31.3.11

Oh joy!

I am basking in joy because of the defeat of Zambia’s draft constitution. The process was a travesty of democracy, an insult to the very ideals of citizen participation that multi-party politics promised. Moreover, more than 200 billion Kwacha or 12.3 million euro, was spent on manipulating our constitution for the benefit of the political and social elite.

I’m also pleased because, for now anyway, the right to abortion remains safeguarded in the 1996 constitution and legality of at least sex marriage remains undefined.

It was hard to watch the brouhaha on these issues. I saw it as an underhanded attempt to gain kudos with the masses rather than doing what was right. Keeping everyone talking about abortion and homosexuality distracted them from the political machinations that were going on to the detriment of human rights.

Had the constitution been approved right now there would be people patting each other on the back about how they are now safe from the dreaded homosexuals and women of loose morals.

29.3.11

Oops, I'll clean that up!

Of course the levels of radiation are not high enough to affect human beings and there is “no danger of Chernobyl-style catastrophe”. But the news could just as easily be that a deadly cloud of radiation is spewing out across Japan killing people by the thousands just like it did at Chernobyl. The radiation is not dangerous until it is and if or when that happens it will be too late.

The situation in Japan reminds me of “On the Beach” a film about people awaiting their end following a nuclear “incident.” Their death will be slow and painful caused by the radioactive fallout. These people were not belligerents in the conflict but radiation is undiscriminating and everyone will die. Someone somewhere was responsible for the end of humankind but there was little point in apportioning blame – extinction was inevitable no matter who was at fault.

The tsunami is a spectacular example of the fallibility of the plans of mice and men. The companies running the nuclear power stations might be the finest examples of corporate responsibility and their staff may be upstanding, morally commendable and diligent. But if it wasn’t this earthquake, it could have been the next volcano or a cyclone or any other force of nature strong enough to shake the foundations of their buildings.

Nuclear power is an example of man playing with forces beyond his control. If a hydroelectric dam burst, it could in some locations kill hundreds of thousands people. Such is a scenario is highly unlikely, the effects of a dam burst, of the collapse of a skyscraper or the failure of any other device man has wrought would be limited geographically in the extent to which it can cause damage.

We have enough proof of nuclear power’s ability to decimate both people and the earth. There cannot be an “oops, I’ll clean that up” when things go wrong.

And finally I believe that if all the resources – the intelligentsia, the finance, the time – that have gone into nuclear power over the last sixty years had been spent on finding new energy sources and green technology we would have achieved much more by now. 

Photograph: D Sagoli Reuters

26.3.11

Her demons and the doctor

She was killed as birds sang outside the bedroom window, oblivious to the scene to which their music was the soundtrack. Later, when her body was discovered and screams resounded throughout the house and echoed through the neighbourhood, people would ask why such an awful thing had happened. There would be speculation and futile analyses, groundless accusations and pointing of fingers. In time, mutilated renderings of Lungowe’s story would become urban legends. Somewhere in the story there were curses and spirits, there were brave medicine men, fearless parents and sacrificial lambs.

Lungowe and her siblings had been left outside the doctor’s office to listen at the door.

“These are not matters for children.” doctor Chiti’s assistant had informed five children whose hearts were racing and stomachs churning. The door was made of cracked strips of wood roughly nailed and glued together and was perfect for the six to watch their parents as they sought an end to their collective suffering.

Their father was a tall man and knelt awkwardly in front of the Great Doctor Chiti as the sign outside had declared him to be “

Their mother remained behind him and sat on the floor beside the one chair that creaked when her husband, his formal greeting over, sat and sighed.

“What makes you sure it is a curse?” the Doctor asked.

Their father looked surprised. He took a moment to reply. His furrowed brow illustrated his anguish and he began in an unhappy monotone. “In the last year, my businesses have collapsed; I can barely feed my family. I have been constantly ill until I have become the wasted man you see here. My oldest son – I have lost him to booze. He lives only for alcohol and cheap women. My daughters – are all too young to marry well and rescue us, and besides who would marry us? We are nobody now.”

Without doubt, you have attracted evil.” The diviner shook his head with a rehearsed look of pity. “You have lost your prowess both in business and in another area?” he glanced at their mother “This can only be the work of evil spirits.”

