new internationalist
issue 243 - May 1993

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Cover of the NI Issue 242 Does John's Pilger's Cambodia (NI 242) mark the beginning of a new NI sport: UN-bashing? The UN may not be perfect, but it's doing a difficult job that deserves at least some recognition from your distinguished guest editor. It takes more than a conspiracy of the 'Great Powers' to create a modern Hitler', let alone a self-styled socialist one like Pol Pot, and then arrange for his return. Condemned if it acts in Cambodia - and if it does not in Somalia - what the UN needs is constructive criticism from friends, not abuse from enemies with a sentimental attachment to the old regime in Vietnam.

Lilly Borg
Oslo, Norway

Left out
On reading the Cambodia issue (NI 242), I was very disappointed to see that no reference was made to World Vision's widely respected work in the country. World Vision has been associated with Cambodia since the early 1970s when we began assisting internally displaced people fleeing the civil war. With the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge the agency was forced to withdraw, but during the following four-year 'reign of terror' over 100 World Vision national staff lost their lives.

With the demise of the Khmer Rouge government in 1979 World Vision was one of the first agencies to be invited by the incoming administration to return and since then has spent more than $30 million in helping the Cambodian people rebuild their shattered country, working closely with other agencies, notably Oxfam. That work has included assisting in the resettlement of refugees, resourcing the country's leading paediatric hospital, setting up primary health centres and supporting a number of agricultural development programmes.

The agency has taken an active part in the current campaign to bring attention to the failures of the UN peace process, encourging supporters in Britain to write to their members of Parliament on the issue. I hope that future coverage of this needy country will not ignore World Vision's contribution.

Peter Scott
World Vision UK

Bright and beautiful
I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened my NI 241. Such colour! It really brightened up the magazine. As usual, the content was excellent, informative, but certainly reading is made easier by colour photos and graphs.

Mike Kelly
London, UK

Murky motives
Of 8,000 abortions performed at one Bombay clinic 7,999 were female foetuses according to Shakuntala Narasimhan in her article 'The Unwanted Sex' (Girls and girlhood NI 240). Put simply, the parents did not want these children. Was I shocked by the discrimination? Or did it raise a different question?

When I contemplate the statistics for England and Wales - 186,912 terminations in 1990, over 4 million since the 1967 Abortion Act - I wonder if our reasons for not wanting these children could be any less pernicious, to use the writer's words, than those in Bombay?

J Casey
Leeds, UK

Quiet word
With reference to your moving issue on Girls and Girlhood (NI 240), can I put in a quiet word for the many boys all over the world who suffer physically and mentally through not conforming to the male stereotype?

Angela Haward
Bristol, UK

cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Fairy tales
Readers may be interested to know that there is a collection of fairy tales containing positive images of girls (NI 240) - The Virago Book of Fairy Tales edited by Angela Carter and illustrated by Corinna Sargood and, of course, published by Virago (1991).

Nicola Harford
London, UK

Reader's challenge
I was appalled by the recent 'Country Profiles' on Israel and Indonesia (NI 239 and NI 240). For a supposedly 'progressive' magazine to virtually ignore the struggles of Palestinian, East Timorese and West Papuan peoples against colonizing powers like Israel and Indonesia undermines any attempt at presenting a concise, critical analysis of those countries and betrays a disturbing lack of focus upon and commitment towards the rights of indigenous peoples to independence. Such reports serve to further marginalize peoples who already bear the effects of genocidal regimes and does nothing to challenge your readers to actively support their struggles for justice. I doubt whether any Palestinians would give Israel four stars for freedom. And as for the slaughter of 200,000 East Timorese, and the current trial of Fretilin leader Xanana Gusmao, NI remains totally silent.

Abdul Aziz Choudry Ocaucani,
Aotearoa/New Zealand

Image of hope
It was wonderful to see a breast-feeding mother whose breasts were full of milk, feeding a contented baby on the cover of your population issue (NI 237). As a breastfeeding mother myself, this picture was a particularly poignant image of hope for the African people.

Dr Karen Hillman
Gosnells, Australia

Misrepresenting maps
The comparison of your Peters Projection Map of the world and 'traditional' maps shows rank ignorance of the progress of cartography in the last 350 years.

The major advantages of Mercator's projection are that directions measured on the map are true and that linear scale is constant in all directions from any point. In the 1650s Sanson, in Paris, published Equal Area maps. These, by definition, allow direct comparison of areas. Thus different map projections are used for different purposes. Mercator maps are used for navigation and Equal Area projections for regional comparisons, and this choice has existed for more than three centuries. To suggest that Peters' excellent map provides a new answer to an old and deliberate colonial misrepresentation of truth is unforgivable.

