wonder where the additional scholarship has come from.

You state that Columbus was born in Genoa in 1451, the son of a weaver, and that he was rootless. However Irving suggests that he was born in 1435, the son of a wool-comber and that he had a settled early life. You give his only son as Diego, Irving says Fernando.

Finally Irving gives his first voyage as being a naval expedition in 1459, but by your account he would only have been eight years old then.

TS Crosby
Rickmansworth, UK

The issue editor replies: Our facts derive largely from Kirkpatrick Sale's The Conquest of Paradise (Knopt 1990) and Hans Koning's Columbus: His Enterprise Exploding the Myth (Monthly Review Press and Latin America Bureau 1991).

Columbus support
I was disappointed that your Columbus issue (NI 226) didn't list some of the Minority Rights Group's publications, as I think they would be of particular interest to NI readers - especially our new education pack: We have always lived here: The Maya of Guatemala and our report The Maya of Guatemala. Our address is: 379 Brixton Road, London SW9 7DE.

Rachel Warner
London, UK

Beans initiative
I wish your issue on food (NI 225) had provided recipes for the dishes described. I am encouraging some young people to cook creatively with corn and soya beans and it would be nice to have some specific ideas. What did people cook during the depression - or during war-time shortages? This could be invaluable information for those on low incomes.

James D. Reeb Leamington,
Ontario, Canada

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from India

Restructuring the poor
India is poised to take a big step which could grind the
country's poor into the dirt, believes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

photo by CLAUDE SAUVAGEOT As we enter 1992, the Indian Government threatens - our politicians use the word promises' - to take the country away from socialism, independence and sovereignty. Everything in fact, that our forebears fought for to free India from colonialism.

We are about to sign ominous agreements for yet another round of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans. Already they have started to 'advise' us about our economic policy, telling us gently what we can and cannot do.

The structural reforms will involve a three-pronged attack. First, there is the inevitable devaluation of currency; we have complied twice in the last year, since the loan negotiations began.

Next there is the liberalization of the economy. For this read: 'Encourage free trade. Allow in multinationals. Let growth begin.' Our Government is already busy assuring everybody that India wants to welcome foreign investment with open arms.

The third and most lethal demand is to cut subsidies. This hits the poor where it hurts most - in the stomach. India has ration shops where poor people buy rice, sugar, wheat and a minimum supply of kerosene oil at a subsidized rate. The rice is such poor quality that no-one except a very poor person would eat it. Yet the Government has announced that the ration shops are to be 'reformed'. Although our Prime Minister claims to be committed to looking after the poor, he defends the 30-per-cent hike in the price of rice and wheat which are the staple and often only diet of the poorest.

It is not as if we are stepping into unknown territory. Countries that have followed IMF and World Bank orders for structural adjustment have generally got into a worse mess than they were in to begin with. Unemployment, debt and crime have spiralled frighteningly in a host of African countries which have undergone adjustment. Yet we have chosen to follow the same path.

Not everyone is pessimistic about the direction the country is taking. There is a consumer boom, and everyone who can is visiting TV and video parlours, or buying electronic appliances. Indians who return from the West remark at the number of new cars on our roads. Our major cities have a plethora of fast-food eating places. A whole lot of people out there are spending more money than they have ever done before.

But what these people do not see is that 80 per cent of people in India will never use a washing machine, a food processor or a computer; will never see the inside of a burger joint or an ice cream parlour; will never own a video cassette recorder.

For these people life has got worse, not better. They do not have a one room hut of their own, their kids will never go to school. Even more serious, their children may not reach adulthood.

The nutritional intake of the poorest has dramatically declined as prices of basic foods have rocketed; the poor person's only protein base are pulses and dals, the cost of which have trebled in the last couple of years, as have edible oils. This means more malnourished children, more health problems and a worsening of the quality of life for most of our population. Yet the country is said to have 'progressed'.

It is fashionable at the moment to pronounce that the country's economy made IMF negotiations inevitable. However a host of Indian economists including Dr Ashok Mitra (who used to write this column) demand to know why we, one of the world's poorest nations, are currently importing over three billion US dollars' worth of defence equipment annually when our annual budget deficit is up to five billion dollars. Couldn't we reduce our defence expenditure to help our economy?

The last decade has seen much pandering to the middle class to buy their votes. This is why we are experiencing a consumer boom even though the economy is in a shambles. Of course everyone emphasizes that the rich and middle classes must make sacrifices, must realize that the poor cannot afford to cut back anymore. This point has been reiterated by pro and anti-IMF advocates, and by politicians of every party. But the New Year starts with a bad omen. Rice and wheat will cost 30 per cent more. For the poor, it is belt-tightening time again.

Mari Marcel Thekaekara has been working for the last eight years on a project she and her husband started for native people in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

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