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New Colonialism Emerging WHITHER BEIJING?

Hopes welled up in many of us when we first read about the United Nations fourth world conference on women in Beijing this September–even though the irony of its location was not lost on us.

Maybe the concerns of poor women of the world would really be addressed. Perhaps the dignity of women of the poorer countries and economic development for those who suffer so much from the effects of poverty would be taken seriously on a global level. Could it be that the conference would speak to a “hedonistic and commercial culture that encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality and corrupts even very young girls into letting their bodies be used for profit” (Pope John Paul II) and call our world to treat even poor women with respect and dignity? Would it be possible that our world could go beyond the self-interest of post-modern capitalism to consider the needs of poor women? It would be too good to be true.

The preliminary document and the pre-conference meetings indicated exactly that. It might be too good to be true.

What do Third World Women Want?

At Casa Juan Diego we know the poverty, suffering and misery of so many Third World women, especially those of Latin America.

The women of Latin America, Asia and Africa are in trouble. Their national economies deteriorate each day for the vast majority, the poor, while economic theories are debated and promoted in universities and congresses and structures like the World Bank. Life is at risk at basic survival levels for too many Third World families. Women try to hold their families together, but pressures on them are enormous.

There is some growing similarity, on a lesser level, here in the United States, where it becomes more difficult each day to find a decent paying job which can provide basic needs and health care for the poor. When the measure of all is the profit motive, it makes sense to companies to move to Latin America to take advantage of slave wages. It is logical in this scheme of things to want to pay $14.00 a week in Honduras instead of $14.00 an hour in the United States.

When women come to Casa Juan Diego from other countries, they speak about the children they have left behind and how they must come to try to find work here so that their children might have something to eat, go to school and have some kind of a future.

And when we visit Latin America we talk there with women and hear of their hopes, their pain, their struggles and sometimes their desperation.

We hear about their concern to give their children better nutrition and to have health care for their children. We hear about the tremendous desire for education for their children and for job skills. But the desire for education is often blocked by the lack of money even for shoes, entrance fees for public schools and school supplies.

We hear about women’s great desire for a stable family life with the basics for decent survival–for a job for the husband where he can make enough to keep his respect and, if needed and desired, a job for the woman also. Usually, desperate couples both seek work, but there is not enough work. We hear about the daily struggle to meet expenses for a tiny house (often made of packing boxes) and food, with prices always increasing beyond what wages will buy. We hear of families in Mexico since the recent economic crisis where the woman must go into prostitution because her husband has lost his low-paying job and there no other jobs for wife or husband. There is no alternative.

What a commentary on the new global economy.

Women want economic development that is not dependent on huge multinational companies from the first world controlling the markets. They want to be able to sell items at low prices so people can buy them and the small business person can make a living. (This is now being prohibited with any small imported items because of the NAFTA agreements. Prices must be at transnational standards).

Women want to be able to pursue small businesses, so many of which have been broken because of NAFTA competition from the big companies. Young women who work in the maquiladoras of these companies want the right to organize unions and the right not be blackballed when they do so.

Latin American women tell us they want economic development that is not tied to sterilization, contraception and abortion. Recently a Mexican woman told us they want to be able to go into the hospital without being secretly sterilized. This woman found out a year later that her uterus had been removed.

In July of this year the Mexican newspapers carried announcements that the World Bank would lend money to the state of Chiapas, the source of a challenge from the poor to the Mexican government. The same day’s newspapers carried an announcement by the governor of a massive campaign to sterilize the women of Chiapas. These programs are tied to any assistance from the World Bank.

The poor women of Latin America with whom we speak value children and family next to God. It is one of the most important values in their culture. Take away their children and you take away everything. By contrast, people of Anglo cultures sometimes prize efficiency and progress over all else.

The women of Latin America want a better economic system in which their men will not be forced to migrate to another country in search of work while they are left alone with the children.

And it may be chic to address the Third World as if men and children do not exist, but this does not address the Latin American reality.

What is being Emphasized at Beijing?

We hope and pray that these concerns of Latin American and other Third World women will be presented at Beijing.

However, it appears that some women of the First World (richer nations like the U.S., Japan, South Korea, England, France, Germany and Italy), have a different view of what is good for Third World women. The emphasis in the preparatory document for this conference is centered on population control, abortion and sterilization, even though the conference is ostensibly on women, not on population control. Even the part of the document on economic development is tied to population control for women participants. No population control–no aid!

While the Beijing preparatory document mentions the feminization of poverty, it does not recognize that this problem in the Third World is not necessarily a question of undervaluing women’s work by their own countries (which also may be the case), but is highly influenced by the practice and requirements of the new global economy.

First, there are no jobs for many men in this economy. The men travel to one country after another within continents such as Africa or Latin America to find work and their wives and children are left at home in poverty. The common practice of the maquiladoras of hiring only women (particularly very young women or minors) or very young men, has left many fathers of families with the necessity to migrate.

