Passing The Buck

THERE is an apocryphal story of Sixties radical Abbie Hoffman visiting macho novelist Norman Mailer to enlist his support in one of the innumerable battles of that decade. Hoffman stood in stunned disbelief as Mailer's black maid answered the door. You can't ask someone with a black maid to join the revolution, Hoffman concluded. So his invitation to the burly writer was withdrawn.

Today it's not just well-paid writers or corporate tycoons who have black servants answering doorbells. Importing Third World nannies and housekeepers is a growth industry. Huge numbers of black, Asian and Latin American women are being hired at minimum wages to care for the children and clean the houses of a new generation of young, upper-income professionals.

'The demand is tremendous, much greater than the supply,' says Judith Ramirez, co-ordinator of the Toronto-based International Coalition to End Domestics' Exploitation (INTERCEDE). 'The demand is at an all-time high. Importing domestics has become a lucrative industry, a new variation on the slave trade.'

Ramirez runs her small campaigning group from the gallery of an ex-synagogue, now turned Chinese Community Centre, in the heart of Toronto's burgeoning Chinatown. There are more than 100,000 foreign domestic workers in Canada and nearly two-thirds of them are in the Toronto region. Ramirez, an intense, strong-willed woman in her late thirties, has been trying to win improved salaries and better working conditions for domestic workers for the past five years.

'Housework is undervalued,' she says bluntly. 'Somehow it's seen as an emanation of being female - we're supposed to do it for love or for nothing and be happy with it. No wonder wages of domestic workers are on the bottom rung internationally.'

In the past women either stayed home to look after their children or relied on some kind of informal child-care arrangements: an aunt, a grandmother or a neighbour. But today many families need two incomes just to pay the bills. And more women are choosing to work outside the home - more than half of married women in many Western nations - because they find housework and child-care too unrewarding.

But housework doesn't go away while you are out at work. And, at the end of the working day, women still find it waiting for them when they get home. Says Ramirez, echoing what we all know: 'Even in the most enlightened marriages, where men claim to understand feminism, you'll find women do most of the domestic work. It's still seen as a woman's responsibility.'

The unequal sharing of work within the home is always a key factor in the decision to hire a nanny or a cleaner. Women are unable to make a commitment to their careers until they are sure child-care and housework are properly sorted out. And if they can't convince husbands or lovers to help, there are few other options.

'A lot of women have come to the end of their ropes,' says Ramirez. As she speaks the late afternoon sun lights up the rooftops across Spadina Avenue and the Chinese vegetable stores are busy with shoppers - women shoppers, rushing to fit in this chore on their way home from work. 'They are tired of fighting with men. They say "all right, if you're not going to help, we'll just have to get someone in." So they hire someone. They may feel uneasy about it - I haven't met a single feminist who says that's an ideologically comfortable solution - but they do it just the same.'

It is a solution, though - at least for those who can afford it. 'Families that hire nannies and housekeepers are mainly middle-class professionals,' says Ramirez. A Government study in Ontario a few years ago found the average household income of people hiring domestics was around C$65,000. But live-in nannies rarely earn more than the minimum wage of C$4.55 an hour. That's about C$ 10,000 a year - a mere fraction of what their labour allows their employers to earn during the same working day.

It appears that women professionals - feminist and non-feminist alike - have solved their personal housework crisis in the easiest way possible. They've simply bought their way out of the problem. Instead of being exploited themselves, they shift the exploitation to another woman. But not everyone can pass the buck in this way. Who cleans the cleaner's house?

According to Judith Ramirez, however, the analysis is not simply a question of one class of wealthy women exploiting another class of poor women. 'We have to be careful we don't end up simply blaming the woman employers,' she explains. 'Otherwise we just let men off the hook again. If you relieve the man of any responsibility and say that his wife is the one who's hiring and exploiting the domestic worker, you fall into the same trap. You're still assuming housework and child-care are women's exclusive turf - and that men have no responsibility.'

Ramirez insists that hiring a nanny or a housekeeper is really a question of women trying to fend for themselves. 'I don't see any other way when there are so few day-care places for young children. We're nowhere near a universal day-care system accessible to everyone. As long as that's the case, there are going to be a lot of women hired as domestics.'

And that means a lot of work for INTERCEDE. According to Ramirez, the group's main job is to focus on upgrading the wages and working conditions of domestics - so that society is forced to have more respect for the work that's being done and for the Third World women who do it. But it's been no easy task organizing women who are isolated, overworked and speak little or no English.

'It was our number one challenge,' Ramirez remembers. 'Our strategy was to reach them through the media in their own communities. It took time but eventually it worked. Now we often have as many as 200 women at our monthly Sunday afternoon meetings.

'Yesterday one woman told the meeting about how she had been fired by her employer, because she was so jealous of her intimacy with the children. The employer would regularly stay out until all hours of the night so the nanny was often the only one home to bathe and put the children to bed. Naturally she was the one the children became attached to. And the more jealous and angry the employer got, the more the children asked for the nanny instead of the mother. It finally came to blows - that's how she got fired. It's a peculiar position to be in. On the one hand you have children here who get attached to you. But you often have your own children back home who you never see.'

There is no question that INTERCEDE's lobbying has paid off. As a result of their efforts domestic workers in Ontario are now included under provincial labour laws which entitle them to take time off in lieu of hours they work over and above 44 hours a week, or to claim time-and-a-half salary for those hours.

'We have documented cases of women working 90 and 100 hours a week with no overtime pay,' says Ramirez. One of those women is Avelina Villaneuva who came to Toronto from the Philippines in 1981 to work as a domestic. When she quit her first job three years later she'd never had a day off. Now a landed citizen, Villaneuva - with support from INTERCEDE - is challenging the lieu-time provision in the Government's labour code.

'The new legislation discriminates against domestics by putting them in a little ghetto,' claims Ramirez. 'We believe the Government is violating the federal Charter of Rights. And that's why we're taking this challenge to court.'