John Murrell
Oxford, UK

Small fish
I would like to point out an error in Alfredo Forti's Country Profile of Ecuador (NI 238). Ecuador is no longer a member of OPEC, as he claims, but pulled out shortly after the inauguration of President Sixto. The reason for this was twofold: firstly, Ecuador was having to pay out huge sums of money merely to be a member of OPEC, and secondly, being just a small fish in a big pond, with oil production very low compared to Arab countries for example.

Kate Corny-Wright
Quito, Ecuador

Nicola Gregory (Endpiece NI 238) presents an idyllic picture of the behaviour of travellers. She (and NI) must know that this is not the general experience that the rest of us have of travellers. They congregate and walk around the neighbourhood in intimidating-looking numbers, usually accompanied by lively-looking dogs (also intimidating to the nervous). Maybe we should be broader-minded and more confident, but we aren't. Maybe we should be glad to share the products of our labours with those who 'choose to live without petty rules and regulations', but we aren't. So travellers can expect to live at our expense, but they can't also expect us to like them.

Jean Davis
Oxford, UK

I have been handed a copy of your edition on Fundamentalism (NI 210) and I commend your magazine's foresight. Dealing with fundamentalism is a definite risk. Current victims run into the millions and this doesn't simply apply to deprived countries. Our own book shop here in Leeds was firebombed by Christian fundamentalists and one of our members had their property firebombed as well.

Martin Keane
Sub-Culture Alternatives Freedom Foundation,
Leeds, UK

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

Letter from Lagos

Learning to heal
Women in the villages of Pakistan have a lot to gain from literacy.
But, writes Maria del Nevo, it's a bargain that's not always so easy to strike.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY A group of women from Maliwal gathered together in one of the village houses. Rush mats covered the mud floor and they squated down with their books balanced on one knee; one or two nursed a baby on the other.

Younger girls began to arrive. They crouched down in the corner, huddled together, their chaddars (shawls) pulled tightly around their faces, their feet rough and dry from the long walk across the fields or through the muddy lanes of the village.

The women were gathering for a health education and adult literacy (HEAL) class, a special programme run by the Adult Basic Education Society in Lahore, which works in collaboration with 18 aid agencies in the villages of the Punjab.

With the literacy rate for women in Pakistan as a whole estimated at only 23 per cent and in villages like Maliwal at nil, one of the gravest problems is that they lack the knowledge and confidence to make use of the few health services that are available. With two-hour classes, six days a week, the first basic HEAL course focuses on nutrition, personal hygiene, sanitation, maternity and child care, common diseases, home nursing and family planning.

The village situation, though, can be extremely sensitive. It is the men who first have to be convinced that the courses will not corrupt the women or teach them 'city ways'. Then the women, too, have to be assured that what they learn will be directly related to their lives and the problems they face.

Maliwal is remote and situated far from the road, across dry, rough land. It is inhabited by fisherfolk and farmers. There is a distinct difference in status between the two. Many of the farmers live in pukka (proper) brick houses surrounded by high walls. The fisherfolk live in mud dwellings built along narrow lanes, where children sit and play beside open drains, women cook over dung fires in open yards or wash dishes at communal hand pumps.

The Maliwal project has had its fair share of difficulties. When classes began they stoked the fire of existing caste conflicts within the village.

'Many of our neighbours said "Look at those women, what are they doing?" 'Mina, the local teacher, told me. 'They tried to cause trouble by gossiping, hoping that our husbands would stop us. And sure enough some women do drop out.

Rashida had stopped attending classes. We walked across the fields to her house. It was one of the poorest in the village: four poles with a roof made of bracken and straw. Rashida was out but we spoke with her mother who sat on a charpoi (string cot).

'My son had been away in Lahore,' she told us, 'and when he came back he found that his sister was going to classes. He was angry, spoke to his father and they stopped her from going again.'

Mina tried to encourage the woman to persuade her husband and son, but she shook her head. 'They say she doesn't need an education and they think that when she goes into the village that she is meeting a boy there,' said the woman. 'I have tried everything. It's useless.'

The use of visuals is a new method thought up by HEAL. The woman are encouraged to discuss any health issue and then draw a sequence of pictures which tells the complete story; in this case how a baby suffering from diarrhoea didn't recover because the family brought in the local faith healer who just breathed over his head. The story is discussed and questions raised as to how the diarrhoea was caused in the first place and what could have been done to save the child. In this way a new, positive story is formed and the women are asked to draw it in another sequence of pictures.

The hope is that once the women have learned about the prevention and cure of such common illnesses they will pass on the message to other women of the village who are unable to attend the class. It costs between $25 and $50 to make one person literate - a tiny amount considering how much self-esteem, confidence and knowledge someone can gain from learning to read.

Mina, the teacher, is already realizing the possibilities for change. All the women nod in agreement as she speaks out. 'We have learned the importance of education, and all those neighbours who criticized us for attending the classes will one day see what we have achieved. They will see how we live and how we bring up our children... We want to learn more and more so that we can improve our lives... and so that we can find out what is going on in the world.'

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

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