issue 165 - November 1986
Under the veil
Women in Iran
The Revolutionary Government deprived Iranian women of most of their hard-earned civil rights when the clergy emerged as the new political authority in Iran. Women still bear the brunt of increasingly severe and systematic restrictions under the strict interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Ayatollah Khomeini has campaigned to drive women back into the home to be at the disposal of their husbands at all times. New legislation limits the right of divorce only to men, lowers the marriage age for girls to nine and gives men the right to four permanent wives and an unlimited number of others. Children over the age of two automatically become their father's property.
Women have been redefined as unequal and biologically and naturally inferior. Their presence in the workplace is described as seditious and they are required to wear the hejab, covering them from head to toe. In another disturbing development, women are being attacked if they appear in public 'badly veiled'.
Adultery on the women's part has become punishable by stoning and the law states 'it is necessary that the stones should not be too large, because the person should not die from the throwing of the first or second stone, and they must not be too small, the size of a pebble.'
It took Khomeini's regime three years to reverse Iran's population policy, which sought to slow the rate of growth and extend family planning services. Government family planning centres have stopped offering irreversible methods of contraception and reduced access to other methods. Extremists ransacked some pharmacies. Now, however, while the Government officially expresses pride in the dramatic rise in the population growth rate - up from 2.7 per cent in 1980 to 3.1 per cent in 1985 - some officials are referring openly to Iran's acute population problems. They are blaming the country's food, health care and housing shortages on this rapid rise in numbers. Recently published Government figures show that between 1980 and 1985 Iran's population rose from 35,8 million to 43.4 million. This was in spite of the heavy death toll among Iran's military forces in the six-year-old Gulf War with Iraq. Faced with these casualties the Government has asked certain categories of women to volunteer for weapon training in readiness for military service behind the front line. This move appears to underline official concern for military morale and suggests the Government is prepared to compromise its strictures against women's jobs in the interests of lifting male morale at the front line.
International Planned Parenthood Federation
Campaign to save the Indian frog
ECOLOGISTS and wild-life lovers in West Germany and Switzerland are busy campaigning to save the wild Indian frog from extinction. Not surprisingly the thrust of the campaign is directed towards the restaurants offering frogs' legs on the menu. The slogan of this novel campaign is 'let the frogs have their legs'. There is also a move to take the 'save the frog' campaign across the Atlantic into the US, which in 1983, imported more than 3,000 tonnes of frogs' legs.
This campaign has tremendous environmental significance and is supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Besides urging the hoteliers to drop the delicacy from their menu, it is also trying to convince European gourmets that the eradication of frogs from their native Asian fields threatens to do serious damage to the ecology of the exporting countries. The insects that the frogs eat could cause large-scale destruction if the frogs, their natural predators, were made extinct.
In India, however, it has fallen to the lot of an unassuming rural artist, Mr Ranjit Chitrakar, to fight on behalf of the suffering Indian frogs. Mr Chitrakar goes round the Indian villages imploring rural inhabitants to desist from killing the amphibians. He also employs folk songs to project his message to the impoverished country people.
It is a measure of growing ecological awareness in the country that customs authorities in Calcutta have, since last November, been holding hundreds of crates containing frozen frogs' legs destined for Western Europe and US. The exporters have been told that their consignments will not move out of cold storage unless a 'no threat to environment' certificate is produced by the appropriate state government. Indian ecologists say that even if Calcutta customs clear this cargo, it will be the last time frogs from Indian paddy fields will end up on Western dinner tables.
Interestingly, no-one in India eats this delicacy. Ancient Indians used to venerate frogs as the harbinger of plentiful rains and the killing of frogs was considered a heinous, sinful act. However, thanks to growing unemployment, the lure of the quick buck and the influence of Western cultural norms, this humanitarian tradition has taken a back seat.
ANC prepare for power
CONTROVERSY continues to rage over meetings held between the African National Congress (ANC) and Western government representatives. But since the beginning of 1986, the British High Commission in Tanzania has been in contact with an ANC project called Mazimbu, located near Morogoro. This project was set up in 1976 to serve the educational needs of young black South Africans, including orphans and those who have been forced to leave their country as a result of persecution by the apartheid regime.