Foreign domestics are separated from their children and friends. They're uncertain, insecure and often ignorant of their rights. It's not surprising that they are easily pushed around - by their employers and by bureaucrats in the Immigration Department.

Many women say they endure miserable conditions because there is simply no other choice. They hope and pray they will get 'landed' immigrant status and then be able to send money home to their families - money that could pay for the school fees or training that could become their own children's passports out of poverty.

'People make the mistake of assuming that if a woman isn't standing up for her rights, she has no sense of self-worth,' explains Judith Ramirez. 'That's not the case at all. Many domestic workers are incredibly strong. They suffer in silence because they're after a greater goal. And many stay committed to the work of INTERCEDE because they know if we keep at it conditions won't be as terrible for the women who follow them.'

With thanks to Jane Story.
For further information contact: INTERCEDE, 58 Cecil Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Where women leave their own children in poverty to care for other people's children in luxury.

[image, unknown] I first met Zenaida, shivering and frightened, in London on a freezing December evening. She had no shoes on her feet, having run away from her employers early that morning leaving her few possessions behind. Somehow she had heard about the Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers and had gone there in desperation. In the days to come desperation turned to anger as she told me how she had ended up in such an extreme situation.

Though she had a degree in communication studies, she had been unable to find a job at home in the Philippines. So she had left her three children and applied to work abroad as a domestic.

'As soon as I arrived they put me to work,' she recalls. 'In the Philippines the agency told me they would pay me $200 a month. But when I got here my employers refused to pay more than $150. I thought I'd only have to help with the baby, but had to wash their clothes by hand - every night for one and a half years. They had a washing-machine, but they said they preferred their clothes hand-washed. They used me like a washing-machine.

'I never had a single day off, and hardly any sleep because they expected me to get up if the baby needed anything during the night. And they always assumed I would baby-sit when they went out.

'I never saw anyone, never went out. My whole life was just washing and cleaning and caring for the baby. And all the time I was thinking of my own children back at home, and their letters begging me to come back. But what could I do? I'd spent so much money coming over here. The wages were bad enough. But I felt degraded too. People think you have no education if you work as a domestic. But if you need the money, you have to forget your pride.'

Eventually they stopped paying her altogether and locked her in the flat whenever they went out. And the last straw came when the baby - now an aggressive, spoilt three year old - started hitting her with a stick while his mother looked on.

The CFMW referred Zenaida to Waling Waling, a support network of Filipina domestic workers who help each other with accommodation, employment, even money in times of crisis. The present UK immigration laws mean such women are legally forbidden to look for other jobs and live in constant fear of arrest and deportation - which is another reason why they endure such appalling conditions in the first place.

Bridget Anderson

Until Death Us Do Part

AFRICA, my Africa. If I had breath enough I would curse: once for the day that you bore me; twice for making me a woman. I would spit at the sun for shining on me, merciless, blazing, every day of my life; withering my spirit and turning my skin rough and dark, black as the bark of the acacia tree.

Africa, Africa, what have they done to you? If I had strength enough I would carry my children far away across land and sea to their concrete capitals and I would stand before their ranks of white-faced men and make them see how dull are the eyes of my children, how slowly they blink and turn their heads, how thin are their arms. And I would show them the palms of my hands, the soles of my feet, the skin of my knees – scarred by stones and splinters and thorns – and my breasts and belly – stretched by 15 years of motherhood. And I would tell those men a story that would make them understand at last why my Africa is dying.

Africa is dying because of me, I would tell them. I have been carrying this continent for centuries. But I can’t hear the weight any longer. And as I sink to my knees so Africa sinks down too.

Look at me working, I would say: knee-deep in the south Senegal paddy fields where I alone grow all of our rice crop: or bent low over the dusty land in Tanzania where I keep on tending our maize, sorghum and millet half as long again after the men have gone home; or on the jungle’s edge in Zaire1 where four-fifths of our food is grown by my hands.

Yes, I know I’m not alone. Women everywhere are working: doing two-thirds of the world’s work, earning one-tenth of its income, owning one-hundredth of its property. I know the facts. But I know I work hardest of all.

Yes, it’s hard for my sisters in India; in Indonesia and Indo-China; in Barbados, Bolivia and Brazil; arms, back and thighs tightening and straining, doing half of all work in the fields. They are bowed and bent by their workload. But mine has brought me to my knees. They do half of all field work. But I do half as much again; and half of all work with our animals; and all of the threshing and winnowing. Then home to sweep courtyards, wash clothing, fetch water, cook supper. Yes, it is hard for them. And I’m sorry. But it’s hardest of all for me.

Some days, I would tell them – those men with their suits and statistics – my sons and my daughters go hungry while our granary is half-filled with food. When the rains come at last, sweeping their blessed grey curtains across the parched red dust of my fields, my days are so long that I can’t make my arms lift the pestle to grind grain for our porridge.

That is my choice. To work or to eat. If I work there is no time to cook. If I cook there is no time to work. In Ghana and Botswana, in Gambia and Zambia – everywhere it is the same story. Food or work. Work or food. Look at your statistics. They will tell you that on the wide plains of Zambia the food I grow is not what the land will yield, but only as much as my hands can weed and my back carry. This is why Africa is dying.

From behind their wide desks they would look at my children, an uneven row of dusty angled limbs and tight black curls: and at me in my new brown skirt and my faded scarlet scarf. Their eyebrows would raise and I’d know what their thoughts were. Where is my man, then? Why can’t he help me’? He is why Africa’s dying.

Africa, oh Africa, what have they done to my man? Once I could admire him as the protector of our land: the one who cut through the jungle, clearing a space for our crops, the one who drove away invaders, who led our animals to grazing and water, who hunted and brought back our meat.

Where is he now, the person who was once my partner, an Adam to my Eve, with whom I was proud to say ‘we’?