The crushing debts owed to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for unwise loans made by these institutions are the source of much of the poverty which hurts women and families throughout the Third World. At the preconference meeting powerful nations opposed any debt relief to help poor nations, and thus especially, poor women. There was also opposition to emphasizing arms reductions and the transfer of military budgets to social programs and economic developments.

Some groups have insisted on presenting religion or even values in a negative light in the document. Religious groups are the very one who could provide the vision to do something about the exploitation of poor women.

And for us, worst of all, was the opposition of the First World to even mentioning the suffering, the concerns and rights of migrant women in this world conference on women.

The Beijing conference will have an impact on national and international policies. The language of documents published at such a United Nations meeting are cited for years to come as the norm for countries and the world. There are many groups who are non-governmental organizations who were present at the pre-conference and who will be present in Beijing. These groups lobby for their particular point of view, sometimes very aggressively, with the government representatives who attend the conference. Some of the strongest lobbying groups are from the First World and represent secular Western points of view. Will the First World concern to maintain our consumer life styles and our powerful position dominate the conference or will the real concerns of Third World women be addressed? Or will there be a new colonialism to dominate those who once were colonies, but hoped they were independent and free?

Save Environment

First World concerns for the environment have focused tremendous energy and often coercion on population control programs because of what has become a panic, or almost hysteria, about using up the world’s resources too quickly.

The Big Question

But who is using up the world’s resources? Can we even compare the Third World poor, who consume 20% of the world’s resources, with First World wasteful life styles, which consume 80% of the world’s resources?

One author calls these two groups the One-Third World (rich nations) of economically developed countries and the Two-Thirds world (Third World) of the poorer countries.

Using his terms we would say that the One-Third World suggests that the increase in population in the Two-Thirds World is the problem and should be corrected there. Thus, the One-Third World suggests that the increase in population is the most important factor, whereas the Two-Thirds World says that it is the increasing demand of the One-Third World for resources and raw materials that is the major cause of environmental problems.

The vast majority of the world’s resources are consumed by the One-Third World–only a small percentage are used by the Two-Thirds World, which represents more people.

For example, with the average person in the United States consuming forty times the energy of the average person in India, the effects of the lives of the U.S. population would be equivalent to ten billion Indians. At the rate that the people of India use energy, ten billion of them could live in the U.S. Ten billion is more than ten times the present population of India. (from “People vs. the World: a View from another Window,” Friends Journal, November 1993. Author Aziz Pabaney is a member of Bombay (India) Quaker Meeting. Much of the historical data in his article is from an article by Winin Pereria, co-author of the book Asking the Earth, Earthscan, 1991).

The First World countries as a whole import more food than they export, meat, for example. Much of the imported meat comes from South America and Africa, where peasants are being displaced from their land by beef-producing companies and wealthy cattle herders. As a result rain forests are chopped down and turned into pastures for cattle. Today most of Europe imports thousands of items from the tropics. All of this represents an awful overload of European and North American carrying capacity. The First World countries have been taking all the resources from the Third World. (Aziz Pabaney, “People vs. the World.”)

The impression given to the public is the opposite.

At the time of the Cairo conference last year and since then, Protestants, dissident Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, African traditional religions and even the head of the National Council of Churches have been quoted in papers like the Washington Post as calling upon the “global South” to curb excessive consumption of the earth’s global resources. (Counterpunch, Sept. 1, 1994).

We recall the reaction of the Brazilian feminists at the international conference on the environment when the U.S. feminists told them to stop having so many children because the Third World is using up too many resources! Enraged, they responded: You are using the vast majority of the resources, not our poor babies.

Frustrated Old Bachelors

Some have joked about the preliminary Beijing document with its emphasis on sex rather than on economics, saying that “apparently the committee made up of Planned Parenthood and World Health Organization people was laced with frustrated old bachelors who wanted to focus totally on pelvic issues and sex. Eighty per cent of the section on health in the preliminary document deals with what is euphemistically called ‘reproductive health,’ which really means how to avoid reproduction. They call it pelvic economics.”

The preliminary document of Beijing wants to tie all aid to women of the third world to sterilization, abortion and contraception. Economic aid will be refused to those who refuse to be committed to no more children (e.g., Grameen Bank loans, which also are given at very high interests rates, up to 50%).

Imagine the chagrin of an Italian missionary nun who received support from the United Nations and simply wants to give the proverbial glass of water in the name of the Lord to a woman. She must first get the poor women committed to either sterilization, abortion or contraception before she can give the glass of water in the name of Jesus.

Some Anglo women tell us that the Latin American women just love to be sterilized. We find this hard to believe of the women we know. (There might be a grain of truth if one is speaking of a mother of many children). However, such remarks remind us of gubernatorial candidates and statements comparing rape to a rainy day–“sure you can’t do anything about it, so just lie back and enjoy it,” or those who quote poor women as saying, “I just loves to be raped.”

If we still believe in logic, it is not hard to see how the fear of some of us of a new colonialism is a reality. We are frightened to death.