The doctor stood and paced slowly once around his clients, his heels were so dry and cracked, Lungowe winced with fear of his pain. His white trousers were marked with stains of many colours, as were the palms of his hands. These were the stains of the cures and potions he mixed and the blood that sometimes spilled as he worked, his blood or others’.

Coming to the doctor had not been an easy decision for their father, and it would not have happened without his consent. Lungowe’s mother had suggested it weeks ago as they sat in their nearly bare living room. Their father swore and punched his wife in the face, sending her onto the floor, where her frail body lay slumped trembling. The girls rushed to her and helped her up. Their father said nothing and watched the women of his house huddled against the wall, having learned that they should neither speak nor run.

“I am a Christian.” He declared, thumping his chest and taking a menacing step towards them. “God made me a strong and rich man. The devil has taken this away from me.” He stopped, looming above them.

“It is because of your evil that I am not cured. Yes I am certain it is from my own home. Your curses will not prevail. God will save me.” He patted his chest in emphasis. He lowered himself into his armchair and opened the bible that rested on its arm. “Amen.”

They had not been to church for several months. Not since his Toyota Corolla was sold to pay expenses. Lungowe recalled their last trip. Her Father had been even more fervent than usual, singing every song and bowing his head lower than usual.

They all had stood in line shouting prayers. Lungowe imitated the rambling language of the other attendants punctuated with “Ay-men!” again and again. The Pastor had walked down the queue, saying a prayer in God’s language, healing his devotees of a myriad of ills as scrawled in large letters on pieces of cardboard held above their heads

“Healed!” the pastor shouted, and smacked her father on the forehead. He fell, the church attendants guiding his limp body to the floor. She watched her father writhe and tremble, foam bubbling from his lips. Their card, held above their heads read “money troubles, unknown illness”

Her father had whistled during the car journey home. The seven of them crowded into the car, the oldest boy missing as usual. As her father stepped out the car, his whistle turned to words “Jesus, my saviour, I will worship and adore thee.” He locked the car behind them and began to clap along to his tune.

“Join me!” he invited them, keeping time “Jesus, my saviour…”

They stared at him uncertain.

“Join me!” he shouted and his order was immediately obeyed. “I will worship and adore thee.”

They followed behind him singing, their mother even offering an “Alleluia”. On the veranda he stopped and leaned against the wall, his breathing fast and shallow. He coughed, each cough more painful than the last until a glob of phlegm landed on the polished concrete, the blood visible. After the pause the family continued into the house - still singing.

He kept coughing that painful noise as he had done every evening for months. In the silence of the house, without TV or radio, without storytelling or gossip to distract them, they heard every sound. The sound of the bathroom door opening and closing, the flushing and gurgling of the toilet and the slamming of his fist on the table in anger at his pain, ruled the house.

Lungowe felt no surprise when the family arrived at the Doctor Chiti’s. Things she’d never imagined possible seemed so normal, like when they began using old newspaper for toilet paper. She challenged nothing.

After watching their father and mother through the cracked door narrating their situation, Lungowe realised how desperate her father must be to lower himself to grovelling before a witchdoctor.

The doctor shouted “You may come in now!” and the door swung open. The five children crept to where he pointed and sat down - the girls with their heads bowed the little boy staring at the doctor defiantly.

He stood before them and pulled of his stained shirt and asked his ancestors for their guidance. In a trance he began to chant. His words reminded her of the pastor at church, nonsensical yet somehow familiar. The doctor, lurched back and forth, shouted, clapped and hopped. He looked ridiculous; Lungowe suppressed a laugh though she would have loved to hear the sound of her own laughter once again.

Just as she was contemplating the sound of birds outside, the doctor pounced. He stopped abruptly before her and pointed a trembling finger. He babbled louder and suddenly reawakened from his trance.

“My ancestors have spoken!” he thundered above her.

As the doctor returned to his chair, her family – father, mother, brother and sisters - stared.  Her mother shook her head in disbelief. Lungowe remained silent, looking at her family and unsure of what had just occurred.

“Yes I have asked them again and again. Who is responsible, who has called this great evil? The spirits have identified her by name, they have described her face – there is no mistake.”

The doctor leaned back satisfied with his diagnosis. “I can only discuss the remedy with the afflicted.” He nodded at her father, who was nodding slowly.

