Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Economic Baggage

For almost as long as I have been a geographer, I have asserted that the border between Mexico and the United States is the steepest in the world in economic terms. Mexico is figuratively far from the poorest country on earth, but it is literally very near one of the richest. As I've written in Human Sieve and elsewhere on this blog, the human cost of this disparity is enormous.

From my favorite librarian I learned that at least one border is steeper, and the reality of life at that border -- especially for women -- is difficult to believe. Spain meets Africa directly in two Moroccan port cities -- Ceuta and Melilla -- exclaves that are on the African continent but legally part of the European Union. It is, in fact, EU security rules that have created an unthinkable level of despair on the edges of the town of Melilla.

As detailed in Suzanne Daley's excellent reporting in the New York Times, Melilla is quite literally a Borderline Where Women Bear the Weight. Morocco is not the poorest country in Africa, nor is Spain the richest country in Europe, but the income disparity between the two is about twenty-fold -- a disparity about five times greater than the gap between Mexico and the United States.

Because a loophole in the customs rules provides for a tax exemption for any cargo than can plausibly be considered "luggage" and parcels up to 100 kilograms are considered to meet that criterion, carrying large parcels across the border, pretending it is luggage, is the only viable employment for many Melillans.

Because jurisdictions between private and official security forces in the two countries are muddled, no authorities are willing to protect the women who have been pursuing this trade from trampling by men who are turning to this difficult work in greater numbers.

The women of Melilla compete with each other and with men for the opportunity to be the world's most oppressed baggage handlers.

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