“Farm women in Africa (and India) are the most overworked humans in the world, working ten to fifteen hours a day at a host of jobs. A typical Zimbabwean woman’s day begins at 3:00 AM. Every day she goes to the river for water, weeds the fields (breast-feeding her baby as she works), chases animals away from the crops, pounds grain into flour, prepares meals, and gathers wood (steadily walking farther with these heavy loads because drought and over-cutting have depleted fuel wood). She helps her husband cultivate cash crops, processes food (threshes, dries, grinds), and carries it to market. She has weekly tasks like laundering. In the Ivory Coast, adult women’s workload is twice men’s; in Burkina Faso, women do all household work and still spend 82 percent more time on farm work than men. A Tanzanian man complained, “Water is a big problem for women. We can sit here all day waiting for food because there is no woman at home. Always they are going to fetch water.” (Emphasis added.)
Women’s traditional right to hold land varies from one to another African society, but in practice most women need living husbands to get access to land. Men hold such tight control of land that a woman who cultivates land owned by a husband who works in the city is not allowed to decide what crops to plant. Most Lesotho men work in South African mines, yet their wives need their permission to start a farming operation, hire a share-cropper, or get a loan from a credit union. Because they lack land rights, women cannot get credit. In many places, they cannot even join cooperatives that control credit, transport, and marketing. Nor do they have the right to the income from cash crops, even if they raise them.
Producing cash crops often raises family income, yet studies of projects that give men new technology to raise cash crops show that despite increased income, the family eats less and poorer food. Women’s and children’s nutritional levels fall because the income belongs to the men, who use it to throw “prestige feasts” or buy transistor radios. Men in Cameroon at least pay their children’s school fees, but in Kenya, writes Irene Tinker, men gamble, buy liquor, and rent prostitutes, while their families starve – women can no longer raise food for the family because their work and the family land are given over to the men’s cash crops. In India, researchers estimate, men spend about 80 percent of their earnings on themselves: motorcycles, radios, watches, television sets, movies, alcohol, and prostitutes. African migrant workers send home a mere 10 percent of their earnings on average; women residents in the hostels in Cape Town roll their eyes at the men’s “toys,” as they call them – cars in various states of disrepair that clutter up the space around the hostel. In the United States, too, huge numbers of men desert wives and the children they have fathered, spending more on themselves while the family is forced onto welfare.
Studies also show that when women have resources or earn income at all, children’s nutritional levels and well-being improve. Indian women, for example, consistently spend 95 percent of their earnings on their children. Indians have a saying: “A penny to a woman is a penny for the family; a penny to a man is a penny for the man.” Yet when Zambian tax code was amended in 1986 to give women half of the child allowance that had formerly gone to men, Zambian men complained women would waste it on “perming their hair, buying makeup and expensive dresses.” Yet most Zambian men earn little and appropriate their wives’ wages as their property, and most male employers exclude women from wage labor. Such lopsided systems increase male dominance and make it hard for women to negotiate or demand what they need to support themselves and their children. Because men rarely take responsibility for children, the children of the world are at risk.
The most blatantly exploitive form of development is what is called sexploitation or sex-tourism, a new business, tours for men to Third World countries to visit brothels created specifically for them, womaned by virtual slaves – girls, often just children, sold into bondage by poor peasant fathers. Sex-tourism was proposed as a development strategy by international aid agencies. Maria Mies writes that the sex industry was first planned and supported by the World Bank, the IMF, and the United States Agency for International Development. Thailand, the Philippines, and South Korea are the present centers of Asian sex-tourism. Parties of Japanese businessmen are flown to one of these centers by their companies as a reward. American workers at a construction site in Saudi Arabia, totally fenced off from the culture around them, were flown to Bangkok every two weeks to be serviced by Thai women working in massage parlors. Another part of the sex industry is marriage brokerage: private companies, most in what used to be West Germany, sell Asian or Latin American women as wives, openly advertising them as “submissive, nonemancipated, and docile”. Both industries are maintained by a support network of multinational tourist enterprises, hotel chains, airlines, and their subsidiary industries and services.
The global accounting system reveals the profundity of male contempt for the necessary in human life, treating not just women’s work but the environment as insignificant. In a damning indictment, Waring describes international environmental policies that directly affect all of us. Consider: economic statistics calculate the value of “undeveloped” rain forest in Brazil at $0. A standing tree offers shade and coolness, prevents erosion, and returns oxygen to the atmosphere. But it has no value in the GDP until it is cut down. Industry has polluted the earth irrevocably; many of us or our children will die from cancers caused by environmental poisoning, or will suffer miscarriage, stillbirth, blindness, organ damage, or insanity. But unless such poisonings become widely known, as at Love Canal or Three Mile Island, such illness is invisible to the UNSNA.
In fact, while common sense dictates that illness should be listed as a debit in national income accounting, medical care and medicines are given positive value. Economists say market prices (of medical treatment, in this case) are reflections of actual wants, but there is no way quantitatively to express wants for clean air, safe water, or standing forests. Nor is permanent damage to water, air, or ecosystems included in the accounting. The only item subtracted from the GNP is depreciation on the stock of capital goods – the cost of maintaining stock like nuclear bombs. The cost of cleaning up an ecological disaster is considered an expression of society’s “preferences”.
The most devastating indication of our values is that while producing and raising children, maintaining families, and preserving the environment count for nothing in global economic accounting, war is treated as productive and valuable. In 1988, the nations of the world spent over $110 for each man, woman, and child on military expenses – overwhelmingly more than on food, water, shelter, health, education, or protecting the ecosystem. Waring explains that militarization can be measured nationally as the share of the GDP devoted to the production of military goods and services or as the military share of a nation’s budget. It is measured globally by the military share of global production and the share of international trade occupied by armaments. From 1980 to 1984, world military spending grew from $564 billion to $649 billion (in 1980 prices), a growth rate of over 3.5 percent. Over 5 percent of the production of the world, 27 times more than was spent on overseas development, was spent on the military in 1983, most by industrialized countries. Global military expenditures in 1985 were $900 billion, more than the income of half the human race. Military expenditures surpassed the combined GDP of China, India, and all of sub-Saharan Africa – a sum comparable to the combined GNP of all of Africa and Latin America.
Waring cites an estimate of over 70 million people engaged, directly or indirectly, in military work, work counted as contributing to the GDP of their countries. Military work is counted as a valuable contribution to society; raising children is not. Nor do we value keeping them alive. In the twentieth century alone, the world has fought at least 207 wars that killed 78 million people. And while states glorify the soldiers who fight the wars, most of those killed in them are women and children. In each minute that passes, thirty children die from want of food or inexpensive vaccines; in that same minute, the world’s governments spend $1.3 million of wealth produced by the public (between two-thirds and three-quarters of it by women) on military expenditures. This, Waring asserts, is the real war.” – excerpt from The War Against Women, Marilyn French, 1992
Another reason “white feminists” need to sit down, step back, and/or occupy less space.