new internationalist
issue 241 - March 1993

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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Missing girls
Cover of the NI Issue 240 ‘Why has it taken so long?’, I found myself asking when I started reading your issue on Girls and Girlhood (NI 240). The pages that followed made shocking reading. I suppose I knew that girls were oppressed and exploited – especially in poor countries – but I was not aware of the full horror of it.

I have only one criticism. All the articles were written by women experts. But what made the deepest expression on me were the actual words of a two-year-old in ‘Being a girl’. She thinks her mother must be a boy – because anyone who is bigger and more powerful than her is a boy. She goes on to say: ‘Everybody’s a boy, I’m the only girl’. For me that is the most eloquent testament to the awful isolation of the powerless – and it brings home just how early the internalizing of oppression begins.

And yes, it’s time girls were heard – not women speaking for them.

G Johnson
Manchester, UK

Not forgotten
In ‘The Wages of Work’ (Hard Work NI 239) Eduardo Galeano claimed that there is no monument to the Chicago martyrs in Chicago. But in fact the five anarchists framed by the State have a large monument in the Waldheim cemetery in Chicago which was erected seven years after their death, in 1893. Alongside them lies the companion of one of the martyrs, Lucy Parsons – a fiery agitator in her own right, of Native American/Afro-American origin – and the great anarchist women activists, Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, both won over to anarchism by the death of the Chicago martyrs. The monument is still maintained by elderly Jewish anarchists.

Ron Allen
London, UK

I was most interested to read the Emergency Report on Somalia by Tony Vaux (The Horn of Africa NI 238). It is a good and useful report – not least because he points to the need not just for emergency supplies but to work for a more hopeful future by distributing seeds. We do find it odd, however, that there is no mention of CARE International which, after the International Committee of the Red Cross, is the largest aid agency working in Somalia, and indeed the agency that has been largely responsible for food distribution in the present emergency. Tony Vaux rightly pays tribute to the courage of Somali relief workers who risk their lives without the security of evacuation plans. I hope you will print this letter as a tribute to the CARE staff – of all nationalities – who have been putting their lives at risk over the past few months.

Julian Hopkins
National Director, CARE Britain

I have respected the content of the NI but the principal issues were left out of your Horn of Africa issue (NI 238). What trade arrangements were made between the West and these countries? How involved were the export credit agencies such as the US Eximbank or Britain’s Export Credit Guarantee Department in arms sales? Vast volumes of money were poured into Sudan by the Saudis in the 1980s, a major factor contributing to the arms build-up.

The articles for the most part read more like a travelogue than a stimulus for ideas. You should know as journalists that asking people how they feel doesn’t form the basis of an article with any substance. Anecdotes about education and eliminating poverty in the pro-Mengistu press in the early 1980s painted a very different picture of that country.

Michael Halls
London, UK

Positive image
In response to one of your letters in NI 238 ‘Sex Sells’, I think the cover of NI 235 was great. The more positive images we have of this most natural thing the better. I suppose Ed McKinley would complain about a mother breastfeeding in a restaurant, too. Come on, it’s not that shocking!

Alison Garfoot and Cole
(who was breastfed for the first ten months of his life
and I’m sure is much happier and healthier for it.)
Fleckney, UK

cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

New Age softsell
I wonder why you gave so much space to Nicola Gregory’s cosy softsell of New Age traveller life (Endpiece NI 238). Traditional travellers and gypsies have had their nomadic way of life systematically eroded by governments which marginalize and persecute them. They are struggling for survival and would have little time for the twee picture of rural romanticism which Gregory paints. The NI should be concerned to give a voice to those gypsies and travellers who are suffering increasing racist attacks throughout Europe, and to those for whom nomadism is no idyll but a result of sheer economic or political necessity.

H Witcher
Bridge of Allan, Scotland

Do your own thing
I enjoyed Nicola Gregory’s piece on travellers (Endpiece NI 238) and was pleased to note that her family burns only dead wood, buries its bodily wastes and leaves cleared sites. I expect they provide their own income. But the philosophy – prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s and implicit in the article – that it’s OK to ‘do your own thing’ as long as you don’t hurt anybody is surely a little negative. Many people during their journey through life feel a need to contribute something – time, effort, money or skill – to the imperfect society which nurtured them and which, God knows, needs help.

Sandy Hedderwick
Leamington Spa, UK

Feeding deceit
I cannot understand how Mr McKinley (Letters NI 238) sees the picture of the breastfeeding mother and baby on the cover of NI 235 as sexually provocative or anything else sexual. Your not taking Mr McKinley up on this point fills me with despair, since it seems from your response that you agreed that the picture might have sexual overtones.

On the other hand, the picture is deceptive. Look closely at the baby. S/he is very thin indeed. Why? Undoubtedly because her mother is putting the baby to the breast in a most peculiar fashion that makes it impossible to get an adequate amount of milk. This is a major hurdle for promoters of breastfeeding. There is a feeling that it always comes naturally. But it does not, even in Africa where there is a whole culture of breastfeeding, and even less so in Canada or other Western nations where we live in a bottle-feeding culture and the medical establishment connives with the formula companies and governments to undermine breastfeeding.