“The demon which your church man speaks lives within her.” said the doctor.

Lungowe only felt her heart living within her.

“But” she spoke and was immediately silenced by a handful of noxious powder the doctor threw in her face.

“Stay silent you demon!” he shouted, spittle flying from of his mouth and his fist crashing onto the table. “You will be purged in due course.”

As ordered, everyone except her father left the room. The men’s voices were too low to be heard and with their mother present the children didn’t dare peek through the door. No one said a word, their eyes focused on the ground, the sky, distant trees and singing birds but not on each other. For Lungowe, waiting for their father was an eternity filled with visions of monsters nestled in her belly erupting from her throat and consuming her family and then celebrating in lewd frenzied dances.

Their father emerged and said nothing. They dutifully followed him back home. The wide potholed roads that dipped sharply at the edge were now familiar without a car. Their mother keeping her customary distance beside him, the boy ahead and the girls, this time, not in their usual huddle but with the space of unhappy people between them.

They arrived home and their father begun to whistle “Jesus…” Lungowe prayed she wouldn’t have to join him, sure that the demons would emerge with her voice.

The last light had faded and still her father had said nothing. The lights were finally turned on and the girls as usual began preparing dinner with their mother in the kitchen. As Lungowe was cooking the nshima, the water and mealie meal mixture had been bubbling on the heat for few minutes, there was a power blackout.

“Shit!” his expletive carried through the darkness.

The mixture of mealie-meal and water began to harden, become a mess of lumps and mush. The vegetables were salvaged and the girls and their mother sat silent in the dark kitchen until the power returned. Lungowe carried the pot to the sink to pour out the meal.

“Don’t.” her mother stopped her, “unless you have something else for us to eat tonight. We can’t waste that.” She nodded at the partly cooked mix. “Cook a little fresh nshima in a small pot for your father, the rest of us will just have to eat that.”

No one protested, the idea of going to bed having only eaten vegetables was too frightening to contemplate. They had missed enough meals to know how it felt to spend an entire night hungry.

Lungowe and one of her sisters served their father his dinner in the living room where he always ate, placing the plates on the side table while on their knees. They returned to the kitchen where their food lay on enamel dishes.

The youngest boy looked at the congealed mealie-meal and declared “I’m not going to eat that!” In a voice that imitated his father’s.

“Then stay hungry.” their mother turned her back to him.

“Daddy!” he shouted and ran to the living room.

Her mother watched him run, a look of fear on her face. 

The two voices mingled in the living room, the high pitched voice of the six year old in contrast to his father’s. There was a rattling of plates and their father appeared in the doorway. Their mother cowered, head down, arms crossed almost foetal, awaiting his wrath.

“I am cursed.” he whispered and returned to his meal. His son stood awaiting his father’s fire and a hot plate of nshima. Neither happened.

There was a boiling sensation in Lungowe’s stomach. She knew it was neither demons nor partly cooked nshima. It was dread.

That night she gave up trying to get to sleep. She lay on the worn mattress and looked out through the torn window mesh at the night sky. The night sky looked the same as had always done, though her life had changed so much. Lungowe didn’t know why they had no money, there just seemed to be less and less of it as time passed. Her father’s businesses shrivelled until they were worthless. The house was falling down around them. It was the last thing they had to sell. She’d heard her father say that he would never sell their house, but many things that he swore would never happen had come and gone. The car was gone, so was the perming their hair and their hairdryer. Gone was the money for takeaway and the decrepit private school. Their mother’s chitenge outfits were worn from constant reuse and Lungowe couldn’t remember the last time she had a new dress. Her thirteenth birthday had come and gone without a gift or celebration.

The people had changed as well. Her father still dominated them all and her mother still crept through the house like a shadow. But sometimes, when he coughed or spent the whole night battling diarrhoea Longowe could see his vulnerability, like when he leaned against her mother to help him out of his armchair or when she mopped his sweating brow.

He clung on to his old life, to the things that made him a man. He still had enough friends to spend occasional afternoons in bars and come home late in the evenings, unsteady on his feet, demanding that his wife satiate him. If his friends had been good enough to him, another woman would have taken care of his need and he would return, trousers partly unzipped, with a damp mark at the crotch. Their mother would shake her lowered head and follow him into their room to put him to bed.