Look at him now: puffed and pompous in the city, playing with his power, turning his back on the people who raised him; or hat over eyes in the shade of a thorn tree, drowsy and docile, afraid of the sun; or weaving and stumbling and stinking of beer red-eyed and angry, kicking his woman; or herded like cattle to cut down their sugar, to pick their tobacco, collect their rubber, carry their cotton.

They took him away from me; took him and beat him; imprisoned his spirit; took him and chewed him and sucked out his goodness, stole all his strength; then spat him out and sent him home.

Turn your minds backwards, I’d beg them, those men with their secretaries and reports. Remember how Africa was when you landed, beaching your ships on our shores. You found fields with no fences, work with no profit, crops without owners.

Of course life was tough then. It’s never been easy: sun always too hot, rain always too late. Childbirth was painful and babies still died. But he used to help me and we were together. I had time for singing and suckling my children, and rights to the land that I weeded each summer; and when I raised my voice it was heard. And of course he still beat me when I cursed too loudly. But I knew him, he knew me, and we were together.

With your guns and your greed you destroyed a whole continent. Your bullets ripped through his shining black flesh. Your pistols emptied themselves into my belly. You fenced our best land and called it yours. And you took him and chained him and made him your servant; made him grow coffee on land that raised millet, and cocoa and tea where we harvested corn. You sent him to burrow away from the sunlight, to die in your tunnels in search of your gold. And you threw him in thousands in the hulls of your tall ships; spat on him, cowed him and sold him like meat. This is why Africa’s dying.

Those men with their pink lips, sipping their coffee; would they still be listening to the end of my story? Open your history books, retrace your footsteps. Know that Africa has had more good food-growing land taken for cash crops than any other continent. Know that Africa’s woman has lost her land-rights more than woman in any other continent. Know that in the place where half the world’s gold is mined we do not even have a vote.2

But the worst thing you did to Africa was to divide us: brother from sister and woman from man. You came from countries where a man works for money and his manhood’s his wages at the end of the week; where a woman’s expected to maintain his household. And it’s men who make laws and own land and hold power. You did not respect our tradition of sharing – in work, land and marriage; in what we grew and what we inherited. You wanted to transform us all in your image. But all you achieved was division, destruction.

My man you have stripped of his sense of belonging. You stopped him from doing the things that a man should. You forbade his hunting and warring and peacemaking and put fences up in the path of his scythe.

You taught him that a man either earns wages or stands idle. But there are few who earn wages in our shattered continent. Some you reward, sure, with power and land rights. But most you’ve left with nothing to live for, snatching some solace in the bars and the brothels.

And how can I blame him for refusing to help me’? His scorn for my work makes him feel like he’s human; his pride is a jewel in the deep of humiliation.

Are you listening up there in your chrome and black armchairs? I’m explaining why Africa is dying.

In Botswana’s barren scrubland he wants payment for ploughing, and spanning his oxen is all that a man does. In Uganda he mostly refuses all cropwork, deriding the effort I make to grow food. While Gambian man’s turned his back on tradition, refusing to take up his scythe to clear land. Africa, Africa, my man is a burden: one more to be carried on my aching hack.

Can’t you see what you’ve done with your planning and plunder’? You’ve created two half-men where there once was a whole one. One half-man leans languid and lost in our villages, stripped of his spirit and reason for living. This one you call ‘farmer’; send in teachers to teach him to farm (while I am out growing the food); lend him money for tractors and tillers (while I am out growing the food); promise him fortunes if he’d only raise cotton (while I am out growing the food); buy our land from him to add to your ranches (while I am out growing the food).

The other you call ‘worker’. He’s lost to my village; forgotten the place where eight-tenths of Africa lives. He sleeps in a dormitory, a stone’s throw from the mine; or under corrugated iron a bus-ride from the factory; or within slabs of white concrete a car-ride from the office.

At first he comes home once a year for a visit, sends money monthly, dreams dreams of childhood. But soon he’s forgotten his debt to his village. And now I’m alone in one-third of our households, my door ajar for a man who never comes.

Me? I’m just woman. Invisible woman. Doing the work of both woman and man. No, I daren’t stop working (who’d feed the children?); I can’t use a tractor (who’d lend to a woman without land, without birthright’?); I’ve no time for schooling (I’m needed for weeding); I missed the last meeting (I was out chopping firewood); never been to the clinic (too late, now I’m pregnant); and I won’t, won’t abandon that thing I was born for: to make sure my children have food in their bellies.

So what will undo all the harm that’s been done to us? Will you hold one more summit, write one more report’? Or parachute bushels of wheat and milk powder to prove just how completely my Africa is vanquished?

Oh, if I had my way I’d rule over this continent. No-one could turn me away from my duties. How could I forget what I’ve learnt all my childhood: a woman tends babies, pounds sorghum, draws water; a woman makes sure we have food in our bellies; a woman can never lose sight of her duties. If I only had half of the power you gave to my man. If he only did half of the work that you made him leave me. Then, only then, can we stop Africa dying. Together we can stop Africa dying.

Life without Men

In Gaborone, the men in the government are sighing with relief as they watch the rain soaking into their perfect green lawns. It marks the end of a drought in Botswana: the cattle's grazing will be saved now. And cattle mean wealth and security. By selling just one good ox a man can feed his family for a year.

But for the 48 per cent of Botswana families who don't own any cattle the effects of last year's drought will linger on until the next harvest in June.

Six months seems a long time to someone like Naledi. She is one of the 33 per cent of women in Botswana with no men and no cattle to help support her family. Her husband died, leaving her to provide for four children and their grandparents. If the rain falls at the wrong time, she will face another year of crippling poverty. Neither of her two sons is old enough to plough her land, even if she had the cattle, and strong traditions prevent her from ploughing herself, or from performing any of the agricultural tasks for which a relatively decent wage can be earned.