Mazimbu covers an area of 3,500 acres, land donated by the host government and protected by the Tanzanian army.
It contains a school, the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College, named after a young South African student who was executed by police after the Soweto uprisings. Mazimbu also contains a children's centre, a nursery school and a hospital. A surgical theatre is currently under construction. There are many other activities at Mazimbu - food production, a woodwork and garment factory and a cobblery. This provides for the 2,000 residents and renders the community self-sufficient in many commodities.
At present the college has 1,000 students. Through participation in cultural activities, an integral part of schooling, children learn about the history of the South African people, while developing a political awareness. The long-term needs of the liberation movement are also anticipated and the students are trained in fields relevant to the new society that will be created in South Africa. Upon abolition of apartheid these qualified men and women will return from exile to contribute to the development of their country. Mazimbu shows that preparation for self-government is well under way.
To them that have
Drought hits Botswana
In Botswana, drought doesn't kill. Instead, it makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. In most respects, Botswana is a haven of peace and economic progress next door to South Africa's violence and suffering. As in South Africa, mineral wealth undergirds Botswana' s economy. Here, however, a black-led, multi-racial, multiparty government invests in rural infrastructure and services envied worldwide. As a result, Botswana has, for example, cut its infant mortality rate to under one-third of the level found in South Africa's neighbouring black homelands. Though two thirds of Botswana's people are currently affected by drought, no-one dies from lack of food, thanks to generous and well-run aid programs.
Five years of drought have, however, threatened egalitarian gains. Cattle, like people, receive drought relief. Government subsidies now pay about four-fifths of the cost of cattle feed. While human welfare programs keep the poor alive, cheap cattle feed helps only those who own big herds and profit from Botswana' s lucrative meat export trade - the country's number two source of foreign exchange after diamonds.
For many poor people, cattle hold value which transcends market considerations. They use animals for labour, food or bride price, but rarely sell them. Living outside the commercial nexus, they lack cash to buy feed, even at subsidized prices.
Among the elite, however, cattle herding is changing from way of life to business. The new cattle baron tries to manage the herd scientifically, makes maximum use of government subsidies, carefully selects steers for market, uses some of the proceeds to buy a new car or stereo, and ploughs the rest back into buying more animals.
Despite the self-interest of some officials with a cattle business on the side, the Government recently said it must close the growing cattle ownership gap. Botswana can't bounce back from drought unless small farmers who have lost their animals get plough oxen, says a new National Development Plan. At the same time, the plan says overall herd size must shrink because Botswana's fragile soil is threatened by overgrazing.
To accomplish both goals, the plan says Botswana must reduce subsidies and impose higher taxes on the cattle industry, while aiding peasants who need to buy draft animals. This would selectively shrink the market-sensitive big commercial herds. If strictly carried out, such a policy could transform a looming economic and ecological disaster into new triumph for Botswana's egalitarian tradition.
Small is beautiful
A NEW form of grass-roots development is emerging in both the rich and poor worlds. Local government organisations are joining with regionally based groups to help the growth of workers' co-ops and self-build home sites and to foster skill-swapping centres. These initiatives challenge conventional ideas that large-scale industries are best by showing what small-scale 'barefoot capitalists' to local markets and frequently manage, for example, to create more jobs at lower cost than traditional planners.
Co-operative and trade union groups such as the Mondragon Coops in the Basque region of Spain have been centrally involved in creating locally based enterprises. These support the manufacture of socially useful goods, encourage the use of human-centred technologies and break down restrictive work patterns.
The creation of the Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB) by the now abolished Greater London Council and the development of Enterprise Boards in other parts of the UK has acted as a catalyst for similar local initiatives by public sector bodies in other parts of the world. In at least a dozen countries local councils are considering setting up GLEB-type bodies. These include Melbourne and other Labour Party administrations in Australia and Wellington, Aotearoa (NZ).
People involved in these local economic strategies are very conscious that many of the economic problems in their area have national or even international roots. They believe in forging links between local groups across national boundaries. Some have established an annual International Co-op Fair in London, UK, while others have started a European network for the exchange of information on local employment initiatives.