If she is bright enough, ambitious, enough, has a good idea and wants to make it work, a woman in Nairobi can go to one of the few banks in the world designed exc
lusively for women. And it will make sure she get a loan. But if she wants to learn to read, it may be more difficult.
Such are the contradictions in the status of women as the United Nations Decade for Women draws to an end. The Kenya Women Finance Trust of Nairobi has operated for a year. easing women into the male-dominated world of finance by helping with loans, providing advice and offering technical help.
Yet in Africa as a whole, eight women out of ten are still illiterate.
It is an irony typical of the ten years the UN has devoted to bettering the lot of half the world’s population. Remarkable success stories coexist with blatant discrimination, huge advances are balanced by humiliating retreats.
Some other examples:
. In Australia, an Office for the Status of Women operates as an arm of the Prime Minister’s Office. Yet in 1983 Prime Minister Bob Hawke complained that of 140,000 students in apprenticeship programmes, only one in 20 was female.
. In India a development plan has been introduced to improve job training for women and ensure equal access to jobs. But across the border in Pakistan a woman has to have the supporting testimony of four men to prove rape, and if she fails she may be flogged.
. In Japan. 1982 statistics showed that only 2.3 per cent of women were unemployed yet another survey showed that 72 per cent of Japanese believe a woman should put her family ahead of her job.
Since the Decade began women have been elected as prime ministers, appointed to supreme courts, shot into space and awarded a Nobel prize. Yet in most of the world they still suffer higher unemployment and receive lower wages than men; are blocked from positions of authority; have less access to education and are expected to look after the home and children while still contributing to the family income.
The Decade has succeeded in attracting international attention to women’s concerns even if it failed to find many solutions.
‘In many ways the past 20 years have been a revolution,’ says Torild Skard, recently appointed UNESCO’s co-ordinator for women’s programmes. ‘If you count the number of people who recognise that women are discriminated against, that they have legitimate demands, there’s been a very remarkable change.’
At the same time, she concedes, ‘governments in general think women aren’t that important’. With few exceptions, she says, ‘if there is starvation, women are starving more than men. If there’s illiteracy, more women are illiterate than men’.
A battery of studies and statistics back her up. The World Health Organisation says that in countries where food is scarce, the best of what is available generally goes to the men. ‘Reports from parts of India have shown that girls are more affected by severe malnutrition, but are less often taken for treatment to hospital.’
This ingrained discrimination eventually erupts into a multitude of health problems. Illness due to hunger is more frequent, bone growth becomes stunted and difficulty during childbirth more likely. Women’s general weakness makes them more prone to disease.
In the working world women still come a distant second to men. While unemployment has skyrocketed almost everywhere in the past ten years, the increase has generally affected women more sharply. In a few countries, like Japan and the United States, women enjoy a higher rate of employment than men. But, as if to make up for it, both countries also pay women far less. In the US the average working woman earned just over $13,000 a year (in 1982), and the average male $21,000. In Japan, one of the world’s most developed countries, women actually made less in comparison to men in 1982 than they did in 1975.’
While in the developed world there are more female lawyers, managers and politicians than before, and women in communications are numerous, they are still heavily outnumbered by men.
In developing countries women’s work is still frequently little more than the most menial of labour. The ILO tells of women in Thailand required to spend between seven and nine hours a shift staring at hair-width gold wires through microscopes, building up to 800 microchips a day.
In Canada, where ministries have been established on the federal and provincial level, former federal mines minister Judy Erola confided it was only her status as a powerful minister with other duties that won her respect as a spokesperson for women.
In Britain, activist Georgina Ashworth has completed a book arguing that - regardless of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - Britain has ‘largely ignored and disregarded women.’ Only a fraction of Parliament’s seats are held by women, and none in the Cabinet. The decade, she says, ‘has been allowed to be a failure, partly because women themselves haven’t been allowed to hear about it, so they haven’t been able to make demands’.
Despite the disappointments, however, achievements have been made since 1975. ‘I just don’t think we’d be where we are today if the decade hadn’t existed,’ says Ashworth.
Kelly McParland, Gemini
Beyond the back yard
In spite of the unrelenting hostility that the US has been displaying towards Nicaragua, Canadian support for the country has been increasing over the past few years. A wide variety of groups, aid agencies, and even the Canadian government have been lending moral as well as material support to Nicaragua.
In recent years the Canadian government has extended bilateral aid to Nicaragua in the form of low interest loans. These have been used for buying dairy cattle, fertilizer, as well as for the development of potable water projects throughout the country. In addition to this direct bilateral aid, the Canadian International Development Agency is funding a wide variety of development projects through non-governmental groups such as Care Canada, OXFAM Canada, Cansave, CUSO (Canadian University Students Overseas), and Catholic Development and Peace.
The most remarkable support for Nicaragua is not coming from the official aid programmes, however, but from the grass-root participation of labour, church and peace and justice groups. The most ambitious of these is the Coalition for Aid to Nicaragua which hopes to collect at least one million dollars worth of donated materials to send on a boat to Nicaragua. Janice Acton, Toronto co-ordinator for the project, has found the response from individuals, hospitals, companies, unions and other groups to be very good. The boat will be carrying everything from paper and pencils, to safety equipment, hand and gardening tools, auto parts, sewing machines, photographic equipment as well as a large amount of medical supplies.