She is forced to wait until she can persuade a neighbour or relative to plough for her. But they are busy on their own land, and by the time they get around to helping her, the best of the rains may be over. She manages by getting what she can from 'majako' (an informal arrangement where agricultural work is done for payment in kind), beer brewing and by raising a few chickens.

Her small figure is a familiar sight. She is never still; collecting water from the nearby standpipe; sweeping her immaculate, beautifully decorated compound; repairing the walls of one of her three round mud huts (rondavels); returning from a six-mile walk into the bush for firewood. Or disappearing for a week with her family to work on a neighbour's land. For a day's bird-scaring or weeding she and her older children can earn 72 thebe (65 cents) between them. It's not much, but it buys a small bag of mealimeal - just enough to keep body and soul in some tenuous contact with each other for another few days.

She is not the only one in this plight. In a skimpy mini-skirt and bare feet, Malebogo passes the village bottle store on her way home. She looks up in response to shouts and jeers from the group of young men lounging outside. But she shakes her head when they call over.

At home her mother waits, sitting hunched and miserable, in the doorway of the tin-roofed house. She mutters, looks around vaguely for a sign of Samuel, Malebogo's brother and then lapses back into a world of her own. Samuel is away working in the goldmines of South Africa, and he hasn't come home for Christmas this year.

Malebogo is angry. If he doesn't come back soon it will be too late to plough ... If only one of those men would marry her instead of infecting her with their filthy diseases . . . and now after twelve years of VD, she's barren and won't ever find a husband.

With nearly 50 per cent of men between the ages of 20 and 29 away in South Africa's mines, a man in Botswana can afford to pick and choose. He likes to know that his woman can bear children before he commits himself. But, for a woman, an illegitimate child is no guarantee of a husband.

It is tempting to dismiss Botswana men as a crowd of lazy, drunken, chauvenist, goodfornothings. But such men are as powerless as the women in a situation perpetuated by the migrant labour system and the Botswana government's callous disregard for the rural poor.

This acute shortage of men hits Botswana's rural womenfolk doubly hard. Firstly, they are left without labour during crucial times of the year. Secondly, their self-esteem is immeasurably damaged by having to compete with one another for the fleeting favours of a man who may decide to leave at any moment.

This migrant labour system functions to cushion a large proportion of the rural population from utter destitution. Remittances from those working in South Africa account for between 40 and 50 per cent of family income. It is often said that 'no-one dies of starvation in Botswana.' But this is an excuse for brushing over the fact that perhaps only 15 per cent of rural families are able to feed themselves from their own land. Recruitment of Botswana for work in the mines is now dropping sharply.

For men, wages from mine work are often the only chance of escaping from the drudgery of rural life: or of acquiring enough capital to buy cattle. Cattle are sacred in Botswana - the key to power and prosperity. And the key is denied to women.

A fence runs along the 25 mile stretch of road between Odi village and Gaborone. On one side of the fence the grass is green and thick. On the other side goats graze on thorn bushes and pull listlessly at a few bits of grass straggling across the sand.

Behind the fence lies one of the Presdient's farms. No-one knows how many cattle President Sir Seretse Khama owns but the family empire is vast. The Vice-Presdient, Dr Masire, is even richer. In fact 80 per cent of the cattle in Botswana is owned by ten per cent of the people: and the richest of these are Members of Parliament. Small wonder that government policy concentrates on meat canning, the farcical Tribal Grazing Lands Policy - proposed by civil servants as a means of dealing with the problems of overgrazing but so emasculated by parliament that only rich cattle owners can benefit from it now - and prestige projects such as the new international airport.

Such inequalities seem impossible to combat: so perhaps Malebogo's brother Samuel can be forgiven for staying away. Having experienced the intoxication that comes from a pocket-full of Rand at the end of the month, it is difficult for a man to summon enthusiasm for back-breaking work on a land which yields such meagre rewards. To make things worse, he may be weakened by TB from mining conditions, and he will certainly bring VD back to his village.

Three days after the rains begin, life returns to normal in the village. A medley of women's voices, pierced by the wailing of children, comes from the crowd jostling around the clinic. The clinic and primary school stand out: smart and square and white, in the midst of the scattered round clay huts. A harassed nurse tries to keep order as she weighs the children and supervises the feeding of the thinnest ones.

This is where the drought and the privileges of the big cattle ranchers take its biggest toll. On the vulnerable brains and bodies of small children.

Festina stands in the queue, half ashamed, half defiant. She has proved her fertility twice - to two different men. But they are under no obligation to marry her or support her children. But Festina is philosophical: 'This my child is like a purse of gold. Am I to say "to whom does this gold belong?". No, she is my purse of gold.'

But the babe is pitifully thin and has to be coaxed to eat the slimy greenish 'maluti' from the clinic cooking pot. 'Maluti' is the local name for the cornsoya meal provided by the FAO for malnourished children.

Festina's mother has resigned herself to her growing brood of illegitimate grandchildren. 'There are just not enough men to marry my daughters' she sighs. 'Am I to scold them for having children when no-one ever gets married these days?' It's true. All seven hundred villagers are Christians, but there hasn't been a wedding for two years.

Rural destitution is kept at bay, not only by remittances from outside Botswana, but also by the extended family structure. There is an intricate system of traditional responsibilities both within the family and between those linked by marriage. With so few marriages, this whole framework may soon break down altogether, as it has in the squatter camps outside the cities of Gaborone and Francistown.

Festina's young baby is called 'Mosetsanagape' - literally 'another girl' - a cruel illustration of how vital men are to women in rural areas. From the moment they are born little 'basimane' (boys) have an easier time than 'basetsana'. They are fed the choicest food and have little to do except play football until they are eight years old, while their sisters are already performing all the chores of womanhood. Then they are sent out to herd cattle and goats to and from the watering holes. In this job, the boys have milk and meat from the animals to supplement their diet of sorghum porridge. At home in the village, little girls fare much worse. In the queues outside the malnutrition clinics twice as many girls as boys are found to be pathetically thin.

