Wednesday, November 01, 2006

water, money & power

At my paying job last night, my good friend L, knowing of my interest in and history with Ethiopia, mentioned an interview she had seen on television with Margaret Trudeau regarding her recent visit to Ethiopia. Margaret Trudeau had travelled to Ethiopia with her daughter-in-law, to learn more about how the lack of clean drinking water is impacting the poor in so many parts of Africa.

When I tried to find out more about the charitable organization, Water Can/Eau Vive, that Margaret Trudeau is a spokeswoman for, I was very impressed to find that one of the immutable conditions under which the wells for clean water are funded in needy African communities, is that they are administered afterwards by a committee of only women. Under no circumstances are men allowed to be on these committees, although, as I can imagine, men have tried.

This may seem harshly anti-men. However, when one looks at some of the patriarchal societies where aid dollars have been given to governments of men, the dollars have gone astray again and again. . Sadly, what I have seen happens with men, is that they take the money and buy western status symbols and stand around like peacocks, showing off their new wealth; or fritter the money away drinking or competing with other men in idle brag-fests; or large management administrative organizations are set up which successfully and expensively 'administer' the money away. If the aid is given to men to administer, some grand projects get half-built quite often, but the communities, the people, the women and children, largely remain as impoverished as ever.

Then, strangly enough, when aid dollars are given to women, the aid actually benefits the whole community. I think it is as the saying goes: teach a man to read and he's reading the time-table for the next bus outta there; teach a woman to read and all her children learn to read.

I can't imagine why it is so, but some of the most extreme examples of patriarchal societies can be found right here in Canada. I have been following an ongoing story about a group of polygamists that have moved up to B.C. from the U.S.. The few men who have all the power are extremely wealthy (which may be why they continue to be able to live in Canada where, one would have presumed, polygamy is illegal.) But the women and children are poorly educated and suffer from health problems that should not be happening in a country as wealthy as ours, diseases we usually associate with poor diets and over-crowded living conditions.

Another thing that has struck me over and over again is how compelling the arguments of the men can be, how persuasive they are and how convinced that they are so right. In contrast, the powerless in these stories are emotional, fragile and the anecdotes they tell painful and confused. The contrast, all my instincts tell me, shows exactly why there is something wrong here; the facile, polished phrases of the powerful seem to me to be bullying the weak.

An example of how well women do when given even a little assistance is the Grameen Bank which had it's beginnings in Bangladesh. In an interview I heard shortly after the founder, Prof. Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, I was not surprised at all to hear Prof. Yunus say that he accepts regular death threats as a part of doing business. That those with power would feel threatened by a concept founded on the premise that all men and women are equal and have the potential to be successful entrepreneurs is no big shock. The latest broo-haa-haa has apparently been caused by the Grameen Bank's work among the lowest of the low: the untouchables.

That it takes so little to empower the powerless in this world is what is shocking. I really enjoyed hearing about these two initiatives, among others, and am encouraged to think that I can do my own small part to make this world a better place for everyone.

Check them out:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting article -- especially the part about the women handling the aid money better than the men. It's sad but apparently true that most aid money is wasted or pilfered.

Thank you for linking to my blog. Did you read my articles about Kiva? I'm very excited about that organization and hope it can help the poor of Honduras. It's website has been down on and off ever since the PBS Frontline TV program last night, but hopefully by tomorrow it will be back to normal.

I would also like to say that I'm very sorry about your Molly. I lost my 17 year old Shi Tzu Molly a few months ago and even though she was very old and had a lot of problems, it was so hard. Losing a beloved dog (are there any other kinds?) is like losing a child.

1:17 a.m.  
Anonymous Pearl said...

Like the Grameen bank. Interesting group.

5:20 p.m.  
Blogger Anna said...

i was pretty impressed with the grameen bank project also. in patriachal societies women often have no access to money and this fund is so important to assist single mothers to borrow money to begin farms. so many women have been able to participate in this project. it's fantastic.

thanks for listing me on your blogroll too. i appreciate it!

1:28 a.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

la gringa, I did read about Kiva on your blog and found what they do is marvelous. I do hope people find out about it and support the work they are trying to do.
anna, I don't think it's just patriarchy that can be problematic. I do think that the current model of capitalism, in which ever increasing returns on investments and the expansion of a corporations control over the market are the only values that are considered. The multinational corporation has simply replaced the monarchy and has become a repressive oligarchy in it's own way, one that the rule of law and governments cannot stop, unless the people have the will to rise up, and insist that more human values are respected and honoured in the market place.

12:59 p.m.  

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