Lungowe had seen other fathers waste away and die. Their wives followed and sometimes their children. Those children that survived were often left to look after themselves or at the mercy of relatives. This is what she feared most – being left in a bare house with no one to care for them.

This future was never talked about. No one had tried. An insidious silence ruled, no scenarios could be analysed and no contingencies planned. Death was a forbidden subject and what would come after was left to solitary musings in the night.

The dread in her stomach had not left her. Instead it grown to be an all encompassing fear, she felt, at this moment, afraid even of the other girls in the room – her own sisters. Who, if they believed that she was in some way responsible for their misery, had not given her any clues. Was it because they were so used to being powerless?

Lungowe watched the sky light up, the rising sun not visible from their window. She was sick with anticipation and the song of the morning birds did nothing to appease her.

Her father left the house after breakfast without explanation. The family were left silently guessing, cleaning worn carpets, thumbing through old magazines, imagining what the day held.

The doctor brought her father home in a battered corolla. Her father looked frail in the passenger’s seat – as if he were a patient being brought home from hospital.  

Nothing was explained to them as the doctor marched around their house, mumbling and waving his charms, and sprinkling powders into corners and windowsills.

Finally he sat in the living room in her father’s armchair, her father sat on the sofa on the right hand side of the doctor.

Her father’s voice was reinvigorated and there was no sign of his cough. He announced that the matter of demons would be settled today. He explained that the doctor would perform his ritual, and then their life would return to what it had been before.

“Go to the Doctor’s surgery and don’t come back until we come to call you.” He ordered his wife. “All of you except the patient”

By “patient” the family knew that he meant Lungowe. As always they obeyed unquestioningly, standing immediately and taking nothing with them. Lungowe could not tell if any of them were as afraid as she, or if they too were so desperate to be rid of the curse that they were willing to lose her to regain their affluence.

Her father explained the doctor’s proposal. Lungowe again stared disbelieving at the doctor and the man she knew as her father. She wasn’t used to speaking back to her father and she remained silent.

She shook her head.

“What! You would not save your father’s life. The man who gave you life, the man who has fed and clothed you?” The doctor spoke. He stood and her father did the same, remaining behind him. Lungowe would have like to believe he was poisoned, drugged, out of his mind. But he nodded.

“Don’t you lie awake at night wondering what will happen to you when your father dies? You will be destitute, starving.” The doctor asked and she nodded. “Don’t you see the girls on the street selling their bodies? Is that what you want for you and your sisters?”

Lungowe shook her head.

“Then do what we ask. Everyone will thank you and you will have your father’s eternal gratitude” Her father nodded again.

She walked in a daze into her parents’ bedroom – a room into which she was forbidden entry and did as she was told. She sat on the bed and felt her father’s hand touch her shoulder. He had never touched her before, except to hit her.

“No!” she jumped to her feet, her father standing in front of her, his erect penis inches from her.

She tried to run to the door, but he grabbed her arm and threw her to the floor she felt her head hit the cold steel bed frame as she fell. From where she lay she could see the doctor standing in the doorway.

When it was over, she lay on the floor her blood seeping between her legs and her face where he father had hit her to keep her quiet.

From where she lay she heard the doctor say “Now she must be silenced.”

“She will stay quiet.” Her father replied, He stood again at the right side of the doctor looking down at her. She listened to the two men, they didn’t feel the need to whisper.

“The demon might return and if she talks they will come after you. After all, soon you will once again be a rich and healthy man. Everyone will want a piece of you.”

“No.”

“Yes.” said the doctor. “I told you I would save you and I have. Don’t throw this opportunity away.

Lungowe heard the birds singing and wondered for an instant, if perhaps they could be singing for her. Lungowe did not resist as the towel covered her face and her face grew hot effort to breathe. She tried only once to fling her arms in the air, hoping for respite. Then she knew it was hopeless.   

Her father and the doctor left in his car. At the office, the father counted wads of borrowed cash and handed it to his saviour. He waited there as his family returned to the house and found Lungowe’s body. He cried with them and cursed the bastards that had killed her and waited for his fortune to change.