Their early work with cattle far from home means that many boys miss out on their education. Up until the ages of 14 and 15 there are more girls than boys at school. A few are lucky enough to get a government job in Gaborone. But for others, less fortunate, there is no alternative but to continue to bend over the iron hard land. Hoping for a son. Waiting for rain. Praying for a man.


Half a Chance

Purine Motsa

Purine Motsa has been caught between the traditional role of women and the demands of a developing economy. Unable to follow the old pattern, she has not been allowed to participate fully in the new one - which is unfortunate for her country as well as for herself. Gay Seidman reports from Lobamba, Swaziland.

When she was younger, Purine Motsa wanted to be a teacher. Coming from a poor Swazi family, she might have found it difficult to get a place in a teacher training college or to pay school fees, but Purine, 20 is an intelligent enterprising woman. She might well have managed - if she had not fallen pregnant before she finished Form III.

Her status as an unmarried mother is not unusual. More than half of first children here are born out of wedlock. Three out of four women say they know nothing about family planning methods, and traditional sanctions against premarital pregnancy have broken down.

Once, Purine could have counted on marriage following the birth of her child, but things have changed. Like many of the young men from her area, Purine's boyfriend went off to become a construction worker in town.

Sitting in the small mud but she shares with her daughter, Purine speaks haltingly of the period following Nonhlanhla's birth. Forced to leave school because of her pregnancy, Purine looked for a job to support herself. She could not rely on her family: her father died in 1964, and nine children lived on the $25 a month that their mother could earn as a cook. But it was not easy to find work. Unemployment is high in Swaziland, and companies generally prefer to hire men.

After several months of desperate searching, Purine had some luck. A former teacher, realising her talents were being wasted, fought to get her a place in an agricultural school near her home. Although women do nearly all the agricultural work in Swaziland, the school - like most agricultural courses here - was designed only for men.

Eventually, they agreed to accept Purine as a test case. To pay her fees, she cooks meals for the boarding students, and her mother or a younger sister watches Nonhlanhla while Purine is at school. Laughing, she says that at first the other students expected her to be weaker than they. Now they know better. She has done well, taking several prizes last year, and four other women have now been admitted to the course.

But Purine's problems are not over.

As an unmarried woman without a son to put in front of her,' she cannot receive land under the traditional land tenure system.

So Purine will probably work at the school after she graduates, looking after poultry and doing other odd jobs - instead of the farming which she is eager and trained to do.

The school hopes to persuade the government to help her, but she is pessimistic. 'It is unfair' , she says softly, 'it is unfair' .

*Purine Motsa*: Women are not weak, they are clever, it is only that men don't want to admit that women are stronger than they are.'

Sex and the Third World Woman

Photo: Claude Sauvageot

W WHITE tiles gleam and taps sparkle in the bathroom. A woman stands in a flowered nightdress and brushes her hair in front of the mirror. She smiles at her reflection. ‘Don’t forget your pill,darling’. The voice comes through the open door behind her where a man is sitting up in bed reading a magazine. She reaches for the little packet and swallows a tiny yellow pill before switching off the light and walking back into the bedroom. The couple have no children. She is 28. Sometime she wonders whether she ought to have a baby before she gets too old but she enjoys her job and doesn’t want to ruin her slender figure.

In a clinic thousands of miles away a Mexican woman asks to be sterilised. She holds a whimpering baby in her lap and a three-year-old clings to the folds of her grimy skirt. Five children survive out of the eight she has borne. She aborted the last one with a fork on the instructions of a local midwife and her face still looks strained and pale from the ordeal. Her husband never knew and she will never tell him. She is 28 too.

A pill taken in comfort. A child aborted. An irreversible operation. It’s calledfamily planning. But between the three there is a world of difference.

The privileged Western woman is torn between secure motherhood and a satisfying career. For her, family planning cuts the link between sexual pleasure and procreation, leaving her free to fulfil herself as she wishes. In the Third World the major family planning method - abortion-is more likely to be used as a desperate measure to break into the grim cycle of procreation, ill-health and continued poverty.

But not all women in the West have the loving support of their partner and a rewarding and lucrative job. And not all women in the Third World have to use abortion as a furtive and lonely last resort. Between these two extremes there are millions of women in both worlds who are not in abject poverty but for whom economic considerations still play a major role in their decision making. Many must make the choice between another baby and new clothes - or school fees - for existing children. Others have the choice made for them by a domineering husband. Some are not even allowed out of their houses to go to the family planning clinic.

The idea that the pill is a licence for untrammelled and irresponsible sexual enjoyment must make such women laugh bitterly. For most of them family planning is still about sex and babies - not sex and pleasure. And marriage is about social and economic security - not love.

‘I want my husband to be a good person,’ says a Sri Lankan woman to Perdita Huston in Message from the Village. She is not talking about a thoughtful lover or an affectionate companion. No, a good husband for many woman is simply ‘Someone who will be interested in the family, who won’t drink and who won’t waste money, whatever little we have. If we have enough money it doesn’t matter having more children.’ The same plea came from almost every woman she spoke to - from Mexico to Sudan: ‘Give me a husband who doesn’t beat me, who talks to me, who gives me money’.

It has not always been this way. These same women talked with sadness of the changes they had witnessed over the years. Wherever they came from they spoke of disintegration in the relationships between men and women. ‘Men were better in the old times; they took care of their families,’ sighed a young Kenyan girl. ‘There was a better understanding between women and their husbands then. There is no trust between men and women any more.’ And where there is a loss of trust, then communication between husband and wife must also suffer. It would be surprising if a joyous sex life were to flourish.

