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Healthy youth
Cover of the NI Issue 264. The life expectancy figures in ‘The Facts’ (Ageing NI 264) might equally be entitled ‘A sickly youth no longer’. In 1901 total life expectancy in the UK was only 47 years at birth, but was 61 for those who survived to the age of 10. Only 80 per cent of UK live births survived to age 10 in 1901. Now it is 99 per cent. Half this century’s increase in UK life expectancy, now 77 years, derives from paediatric rather than geriatric skills.

Likewise, in the box ‘Are Children Bad for You?’, the results reflect reductions in child mortality giving rise to a reduced need to conceive in order to achieve the desired family size.

Michael Jackson
Lancaster, England

Teaching materials
As a follow-up to your issue on Ageing (NI 264) I would like to point out that 1993 was the European Year of Old People and Solidarity between Generations. As part of helping teachers and young people to become more aware of the issues that affect older people everywhere, the Council for Education in World Citizenship has produced a range of materials for use in schools. They are available from CEWC, Seymour Mews House, London WIH 9PE.

Patricia Rogers
CEWC, London, England

Editor: a number of readers have written in to point out that the poem ‘I would pick more daisies’ (NI 254) is very similar both to one by Don Herold entitled ‘Up with Circuses’ and ‘Instantes’ by Jorge Luis Borges. No plagiarism was intended. There are a number of versions of the same poem.

Peltier support
Your recent issue (‘Update’ NI 264) mentioned the suspect case of jailed Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Your readers might like to know that there are support groups throughout England and Scotland.

Anyone wishing to help in Leonard Peltier’s campaign can contact All Nations’ Forum/Leonard Peltier Support Group, 13 Jamieson Road, Liverpool L15 3JD. Tel: (0)151 733 7691.

Lesley Worrall
Liverpool, England

Too poor
There was a point missing from your issue on the United Nations (NI 262) – there is no mechanism for the poor to participate. I have experienced this directly. I was asked to give a presentation on non-verbal communication and its uses at the preparatory conference on European women’s issues prior to the UN international meeting in Beijing on women.

A month prior to going I realised to my horror that there were no travel or maintenance expenses – the majority of the women attending are academics or have funding from their organisations.

I am an unemployed artist and single parent. I was told through the UN in London that if checked via New York, finance would not be a problem. I faxed New York. I rang the British Council – too late to apply.

In the end, I did not go. The attempt to do so had put me in debt. I asked that my time be preserved and that the women who could go should meditate on those of us who were silenced. I have received no communication since.

Jean Grant
Liverpool, England

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Shadow side
It is essential to beware the shadow side of the process of ‘unmasking’ (NI 263). There is an element of destructiveness built into human aspirations including passionate dedication to a sterling cause.

Only a hairline divides creative commitment and ‘having a go’ at an opponent. Anger, even justified anger, is shot through with destructiveness. This fact too needs unmasking, at least within the consciousness of every one of us.

For example, looking through your ‘Asian Miracle’ stories I wonder what solutions should result from this unmasking?

I have first-hand experience of a few of those conditions which are reported, and yes, they cry out to be eradicated. But should we not also be told some positive narratives?

The ‘Asian Miracle’ for all its ills comprises some plus-sides which deserve note. I know that to present a comprehensive story is considered by some as the road to mealy-mouthed compromise; it certainly makes incisive action even more difficult. But unmasking pure and simple is not enough either. The greater challenge is to offer constructive and sustainable alternatives. I hope you can help.

Peter Oskokas
London, England

UN Association
We were glad to see such a perceptive and interesting edition devoted to the United Nations (NI 262). We were however disappointed that you did not mention the United Nations Association.

There are about 200 branches of UNA in the UK and many more worldwide. All are voluntary NGOs dedicated to worldwide peace and the reform of the UN where there are faults.

Membership of UNA is both educational in raising awareness of world issues and useful in bringing pressure to bear on those who have power to bring about positive changes in the United Nations to the lasting benefit of us all.

Isobel Shepherd
London, England

Indonesian arms
In the Facts spread in your issue on the Arms Trade (NI 261), Indonesia should have not one but three of the four symbols that depict arms and conflict.

The fire symbol representing conflicts involving the death of over 1,000 people certainly applies. The territory shaded as Indonesia on the map includes the annexed territories of West Papua (Irian Jaya) and East Timor.

Over 200,000 people have died in East Timor since 1975. An estimated 100,000 Timorese have been killed in West Papua since mid-1990 and 2,000 – 10,000 in Aceh (North Sumatra).

Britain, the US, former USSR and Australia are only a few of the countries which have sold arms to Indonesia. Today, Britain is Indonesia’s largest arms supplier.

In 1993, 51 licences were issued for the export of military goods from Britain and British Aerospace was awarded a £500 million contract for the sale of 24 Hawk aircraft to Indonesia. Enough I feel to warrant Indonesia’s inclusion in the symbol depicting ‘countries building up arsenals’.