Listening to Third World women is very upsetting.

“In the past,” Latin Americans and Africans tell us, “you came to us and gave us the Bible and took our gold and our land and made us slaves. Now you have taken and continue to take our resources and rape our land, and you want us to commit genocide (No more babies). You even want us to give the Bible back to you and give up our values and religion. You want to trade our inheritance for a bowl of porridge.”

Angry Latin Americans attack us, saying, “The conquistadors of colonial times came with their swords and took the lives of many of us as well as our land and resources.

The new conquistadors came with their technology and low salaries to set up factories with conditions as bad as Charles Dickens described, all in the name of progress.

Now we have First World conquistadors with their scalpels ready to eliminate our race completely with the slogans: “sterilization or starvation.”

We are told by hostile Latin Americans that they are uncomfortable with this new Yankee imperialism, with missionaries who proselytize, albeit very suavely, their poor women.

They know George Orwell’s 1984 doublespeak:

“We want to help you with factory jobs and industrialization and technology,” at $.37 per hour.

“We want to give you reproductive rights,” which means we are taking away your reproductive rights.

“We want to give you a choice,” which means you must follow our choice or we stop all aid.

“We want to give you freedom from Islamic and medieval oppression,” which means we are the new hierarchy–we know what is best for you.

“We want to bring democracy to you,” which means follow the wants of the First World.

“We want you to be in charge of your bodies,” which really means we the First World are in charge of your bodies. As a matter of fact, from a Christian perspective, one cannot really say, “It’s my body–for it is instead a temple of the Holy Spirit.

It escapes us–how we are to explain why Mary Smith of St. John’s Episcopal Church and active in Planned Parenthood, who lives in a house that could house eighty people can dictate to Third World women how they are to live–so Mary can carry one using up the world’s energy and resources.

Oppose New Colonialism

Colonialism and imperialism have been condemned by most in this century for imposing their values and robbing the resources of other lands. Those who carried out colonial policies were highly criticized for not respecting the dignity of conquered peoples.

Now it appears that we have returned to colonialism.

U. S. government documents contain much information about coercive population control programs imposed on other countries. Many of these programs, which involve rewards and punishments to get workers to agree to be sterilized in Asia, Latin America and Africa, are tied to employment. In Indonesia, women were forced to have intrauterine devices (IUDs) inserted by the threat of forcible evacuation of their villages to outer islands. Some IUDs were inserted at gunpoint or women were dragged to police stations and IUDs were forcibly inserted. In other countries IUDs are inserted in women without their knowledge under the guise of other medical procedures. There have been many questions raised in the U.S. about IUDs and safety and women’s health. According to Elizabeth Liagin, writing in Studies in Prolife Feminism, Vol., No. 2, Spring 1995, in all of these cases local authorities were trying to meet the requirements for financial aid from the West. Liagin states that the U.S. has also provided financial assistance to employment-based programs, euphemistically called “family planning” programs in Brazil, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Ghana and a number of other countries.

It is significant that Amnesty International USA, an impartial human rights group, recently reported that in Catholic villages 200 miles north of Beijing, offenders of the “one-child” China policy for families have been jailed, tortured, and heavily fined. They report that “detainees were beaten and tortured to accelerate the payment of fines. Some were reportedly hung upside down, other received electric shocks on their tongue with electric batons or live wires… single women detained to make families pay fines were beaten and sexually abused.

Amnesty International reports that Catholic women in China are being forcibly given abortion-inducing drugs as late as the eighth and ninth months of pregnancy.

The U.S. government has committed $50 million a year to the United Nations Population Fund, which participates in these coercive policies, and the Clinton administration has stated that compulsory abortion or involuntary sterilization are not, by definition, political persecution.

And yet, the Nuremberg Tribunal defined forcing a pregnant woman to submit to the killing of her unborn child a “crime against humanity.” Are we to set aside the Nuremberg trials?

Not only are these coercive policies not seen as a violation of human rights by many in the First World, but they are being adopted ostensibly to help women. As the Holy See has recently said, The Beijing preparatory document reflects a “Western model of promoting women that doesn’t sufficiently take into account the values of women in most countries around the world.”

We are awaiting the response of the ACLU in regards to tying the reception of aid to sterilization and abortion.

We apologize for the stand we take. But we are convinced, with many others, that 50 Years is Enough! It is too long that institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the countries of the First World have been controlling the destinies of the poor countries.

We apologize for this unpopular stand. We have many more friends who accept abortion and sterilization than those who do not. We know many people who are blissfully unaware of any responsibility for the incredibly low wages paid by companies of First World countries to women in the Third World. We are totally committed to environmental issues. We feel, however, that we cannot put the burden on the people of the Third World, but focus on the polluters.

We must not put the burden on the backs of poor women who consume so little. We hope and pray that the Beijing conference will reaffirm the dignity and human rights of all women and families.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 6, Sept.-Oct. 1995.