Development and modernisation may be to blame for these changes. ‘Development often causes a diminution of the productivity and status of women’ argues Esther Boserup in Women’s role in Economic Development. We are now witnessing in the developing world the same changes that came with the building of factories and cities in Western societies. The position of many women in the Third World has actually suffered because of economic development. Men are in a better position to take advantage of the education, employment and technologies that are now available. That extra year in school, the new job and extra money in their pockets, the new tractor - they all widen the gap between the sexes and bind women even more closely to the home and the land.

This widening gap sometimes ends in virtual segregation, with women and men moving in completely different worlds. In Muslim communities contact between men and women can be so severely restricted that a woman is not even allowed to speak to the men outside her family. Her husband becomes the stranger who goes out to work during the day and spends the evenings with his friends. He expects his wife merely to serve his meals, submit to his desires and bear his children. ‘Sex is for the men to enjoy,’ said Muslim women in Bangladesh to Jenneke Arens and Jos van Beurden. ‘We ourselves do not get much pleasure from it.’

Where women need family planning most, they are least likely to have the freedom to get it. According to a UN survey of couples in urban India, Iran, the Philippines and Singapore, the more a husband dominated in the family, the more children were produced by his subservient wife. This was because matters like sex and birth control were never discussed. A selfish man would not consider using the time-honoured preventatives like coitus interruptus or abstinence.

A demoralised woman lacks the knowledge or courage to take responsibility for her fertility. ‘The man wants sex and the children come,’ complained another Sri Lankan woman. ‘Yet the women in this area are afraid. They say there are after-effects of family planning. They say that you wont live long after you start using these things,’ Male-centred development aid also threatens whatever companionship and equality there was between husband and wife. Men now earn money for their labour. But in most countries a woman’s agricultural and domestic work is still unpaid and undervalued. A woman’s lack of control over her fertility reflects this economic dependence. And if she is unable to assert herself in the market place or in the house, it is even less likely that she will have the temerity to assert herself in bed.

While there is no opportunity for many women to be anything other than indifferent to their sexual satisfaction, the lack of concern is rarely shared by their men. ‘Chastity’, ‘fidelity’ and ‘modesty’ are the bywords of many societies where a man’s power predominates. While a woman may shrug her shoulders and stoop again to her work, she is surrounded by a whole spectrum of traditions and taboos, designed specifically to restrict any sexual desire or pleasure she may experience.

These restrictive traditions range from the simple requirement that a young woman be ‘honourable’, through removal of the clitoris, to radical female circumcision and infibulation whereby the labia and clitoris are removed and the vagina sewn up.

Nawal El Saadawi describes the recurrent agonies entailed in radical circumcision in Sudan in The Hidden Face of Eve. ‘On the marriage night it is necessary to widen the external opening by slitting one or both ends with a sharp scalpel or razor,’ Recalling her own relatively mild operation in Egypt she remembers being told that ‘the existence of this small piece of flesh would have made me unclean and impure and would have caused the man whom

I would marry to be repelled by me . . . I was six years old that night they carried me to the bathroom . . . I could not forget that painful incident that deprived me from enjoying the fulness of my sexuality’.

In many parts of the world it is irrelevant whether a woman’s clitoris is intact or not. Intercourse is so brief and brutal that she may as well have been circumcised. She gets no pleasure in any case. ‘A man is like thirst and a woman like a river. Whenever a man is thirsty he has to go to the river to quench his thirst,’ says a man from Jhagrapur village in Bangladesh. ‘For us sex is a matter of only five minutes,’ he admits. ‘We go who-amm and its finished’.

A man’s pleasure is everywhere condoned while a woman’s desires are often feared as being dangerous and unclean. Where men have political and economic power they also seek control over the sexuality of their wives and daughters.

Marxists claim that female sexual oppression is explained by the patrilineal inheritance of wealth. A man controls cattle and land and wants his wealth to pass to his sons. He therefore demands that his wife is faithful to ensure that she bears only his children. Before marriage women must remain chaste, because an illegitimate child inherits nothing.

This explanation ignores the fact that women’s role as an inferior caste preceded the development of private property - and even in socialist countries their status is still lower than that of their husbands. The feminist emphasis is more on a woman’s control of her own fertility. When a woman is really free to choose whether to bear children, then this biological source of inequality can be eradicated. So birth control is only the first incision, slicing away at male domination. Other things must follow.

Family planning is not only about sexual liberation. Our Western preoccupation with erotic pleasure is a luxury born of privilege. In the Third World millions of dollars are spent on birth control technologies but there is almost no research about ‘love’. A couple in the West seeks personal and sexual freedom. A couple in the Third World has a ‘population problem’. For both family planning is the answer’.

This is not to say that people in the Third World don’t fall in love. Or that poor women are never able to enjoy sex. In Botswana young women in Tlokweng, just outside the capital of Gaborone,spoke to me with relish of their romps in bed. After a meal of sorghum porridge and bojalwa (beer), three girls with fashionable plaited hair and platform-heeled sandals lolled back in their chairs, laughing in the candlelight.

‘Gordon is tired of me’, said Mpho with a grin. ‘He says I work him too hard’. ‘You have no shame,’ teased Miriam, making love only a week after having your child. It would make your mother cry.’ ‘But if I want to, why should I wait? Old Dora talks rubbish when she says it can make your child die’. These same girls occasionally receive a black eye from their boyfriends. But if there is fun to be had,. they obviously make sure they have it.

Elsewhere, complete sexual satisfaction is often considered a woman’s right. ‘In Uganda’, reports Mere Kisekka in Beliefs and Practices, ‘a normal woman was expected to reach her climax three or four times before the man’. If she was not satisfied she could even complain to her in-laws!

It is hard to reconcile these widely differing views of sex: pain and mutilation in parts of the Arab world and frank revelry in some African tribes. But a couple’s equality in bed is likely to reflect their social and economic equality. The Botswana girls who spoke to me have jobs with the Government and are paid as much as their boyfriends. In outlying rural areas and where development agencies have barely penetrated, reasonably egalitarian societies still survive. Although women do not have complete equality with men, the female hierarchy still has an authority that is totally lacking in many Arab and Asian societies.