NI did a wonderful service when it exposed the bottle-fed babies of the Third World many years ago. Nothing much has changed, though. Maybe it is time to have another edition on breastfeeding, concentrating this time on the hypocritical roles of the formula companies, medical establishments and governments in ‘developed’ countries.

Dr Jack Newman
Breastfeeding Support Programme Hospital for Sick Children,

Minimum wage
Your article on tobacco in Zimbabwe (Updates NI 237) was very interesting. I am living in an area surrounded by commercial farms. Although the tobacco crop is bringing in lots of money from exports the workers on the farms are not really benefiting. The farmers can say to the workers that things are tough, with drought and mass unemployment, and they are lucky to have jobs. Most of them are still only paid the minimum wage and often not even that much.

A Birch
Mutare, Zimbabwe

Bastard divide
Anyone reading your magazine would think there is no civil war in the former Yugoslavia, extreme privation in Bosnia, Albania, Poland, Romania etc. What have you really got against people living – and most probably dying – in Eastern Europe? Is it the fact that most of them are white or Slavic? Is it because they are Eastern, therefore threatening to you Westerners? Or is it that they are being equally exploited by the Western capitalist machine you obviously live off, therefore distracting attention from the impoverished people of the South? The Berlin Wall may have come down but the bastard East-West divide is still there, carved in the blood of the poor victims of poverty and civil war, now in an economic form. Perhaps you watch the TV propaganda just a little too much.

Gavin Mackie
West Mercia, Middle England

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

Letter from Lagos

A suitable arrangement
It’s not always just the family that wants to arrange
a marriage. Maria del Nevo tells Farah’s story.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY In early December Farah finally received the news she had been awaiting for almost two years. She was to be married.

She had been in love with a boy some years earlier. They used to meet in the park every other evening, where they would sit on the grass, hidden by tall flowers, hedgerows and trees, and Khashif would confess his undying love for her.

Farah had just turned 24 when she finally decided to speak to Khashif about their future together. But he only mumbled and made quick arrangements for their next meeting before rushing home. The next day he didn’t turn up. She went to the park every evening and stood by the gates waiting, but she never saw him again.

Her sister-in-law Mira told her that boys rarely marry the girls they have dated on the grounds that if they can go out with one boy they can go out with others. But it wasn’t until Farah heard through a mutual friend that Khashif had married his cousin in the traditional manner that she really began to understand. And it was then that she turned on her parents.

‘It was awful,’ Mira said. ‘One evening she started screaming at her parents. She said that they had better do something soon. She also said that if they didn’t have the money for her marriage she’d make them sell the house.’

After that day Farah never gave her parents a moment’s peace. Haunted by their daughter’s threats they went to the best marriage bureau.

‘There was one other problem,’ Mira went on. ‘Farah didn’t want just anyone. She was after the film-star type. Tall, handsome and rich.’

Prospective in-laws could not be entertained at the family house, which only had three rooms and was situated along a lane so narrow that even a rickshaw could not enter. Other arrangements were quickly made.

Rashida, another sister, had married three years previously. She was the second wife of an entrepreneur who set her up in a spacious and well-furnished flat in a good area, where he visited her once a week. It was decided that Farah’s mother and sister would receive interested mothers at Rashida’s flat, which they would claim belonged to the family.

Sometimes an entire female clan would turn up – aunts and daughters – eyeing the flat, the furniture, the curtains, the carpets, the neighbourhood. And eventually Farah would be called in from the bedroom and asked to walk around the room a couple of times so that the women could inspect her.

They waited for a proposal. None came. A year went by. Farah’s mother became visibly exhausted. Ramadan came. Farah went into near seclusion. She fasted every day and said her prayers five times a day. Whenever I saw her, it seemed, she was bent towards Mecca with her head covered in a long scarf, or standing on her prayer mat with her eyes closed and her palms held upwards.

It was the first week of December before Saleem’s mother and sister turned up at Rashida’s flat. Saleem lives and works in Dubai and they were over in Pakistan to look for a wife for him. The women took an instant liking to Farah.

The wealth that Saleem’s mother displayed, together with her charm and promises, impressed Farah’s mother and sister. They saw a photograph of the boy, whom they said looked very pleasant, and accepted the proposal without hesitation. Farah was overjoyed.

I went to congratulate the family. But I couldn’t help noticing that Mira was holding something back. I prodded her until she finally opened up and spoke in a whisper so that the family in the next room couldn’t overhear.

‘He’s been married before. The wife was in Dubai with him. The family haven’t really explained what happened. They just said that she ran off one day, leaving behind two children. She hasn’t been seen or heard of since.’

I gaped at her, stunned and horrified. ‘But aren’t they worried, sending Farah to Dubai without knowing the full story?’

‘They don’t want to think about it. This is their only choice,’ came Mira’s reply. ‘It was the only proposal they received which Farah would accept.’

Maria del Nevo is a former NI staff member who now lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan.

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