Images: Flickr 

25.3.11

A duel in Helsinki

As spring and winter duel in the final days of March, I’m coaxed out of my home more often and for longer. Spring is a time for reawakening, arousal from a cold, dimly lit microcosm that is Helsinki, which is now my home.

As one of best cities in which to live, in one of the best countries, Helsinki has struck a balance between cocooning its denizens in heated artificial environments and thrusting them in the face of nature. Inside my home is failsafe heating and hot water, cheap fast and free broadband. Outside my door is a metro that takes me to one of the most modern, technologically advanced cities in the world.

Also outside are wooded areas that beckon with their two metres of pristine white snow, their trees both evergreen and brown, grey and lifeless. Even in the coldest, darkest days of January how could I resist taking my first steps on the ocean’s ice, marvelling at how firm it held, dodging afternoon skiers, hikers and dog walkers?

It’s almost sad to have to bid farewell to the snow, tainted with mud and gravel, as it starts to subside. Where it once stood tantalising, urging the child inside you “Climb on me, jump on me, roll me into little balls and throw me” it now lays tired waiting for its time.
  
Now it is spring – or so optimists claim. Though the ice and snow linger still on the pavements, the sun shines so much brighter, the birds chip and quarrel and bravest blades of grass awaken. I’m waiting for the bulbs, the flowers and the lapping of gentle waves against the shore.

Photographs; 1969lucy (Flickr)

22.3.11

An extension of ourselves

Yesterday, returning home on the metro, I was (I would like to think) discreetly observing my fellow passengers. Helsinki metros are very pleasant affairs, even the drunks mind their own business and nosey-parkers like myself can indulge our penchant for social voyeurism as long as we don’t invade anyone’s personal space. Across the aisle from me sat two women whom I assumed to be from West Africa judging from their language and from the West African fashion of voluminous hair extensions. One had straight ironed tresses and the other spirals of brown and blonde.

Losing interest in them, I switched to a blonde woman, animatedly speaking Finnish on her mobile as she ran her hand through her hair and in that moment, I caught sight of the tracks of her hair extensions.


I’ve just written a how-to article about natural (afro) hair for my sister blog It’s Natural, I spent a lot of time on “research” on black hair – natural, straightened and extensions. There are a myriad of discussions on why black women straighten their hair and use extensions and the conclusion seems to be it’s because we want to look white.

I disagree with that premise.

The white (Finnish or otherwise) woman on the train illustrates something that is not talked about often enough - that women of all races have a shared reality. I wrote earlier about how slavery and colonialism gave black people a shared identity. While I agree that feminism in its original form marginalised the needs of black women, I think that we should not forget that we are women and that women (of certain personality types) are interested in their appearance, fashion and courting admiration.

That’s where I return to the three women with hair extensions. In my opinion, black women seek straight hair because the quest for beauty is essentially about the quest for the unobtainable. In this case the discussion arises because black women are trying to achieve what appear to be white traits – long or straight. On the contrary, when I Googled “hair extensions” my first three image pages are of white women, predominantly blonde.

Looking at all the European descendent women on that train, how many of them have the long, thick, luxurious locks that scream at us from L’Oreal advertisements? How many makeover shows turn one’s dry, thinning mane into deliciously voluminous richly coloured tresses? How many of those made-over hair styles will still look as good without copious amounts of money and specialised attention?

The pursuit of perceived perfection is not unique to black women straightening their hair. It’s something familiar to any woman struggling to become that elusive UK size 6 or learning to be confident, flirty, a perfect mother and a full time and fashionable professional.

However, when something is associated with black women, the rest of world, Chris Rock included, needs to find an exotic explanation something that furthers the world’s perception of us as the “other” even if white women wear extensions too. 

Cross posted on It's Natural

19.3.11

A is for Afro

This is in response to a query from Cynthia about transitioning to natural hair for her and her daughter. I will do another article specifically on children’s hair later. My first contribution to Zed Hair is based on seven years of being natural - a thrilling, fascinating and sometimes frustrating journey and this is what I have learned. 


Relaxed hair in not easier – we’re just accustomed to it. Take a good look at what relaxing entails – oils, creams, burns, the expense and especially the long term effects to our hair and scalp such as thinning and breaking and I’m sure you’re agree it’s more complex than we believe.