‘Men must be taught that we are human beings like them and must lead human lives like them’ said a young Kenyan girl to Ms Huston. Once this equality is assured then sexual satisfaction will follow. The female orgasm is not an end in itself but a bright symbol of triumph in the battle for female liberation.

All bark, no bite

South Africa offers its Western investors fast profits. At 20 per cent every year the return on investment has surpassed even that in Hong Kong, where cheap labour has also been a magnet for foreign capital. But the tide of foreign investment in South Africa ebbs and flows. Billions of dollars come flooding into the country, drawn by a whirlpool of prosperity and economic promise, only to recede once more whenever political stability seems threatened.

The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 sent investors scurrying home in their hundreds, causing a loss of $15 million per month. Foreign exchange and gold reserves plummetted from $370 million to $180 million in six months. But the government reacted with stricter taxes on capital outflow and a tighter control on internal security. By February 1962 confidence was restored and reserves pushed back up to $380 million.

News of South African involvement in Angola caused another wave of disinvestment, but the loss of confidence after Soweto was less dramatic - only a $600 million outflow from a much bigger economy.

Diplomats in the West lost no time in denouncing South Africa's brutal handling of her domestic problems. Lord Carrington said in the British House of Lords that 'South Africa's friends in the West had been saddened, bewildered, horrified by Pretoria's lastest spate of repression', and he warned that 'unless progress is made in the field of human freedom and personal liberty the end, sooner or later, will be catastrophic. 'The new Carter administration under the influence of Andrew Young, pulled no punches either. After talks with US Vice-President Mondale in 1977, Vorster reported angrily that 'it was said to us in no uncertain terms that if we don't reach a one-man one-vote situation then sanctions will be forthcoming. Russia wants to kill us off by force, while the US wants to strangle us with finesse.'

Even France, historically South Africa's strongest ally, who had previously been the source of sophisticated weapons and nuclear technology, supported the UN's 1977 call for a complete arms embargo against South Africa.

By involving herself in Angola in 1974/5, South Africa had also sacrificed her limited detente within the African continent. Nigeria, with its oil supply and rich markets, compelled firms to choose between their Nigerian and South African investments. It seemed as though South Africa had finally gone too far. In 1977 she appeared to be isolated and practically friendless.

But through the diplomatic clamour aroused after Soweto by the muscle flexing of South Africa's security machine the voices of the economic pragmatists-South Africa's real friends could still be clearly heard.

While in opposition, Lord Carrington could afford to be outspoken. In Britain's ruling Labour Party, Chancellor Healey told Parliament that 'the government intends to discourage investment by British industry in South Africa'. But Foreign Secretary Owen argued that Britain's domestic needs ruled out economic sanctions against South Africa. He added that 10 per cent of British overseas investments go to South Africa, and that these account for more than 50 per cent (£3 billion) of total foreign investment in South Africa. Six of the ten largest companies in South Africa are based in Britian or British­controlled.

The US government, providing 17 per cent of South Africa's foreign investment, was just as pragmatic in spite of Young's hard diplomatic stance. 'The Department of State believes that investment... can assist the underlying forces working for change in the South African system by developing the skills and improving the economic wellbeing of the... black sectors of the South African population...'

South Africa

With such large investments at stake it is not surprising that the UK and the US should be opposed to sanctions. At the UN Commission for Transnational Co-operation in 1978 they were among the six countries voting against a resolution calling for the withdrawal of multinational companies from South Africa. Other dissenting countries were France, Canada, West Germany. and Switzerland. All of them have a lot to lose by such disinvestment. (see table)

Such countries argue that economic sanctions and disinvestment will do more harm than good in South Africa. Far better, it is said, to try to bring about change from within the existing systems. As an alternative they have proposed several 'Codes of Conduct' which aim to challenge apartheid by example rather than by coercion. They are intended to guide the race relations policies of Western multinationals operating in South Africa.

The US Sullivan proposals and the Canadian government code aim at equal pay and conditions. The British-inspired EEC Code of Conduct emphasises the establishment of black worker representation. A fourth Code was issued by the South African Co-ordinating Council on Labour (SACCOLA) outlining the same basic principles.

The essence of these codes is that they are voluntary. But by 1978 only 84 of the 447 US companies in South Africa had endorsed the Sullivan 'Manifesto', and not a single one had recognised a black trade union for the purposes of negotiation. Of the 595 British companies asked, only 189 reported back to the EEC, and only 49 of these provided the required information. Only one was prepared to recognise black trade unions.

Nothing is known of the companies who failed to report, but it seems likely that little has changed since British trade union leaders Vic Feather and Jack Jones returned disgusted from their tour in 1973. They reported that conditions were as bad for blacks whether they worked for British, American, or South African firms.

Evidently codes of conduct are meaningless without a substantial number of endorsements and a reasonable policing and penalty system. At present their main purpose is to quieten shareholders' concern at home and appease black opinion in the rest of Africa. In 1977 the French Government admitted that 'the main purpose of the Code is to create a climate conducive to some form of dialogue with African states which have personal feelings for the racial situation in South Africa'.

Support for the Codes comes mainly from those with financial interests at stake - the South African government itself and heavily involved Western powers. Those with less to lose and more to fight for favour sanctions and boycotts.

The first plea to the West to break trade links with South Africa came from the late Albert Luthuli, President of the African National Congress and Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Bishop Desmond Tutu renewed this call in September 1979, saying that the South African Council for Churches 'is critical of the role of foreign investment (which) is supportive of an oppressive system. It has been proved now that economic prosperity does not lead to political change. We want fundamental change... we do not want our chains made comfortable, we want them removed'. To the argument that sanctions would only cause further hardship and unemployment for blacks, he said they 'would be unemployed and suffer temporarily. It would be suffering with a purpose now, where blacks are suffering, it seems to be a suffering that is going to go on and on and on'.

