Women’s role in consumerism

“Believing that you can do something to make things better, you do something, rather than nothing” —  June Jordan

 

It’s International Women’s Day today!
A celebration of 101 years of the women’s movement officially declared in 1910 in Copenhagen.

Except in a few countries, the changes women of that time were fighting for have materialised; such as the right to work and to vote, otherwise known as suffrage.

It’s important to note that the agenda of the women’s movement benefits society as a whole. The full participation of women in any economy means higher incomes for families; increased democracy because they can vote and society benefits from women’s skills in diverse fields.

Even though the level of activism in today’s women is less than that of bygone decades, it’s not dead.  With the advent of the internet, the method of engagement has changed and so have the issues.

One new issue is that of consumerism and the role that women, as the primary purchasers of goods for the home, have to play.

Carroll and Buchholtz in Business & Society, Ethics and Stakeholder Management define consumerism as “a social movement seeking to augment the rights and powers of buyers in relation to sellers”.

It has four pillars, first articulated by former US President John F Kennedy which are — the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose and the right to be heard.

This raises many issues given that nearly all the products in local retail stores are imported from South Africa.

Judging by the empty grocery shelves on Mondays, it’s safe to assume that residents of Lesotho constitute a significant market for South African products.

I suspect that the suppliers are aware of this but there is no impetus to adjust marketing strategies because we are a captive market.

Let’s take product competitions for example. One popular cereal brand had a competition, which local children, as the end consumers could have participated in but the small print inside the carton says “you must be a citizen or a permanent resident of South Africa” effectively ruling us out.

It’s the same with women’s magazines and I noticed it on another popular brand of tea too.

I know these companies export to many countries and it wouldn’t be practical to localise their marketing strategies in those countries.

But Lesotho is unique. Not only is it an enclave of South Africa but it is also part of the Common Monetary Area, together with South Africa, Swaziland and Namibia.

In the event of winning, local residents would be able to avail of the prize, whether its cash or a holiday. It may seem like a minor issue but it completes the consumer’s experience of the product.

The right to safety is perhaps a more serious and far reaching one. Here the downside of advances in technology comes into play.

Technology has made it cheaper for manufacturers to produce highly processed foods which have a longer shelf life but may not be ideal for prolonged human consumption.

An article in last week’s Mail & Guardian written by Mia Malan of the Discovery Health Journalism Centre at Rhodes University made some worrying revelations.

Processed meat such as polony and vienna sausages, which many women feed their children, contain sodium nitrate which stops germs growing in the meat and also gives it the “visually appealing red colour”.

This is all very well except that, according to the article, when sodium nitrate is eaten, nitrosamines form in the body promoting the growth of a variety of cancers.

These foods are being consumed at an unprecedented rate. When I was growing up they were a delicacy but now they are a regular feature in most children’s lunch boxes.

This leads me to the right to information.  The question is, as consumers are we informed about what the ingredients at the back of the packet actually do to our bodies in the long term?

My gut feel is that these answers will not come from the manufacturers or the retailers.

It’s something that women, as the main custodians of the family’s health will have to find out for themselves and act accordingly.

afrikarizma@gmail.com

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