Natural hair will grow without any help - avoid the temptation to complicate it. Many of the websites offer complex hair care methods that question the term “natural.” If you want to know about natural – ask 

13.3.11

This corrupt landlocked country

The earthquake in Japan is a horrifying reminder of how pitiful human endeavour stands when nature throws a blow. We strive constantly to mould our environment into a perfect world – perfect for humans - but we are, in the end, a minor irritation that has existed for only a fraction of our planet’s history. Whatever we do, however much we pollute, irradiate and warm our world, short of blowing it to smithereens, we will be seen off eventually and we will become the dinosaurs of a new species, the dust of future deserts and the molecules of tomorrow’s chemical soups.

That said, it sad to see the residents of one of the most technologically advanced societies reduced to fetching water to flush their toilets and queuing for drinking water. It may be a reminder of how precarious is our position as human beings but it should also remind us of the importance of a government and civil service that fulfils its designated duty.

A Facebook friend joked “See why I still got to love this corrupt landlocked country” (Zambia, in reference to the Japanese Tsunami.) Our Zambian government watches, uninterested, as slums and substandard housing grows in its towns and cities and yet washes its hands of the victims of the government’s ineptitude and ennui. The conditions that cause flooding and water borne diseases are never addressed, action is only taken when lives and livelihoods are already lost and losing popular support looms. It is safe to say that if Zambia ever suffered an event of this magnitude, we would be doomed. 

More
Zambians die in stampede watching Man U and Chelsea

Photographs; New York Times

10.3.11

Women's day

The women of Ivory Coast are still battling to end the rapidly deteriorating situation in their country. All one can do really is to wish them luck.

These women are once again victims of self-centred, self aggrandising kleptocrats. From his perch somewhere above his citizens, Ggabo clings to power at the expense of those he wishes to rule, massacring them in broad daylight.

Perhaps one day we will be able to adequately explain what it is that makes a despot, what fuels the desire to rule at all costs and blinds someone to the reality of his actions. In the meantime the women of Cote D’Ivoire will be brutalised and murdered. This is how they spent Women's day.


Female demonstrators march in Ivorian capital Abidjan commemorating victims of last week's violence read more 

9.3.11

Revolution means nothing

Egypt's revolution means nothing if its women are not free
A mob of men attacking an International Women's Day demo should not be allowed to happen in the new Egypt
  
Jumanah Younis, 9 March 2011,
guardian.co.uk

A demonstration commemorating International Women's Day was attacked on Tuesday afternoon in Cairo's Tahrir Square. More than 200 men charged on the women – forcing some to the ground, dragging others out of the crowd, groping and sexually harassing them as police and military figures stood by and failed to act

7.3.11

Who's on first

A panel of journalists on France 24 elucidated a particular irritation I have been nursing as the situations in Libya and Cote D’Ivoire have been developing.

“The Ivory Coast seems to have fallen from the world’s eye.”

“The world shouldn’t think that if Libyans are killed it is more important than if black Africans are killed.”  

The media coverage of the two countries is obviously skewed towards events in Libya. Cote D’Ivoire has been treated as an afterthought, it is discussed when all the “news” is over.

One could argue that it is because Gaddaffi fall is such a momentous happening that it overshadows everything else. But as I would agree with the panellists, so much more attention is paid to events in the Arab world because of the historical marginalisation of African affairs.

There have been only murmurs and clearing of throats from the west and the UN. The African Union seems, unexpectedly, to be the loudest among those quietly – diplomatically – involving themselves in the unfolding civil war.

6.3.11

Is it time for women?

Every Woman for Himself began as a feminist blog but was overtaken by my inability to focus on a single subject for an extended period  and by the excitement of Arab revolutions.

However, despite initial reservations, I have decided to pursue a PhD (if the university will have me). The topic I have arrived at, after much bush-beating about, hemming and hawing and every other euphemism for procrastinating, will have something to do with the gap between rhetoric and action in pursuing women’s equality in the international development sector.

It's a subject that I've been involved in for the last five years and was a source of pain and frustration.

There is a never ceasing discussion on women’s rights and what must be done to empower women and achieve equality. However, real action with tangible results is almost impossible to find. There are women’s organisations and projects around every corner in a country such as Zambia, volunteers, experts and consultants clog our schedules with interviews and we develop sheaves of policies that translate into nothing more than footrests and doorstops.   