Perhaps the most prominent group to go to Nicaragua recently was the Canadian Church and Human Rights delegation. Even though the Canadian government did not send official observers, the delegation went as unofficial observers of the Nicaraguan elections. Their findings were that the elections were carried out in a well administered and democratic manner, especially in light of the fact that it is a country at war.
These small acts of support, while encouraging and useful, will not be enough to help Nicaragua survive in the face of opposition from the United States. Canada may, however, take a mediating role in the conflict, as Joe Clark, Canadian Minister of External Affairs has recently suggested. If this turns out to be the case, perhaps the experiences which many Canadians have had in Nicaragua will help resolve some of the conflicts in the region.
SMALL boys selling cigarettes or chocolate to passing cars can be seen in many developing countries. But in Peru you may find as many as a score of people at any one set of traffic lights hawking not just the traditional items, but fresh fruit, car jacks, toys, kites, blackboards - even cassette decks.
Hernando de Soto, 43-year-old guru of Peru’s underground economy or ‘informal sector’, believes it is the biggest measured one in the world. He guesses that six out of every ten hours worked in Peru are informal.
Maybe half the lower-income housing construction and more than 80 per cent of the microbuses are based on unregistered labour. And over 90 per cent of Lima’s taxis are not registered - and probably not insured either.
De Soto puts most of the blame on the ‘wall of paper’ which stifles the small factory with two sewing machines and set out to complete the proper procedures. Students were chosen to look as much as possible like anyone else in the queue in a government office.
Even with advice from a lawyer behind the scenes, it took 301 days - eight hours a day - to set the firm up legally. If they had been registering a bus company, it could have taken four years.
De Soto’s researchers estimate that over 40 hours must be spent each month in formalities to stay legal - a price small businessmen feel they cannot afford to pay, even if they know their way round the bureaucracy and the law.
Indeed a flourishing occupation in the informal sector is that of the professional ‘queue-stander’, who either just keeps your place in the queue or who actually takes over the paperwork.
The result of all this, says de Soto, is that neither the formal nor the informal sector is efficient. Properly constituted firms are over-capitalised and do not make full use of Peru’s most abundant resource - labour. And the small businesses in the informal workers, they feel too visible and expand into a different field to remain inconspicuous. The inherent dynamism is not being properly harnessed.
Marion Bywater, Gemini
Toad and rat stew
TOADS, dogs, rats, monkeys and other small animals are an important food source all over the world. But they could be more important still.
In Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia the native Indians rear guinea-pigs which often form the main source of meat for the family. As is the case with most of the small mammals, reptiles, birds and insects reared for food, guinea-pigs are prolific breeders. A farmer starting with one male and 10 females could end up with 3000 animals by the end of a year. Guinea-pigs are easy to handle and are unfussy eaters. They can be fed on vegetable scraps, kept in cardboard boxes and one person can comfortably look after 2,500 animals.
In Liberia, monkey meat sells for much more than beef and in Nigeria meat from the giant rat is three times more expensive than mutton. In Ghana the government has introduced a programme designed to exploit the potential of the grasscutter (or canecutter) rat. This large rat which can weigh up to 8 kilogrammes is preferred to beef, pork or lamb. The government has established an extension service which offers advice on all aspects of breeding and handling techniques. All the rat is eaten, including the hair, and the deep-red meat is said to resemble rabbit in both taste and texture. As the rat eats virtually any vegetable matter it is easy to raise in captivity and farmers have an incentive to do so as individual rats can sell for up to $75.
The Nigerian Institute of Oil Palm Research is also domesticating the giant African land snail. These snails are particularly nutritious sources of meat and contain as much protein as beef and more lysine and arginine (important amino acids) than eggs. The snails are easily reared in enclosed rural areas and as they grow rapidly (up to a weight of 250g.) they are an excellent protein source. Many of these snails are finding their way onto the market in France where the homegrown product is unable to satisfy the demand.
The University of Chile’s Institute of Food Technology has been looking into ways of rearing the wild toad and has now established farms capable of producing 50.000 animals a year. The toads have long been a delicacy in Chile, the meat reportedly tasting like a cross between lobster and chicken. The toads may well secure a slice of the international market in frogmeat.
Andy Crump, Gemini
FOR any couple who want to have children, difficulty in conceiving a baby or completing a pregnancy safely is a source of anxiety and heartbreak. In some countries it may also be a source of shame and a reason for divorce.
Yet the problem is surprisingly common, according to Dr Premilla Senanayake, Medical Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). She says that in many countries the number of couples who are affected by infertility or impaired fertility is rising.
In tropical Africa, where infertility is most common, there are communities in which almost a third of couples are childless without wanting to be. And in Britain it is estimated that one in ten couples will have difficulty conceiving a child.
Infertility caused by the after-effects of infection is the most difficult to treat. Pelvic inflammatory disease is the most frequently found infection and is usually the result of gonorrhoea or other sexually transmitted diseases. Syphilis, too, can affect childbearing by infecting the fetus in the womb and causing its death.
This is one reason why the rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases is so worrying. In many areas of the world the incidence of gonorrhoea has reached epidemic proportions and it is one of the most common diseases in both developed and developing countries. Estimates suggest that in Nairobi, for example, seven per cent of the population has the disease.
Jennifer McKay, People