I said I wouldn’t discuss women’s issues until I started my position in Cambodia, but I had the urge to write.
I don’t consider myself a feminist under the stereotypical interpretation of the word. I’m not going to preach that all women are victims and all men are evil because that’s not the truth. And I’m not going to try to convince you that American women should be paid higher salaries because who really cares?
I believe every human has a right to education, security, and choice. Unfortunately, many women face illiteracy, violence, and a voiceless existence on a daily basis. But instead of dramatizing their plight it’s important to view them as the solution. These issues are not inevitable. They can be solved. It’s just a massive task that few attempt to tackle.
I completed 16 years of education and no one discussed the marginalization of women. Maybe as a college-educated female no one thought I needed to know? Or maybe an effort was made to shelter me from the disturbing reality? But after my conversations with people about my trip’s purpose, I realized few are informed. This post will give you some background and context to the crucial issues women face around the world. I apologize if some of the information is upsetting, but I think it’s valuable information that everyone should know.
The top issues are:
Most people assume prostitutes choose their lifestyle. Sometimes it’s true. In the United States, China, Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa and Japan most women become prostitutes for economic reasons. So in a sense they choose that profession.
But in other countries the majority of girls are sold, trafficked, and enslaved as sex workers at a young age. These girls are either a burden on the family’s income or are homeless. Family members sell their daughters, nieces, and granddaughters to brothels for financial reasons and receive in cash whatever they’re worth. Then, the girls are sex slaves, owned by the brothel and “paying back” an amount of undetermined debt. The brothels systematically break down the girls with violence, rape, and drug addiction until the girls lose any will to fight.
In Africa and Asia many believe that sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS. So the brothels auction virginities. Sometimes the girls are as young as 5 to ensure purity. After the highest bidder rapes her, the brothel sews her wounds and sells her virginity again. This repeats 4 or 5 times.
Already broken at age 5, this becomes her childhood. She knows nothing else. And in a twisted way the brothel becomes her family.
Worldwide, 70% of prostitutes began working as children or young teenagers. So the majority of “consenting” 18-year-old prostitutes you see on the street have a similar story to the one above. They may not have been 5 when first sold, but all the brothels work the same way.
Estimates reveal 3 million women and girls worldwide are enslaved in the sex trade. The US State Department says that each year 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders, 80% of them female, mostly for sexual exploitation (and this doesn’t include the millions trafficked within their own borders). Many organizations report trafficking is now the second largest illegal industry after drugs.
The argument that prostitution is a timeless profession is valid. The world will never be free of sex workers, there’s too high of a demand. But sexual slavery should not be tolerated. And while you may think this issue isn’t prevalent in your own country, citizens from every country in the world help perpetuate the problem. After all, sex tourism is a booming industry in which Western and Eastern men take part. Some people plan entire vacations to places like Thailand to have sex with underage girls.
VIOLENCE and ABUSE
Worldwide, if you are a woman ages 15 to 44, you are more likely to be injured by male violence than by traffic accidents, malaria, cancer and war combined.
The worst forms are rape, honor killings, acid attacks, genital mutilation and beatings.
Rape is used as a weapon against women in many countries. In some societies it’s used as a weapon of war, called routinized rape, a way to dishonor and psychologically disturb the female population. “Mass rape is as effective as slaughtering people yet it doesn’t leave corpses that lead to human rights prosecutions.” During the Liberian civil war, the UN reports that 90% of females over the age of 3 were sexually abused. Routinized rape is still used in the Congo today.
Laws and cultural codes prevent girls from obtaining sexual protection. In Sudan a woman needs 4 male witnesses to prove rape. In Ethiopia, until just recently, a man was acquitted of a rape charge if he offered to marry the girl he attacked.
In some Middle Eastern and African countries, females are sentenced to gang rape for crimes committed by their male relatives. Stories exist of the brutal gang rape of a woman because her brother stole a car.
An honor killing is the murder of a female relative for dishonoring her family. The reasons can range from promiscuous dress to wanting a divorce. The UN reports that over 5,000 honor killings occur each year, mostly in Muslim communities. The Pakistani government reported 1,261 killings in 2003 alone.
The numbers for acid attacks and genital mutilation are just as shocking.
HEALTHCARE and MATERNAL MORTALITY
Many women do not have the same rights or access to healthcare as men in the developing world. 99% of maternal deaths occur in poor countries, due to lack of care, funds, and attention. In the United States 11 of every 100,000 women who give birth die, but in Sierra Leone the number skyrockets to 2,100.
Women without access to a hospital in Nepal are left to give birth on their own. Many develop fistulas, resulting in lifelong disabilities or death.
Globally, 70% of all out-of-school children are girls. In 2007, 66 million girls did not have access to education.
Some countries ban the entire gender from receiving an education. In Afghanistan, the Taliban banned all girls from attending school in an effort to keep the female population defenseless. Education is power, and for the global community of women it’s the key ingredient for development. Without it, none of the above issues can be solved. Women need to know their rights, and an education is the only way to teach them.
This is THE SOLUTION. Without an education people do not know their rights or how to support themselves. Education allows them to pull themselves out of poverty. It leads to lower family sizes, greater use of contraception, increased use of hospitals, and better financial decisions.
If you teach a girl, she will learn. The same goes for men! If some men in Africa and Asia were informed that sex with a virgin does not cure AIDS, there would be a lot less demand for 5-year-old virgins.
I realize this is a long post and a ton of information. Think about your daughter, mother, sister, spouse, or girlfriend. Everyone has at least one female in his life that he would do ANYTHING to protect. These girls are someone’s daughter, mother, sister, spouse, or girlfriend. They feel the same pain, anger, and fear that your loved ones do, but have no one to protect them.
I’m challenging you to educate and inform yourself. Please spend at least 15 minutes this week reading about the issues above. (Even if it’s just because you adore me :).) After your research use the comment box to share what you learned. You can post any links, interesting articles or videos you find. Also, I’m currently organizing visits and interviews with nonprofits in Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Nepal, so if you come across any you would like to know more about let me know.
Here are some places to get started:
The Women’s Crusade, excerpt from Half the Sky
Not For Sale Campaign website
As always, THANK YOU FOR THE SUPPORT!
I just wanted to add that females are just as responsible for these issues as males. In most cases, women are in charge of the brothels that male pimps own. Many mothers choose to feed, clothe, and educate their sons over their daughters. And although they cannot physically rape a woman, females are present during mass rapes. So the people who perpetuate these problems are not gender specific, which is really important. And I think the assumption that “men are the culprits” is what puts most people off when they hear about women’s issues.