Chairman of the giant Anglo-American mining corporation, Harry Oppenheimer, who is a leading advocate of reform, argues the opposite. It is unemployment that causes unrest - the West must keep investing in order to maintain employment and ensure that peaceful rather than violent change occurs in South Africa. The economy simply can't afford higher wages for blacks, argues Oppenheimer, equality will come when the country is more prosperous.

But it is not concern for unemployed blacks that holds back a concerted Western boycott. Economic disincentives have been much more persuasive than more moral considerations. The truth is that the West needs South Africa as much as South Africa needs the West. Tempers may grow frayed on both sides, but there are yet to be signs of a real rift.

* It has been argued that an economic boycott would harm the boycotters more than the South African economy. Governments are worried about job losses at home in industries dependent on South African markets or exports. Recent calculations show that this risk is grossly exaggerated. At worst it would mean a cutback of 400 jobs in the largest and most vulnerable firms.

* Another fear is that countries who fail to impose a ban will leap into the business vacuum created by those who pull out. This is what happened when the US-based IBM pulled out under government pressure. The market was left free for International Computers Limited - 25 per cent of which is owned by the British government - to supply the goods and expertise that underpin the whole 'influx control' system which regulates the movements of the black population so effectively. Similarly, Henry Ford II is well prepared to step into the gap that will be left by the withdrawal of British Leyland's car-producing plants. 'South Africa's problems must be solved by South Africa's people', he says, 'we are not going to move out...'. Not only will he continue to reap big profits, but also, should a settlement come about, he will be the first to move into expanding markets from his newly established toehold in South Africa.

It doesn't have to be this way. It would be possible for concerened business-men and politicians to get together and agree terms of concerted withdrawal that would avoid internal throat-cutting.

* Some countries will be hit much harder than others. Disinvestment is an expensive business. If all companies sold out simultaneously their losses in the resulting buyers, market would be enormous. And South African exchange control restrictions force a further 30 per cent tax sacrifice on the deal. Significantly, what withdrawal there has been was of loan capital and short-term investments - over 1500 million outflow in 1977 - rather than bi long-term investment capital of which 250 million still flowed in. It is easy not to renew a loan, but very difficult to wind up a huge plastics factory. But again, a really committed home government would offer compensation to those firms hardest hit by withdrawal.

* The West's biggest fear is that South Africa will retaliate against any action they take by wielding her own sanctions axe over their vulnerable industries. The table shows how important South Africa's minerals are to the West. Except for gold, which plays its own particular role in the world economy (see table) they are all vital to Western industries. Chrome and magnesium, for example, are used almost universally in steel-hardening processes. With such a high percentage of their mineral supplies coming from South Africa Western industries would appear to badly threatened by a retaliatory boycott.

But the West looks to South Africa and the Third World for minerals only because their ores are all of a higher grade than those at home. It is a question of cutting costs and maximising profits. Also, with successful mining dating from 1860 a great deal of exploration has been concentrated in South Africa. There may be equally rich deposits elsewhere in the world. If only the West bothered to look.

South Africa

* Oil boycotts have been suggested as a way of taking advantage of South Africa's main Achilles heel without directly harming Western economies. The difficulty with this proposal has previously been that land-locked Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland would be stranded if South Africa cut off their oil supplies. But with the independence of Zimbabwe a back door has now been opened.

Whether or not an oil boycott would cripple the South African economy is another matter. Only 20 per cent of her energy needs are met by oil, compared to 66 per cent of those in the West. And the government has been preparing for a boycott. Enough crude oil to last an estimated two and a half years has been hoarded in disused mineshafts.

Huge amounts of capital (see box) have been poured into the three oil­from-coal (SASOL) plants as well as nuclear power, coal power, and sugar power projects. When all these sources are on tap in the early 1980s, judicious rationing could enable South Africa to survive even an oil boycott.

Their foresight and determination is impressive. Were the West equally determined then South Africa would have been brought to her knees years ago. It is a question of 'if there's a will there's a way'. But while the West is unable to summon the will, the South African government is fast discovering its own way to economic independence.

How the west funds apartheid

'You scratched our back...

IMF Loans Internal security problems and a fall in gold price produced a massive trade deficit in South Africa in 1976/77. She needed some boost for her sagging economy and a 'clean bill of health' to keep foreign investment coming in. The International Monetary Fund - led by UK and US members - ensured that she got both. By the end of 1977 South Africa had been lent a total of $464 million, and a 'confidential' IMF report describing South Africa's optimistic future had been circulated among Western banking communities.

Foreign Investment South Africa has run up big debts. They rose from 30% of GDP in 1970 to 53% in 1976. Of these new loans, 56% came from the EEC and 24% from the US. Most of this Western capital has been channelled into long-term projects to keep the economy growing and its wheels running smoothly.

SASOL I uses one tenth of the country's coal to produce 7% of her oil needs. SASOL I I with a capacity to turn 14m tons of coal into 2.7m tons of oil per year, comes on tap in 1981. SASOL I I I is due to be completed in 1982.

Coal-fired electrical power stations with a combined generating capacity of 21,500m Watts will be completed by 1981.

Steel production capacity has been increased to 6.5m tonns per annum.

A deep sea harbour at Richards Bay and 860km of railway line for transporting ores to the coast have been constructed.

Nuclear Power and Expertise Foreign loans also helped to pay for the construction of a nuclear power station. France provided a $100 million interest free loan to help develop South Africa's uranium mines. The power station needed extra funds to develop its uranium enrichment capability - and the experts came from Paris to advise. Now France is a regular customer for 900 tonnes of uranium oxide each year, and the US is a big buyer of enriched uranium. When France withdrew its advisors, the Israelis were quick to step into the breach. So with Western funds and Israeli expertise it now looks as though South Africa has begun testing its own atomic bomb. we'l I scratch yours'

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