At the heart of this ineffectiveness is the nature of the international development sector. This development sector is difficult to define, it not the same as activism nor is it based on community work or a grassroots sector, but it does (in both the north and south) encompass such organisations through funding and networking. Furthermore, it extends to include recipient and donor government structures and agencies. The international sector generally has access to money and expertise that would theoretically cause it to have a far greater impact than grassroots non-governmental organisations.    

But, it does not have a greater impact. In fact one could claim that of all the effort poured into women’s rights and empowerment in Zambia no tangible results can be seen, especially when compared to the amount of time and money invested. Or instance, we can claim that 100% of girls now enrol in school and we can produce a dozen other statistics that show how far we’ve come, but further analysis can illustrate the superficiality of such “progress.”

My proposal will (hopefully) analyse the processes in which international development organisations circumvent the essence of gender equality - confronting power relations with the explicit aim of change that leads to equality for women and other marginalised people.

I detect the moans already. “But equality is different in the south, “imposing foreign concepts” ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

But my questions will include, in relation to the development sector; how can we know what equality in the south looks like, when we have yet to witness it? Is the trend towards cultural and definitional relativism in gender equality work an indication of the failure (or the fear of failure) of current paradigms of gender equality in the development sector? Additionally, are current systems of prioritisation, indicator and results based programming and management in development organisations compatible with the programmatic needs of women’s rights and empowerment work? How does political interference limit the effectiveness of such work?

The last two questions are reinforced by the news that the UN’s new agency for women, UN Womenis an organisation that could easily sink into obscurity” and that it doesn’t have the resources it requires to make an impact. What possible mass effect can an organisation have when its political agenda and programmatic needs are already limited?

With luck and a pinch of tenacity this may become my proposal and I would be really glad to hear opinions and suggestions.

Photographs: Alessandro Vannucci, Flickr; L Thompson, Water Aid       

War's logic

Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its own, and we'll lose sight of why it's being fought in the first place. Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its own, and we'll lose sight of why it's being fought in the first place.

Arundhati Roy
The Algebra of Infinite Justice
September 2001

5.3.11

Call it by its name

I have spent the last week immersed in my PhD thesis proposal, which has proved to be a perilous journey which has left me with only remnants of inspiration with which to write a blog entry.

The news emerging from Libya and Cote d’Ivoire is dismal. The two countries have descended into what is not civil war simply because no one yet wishes to name the situations in which they are embroiled. Libya is “shifting towards civil war” and words such as “offensives” and phrases such as “fortifying positions are being bandied about, but somehow it is not yet a civil war. In Cote d’Ivoire the UN is “worried” about the situation and the AU is being as effective as usual while seven women protesters are gunned down in public.

“A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation state” says Wikipedia. I’m certain the UN must have checklist they lists criteria for a civil war similar to their “what is genocide” checklist.

The UN and AU are waiting for militia to be formed, fuelled by insatiable bloodlust and to wantonly massacres hundreds and thousands of civilians before it called a war.

What is it when mortars and bombs are dropped on citizens? These dictators who refuse to relinquish power are in their luxuries abodes feeding off the spinelessness of international organisations and the so-called superpowers. They are safely immersed in the knowledge that as long as their actions are not called civil war then no real action can be taken against them.  

Furthermore, the citizens of these countries seem unaware to where their actions may lead. On television, smiles were large and plentiful on gun and machete-toting vigilantes and fifteen year old boys declared their plans to fight in the desert. These children have a burning desire to go to war, but for what, for whom and for how long? In civil wars inevitably those who cannot fight suffer the most; in Cote D’Ivoire at least they should know how war really looks. 

As long as their actions are not named as what they are – war - these dictators are being supported by the international community. Gaddaffi most certainly has more money than what he has stashed in European banks and of course the two leaders have many likeminded cohorts who would happily return their favours. Gaddaffi’s “investment” is the rest of Africa was not done from the good of his heart but was a strategy to ensure that enough people owed him favours in case of such of an eventuality.

Thus, the international community will continue to sidestep the flames and refuse to acknowledge the situation. It will be as it was in the 1980’s when people believed that if they called their disease anything but AIDS then it could not be AIDS, or how the international community pussyfooted around naming the Rwandan killings genocide. 


Photographs: The Guardian