P O’Callaghan
Preston, Lancashire, England

Women weavers
On the opening day of the 1995 World Conference on Women, being held in September in Beijing, China, a 20 km ribbon made of thousands of pieces from around the world will be stitched together. The ribbon will symbolise the unity of women and will be used to form a link between the UN conference centre and the NGO Forum.

The initiative was devised by women from all over the Asia/Pacific region, and was launched at Cambodia’s Water Festival. It is being co-ordinated by Khemara, a leading Cambodian voluntary organisation. In Cambodia, one kilometre of cloth has already been sewn. Women in Zimbabwe, Britain, Australia, Thailand, South Africa, Bangladesh and many other countries are also weaving.

All women are invited to contribute. Hand-woven pieces should be one metre wide and of any length and any fibre, from silk to straw.

You can register with Khemara, ‘Women weaving the World Together’, National Road 5, Mittapheap Village, Russey Keo District, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, or contact Shirini Heerah for more information on (0)171-620-4444.

Shirini Heerah
London, England

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

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L E T T E R   F R O M   I N G U S H E T I A

Dzhamilla's degree
Holding on to traditional religious values has been one way of resisting Russian domination
in Ingushetia, Chechnya’s neighbouring republic. But, as Olivia Ward finds out,
it has meant that women have had to retire to the kitchen.

Like the good host that he is, Moussa is doing everything to put me at my ease as Fatima heaps the table with steaming vegetables and shashlik. But I am still uncomfortable watching the women from the corner of my eye as they hang back in the doorway, waiting for the signal to bring more food.

Young Dzhamilla, who just turned 16, looks back at me and giggles silently. She has dark circles under her eyes. When her father comes in late at night she gets out of bed and begins the arduous process of scraping, washing and polishing his mud-spattered boots. Then she is up early to help prepare breakfast.

As a journalist and a foreigner here, I qualify as a sort of honorary man. Too important to hang around the kitchen with the women, and important enough to carry on serious conversations with the masters of the house. But I listen to Moussa’s political discussion with half an ear. I am preoccupied with the lives of the women, the hidden realities of the household that are politely kept out of my reach.    

I have to remind myself that this is modern-day Ingushetia, a tiny Russian republic in the Caucasus, whose Muslim population was subjugated by communism for seven decades. The Soviet Government preached the doctrine of male-female equality and pushed women into the workplace but gave them no help in surviving their double load.

As I finish my cup of sweet tea I slip into the kitchen to confront Fatima, a strong solid woman in her early 40s. She starts with surprise as I plant myself firmly on a stool among her daughters.    

‘You should be talking to my husband, not me,’ she says with routine modesty.

Illustration by JUDY HAMMOND

I wave her objections aside. How is it, I ask, that after so many years of atheism, Leninism and Stalinism, Ingushetian families still fall into traditional roles?

‘Well, we never lost our traditions,’ she says. ‘When I was married to Moussa 20 years ago we went to the Soviet registry office, then had a quiet Muslim ceremony.’

‘Did you know Moussa very well before you married?’ I ask.

She laughs again. ‘That would have been scandalous. We saw each other at school and our parents arranged it.’

The union was a success, as four healthy children attest. The youngest, little Chingiz, is only three years old, his father’s greatest pride. Dzhamilla and her sister are there to serve, and their large dark eyes and gleaming black hair are rated above any academic ability or career ambitions.

I am irritated by this stultifying devaluation of women, and tell Fatima so. Communism did little to liberate women in other parts of Russia. But here in the Caucasus they seemed to inherit the worst of both worlds. The war in neighbouring Chechnya has made things even more difficult, with the most traditional religious values seen as a bulwark against Russia’s domination.

Dzhamilla nods her head as I speak. She hopes to be a lawyer. But how, I wonder, will she get from this Cinderella life to university? Will she become like her mother, huddled in the ‘women’s wing’ of a spacious home with her daughters and granddaughters? Fatima appears untroubled by a routine so segregated that she does not even eat with her husband. ‘Can men and women be friends?’ I ask her.‘The main thing is that they work together for the same goals. Men protect women and look after them. Women care for their men. But men are friends with other men, and women with women.’

Moussa, she adds, is a good husband.

But I look at Dzhamilla, and am troubled. She seems withdrawn, sad. As I stand in the hall later putting on my boots she draws me aside.

‘Can you bring me an English grammar book when you come back?’ she asks, clinging to me like a drowning woman in a floodtide. ‘Everything is going backwards here. I want to learn so I can get away. When I get my degree I’ll come and do something for my country. Now I can do nothing.’

Walking through the muddy streets I look back at the house, silhouetted darkly against a leaden sky. In one small room in the women’s wing a light is burning.

Olivia Ward is the bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Russia.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

New Internationalist issue 266 magazine cover This article is from the April 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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