The Issues


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.


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.


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:

Child Brides Escape Marriage, but Not Lashings, NY Times

The Women’s Crusade, excerpt from Half the Sky

Not For Sale Campaign website


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.


13 comments on “The Issues

  1. Liz Woodhatch says:

    I have to say it was hard to write a comment after reading the horrible statistics of what you are studying and bringing awareness too. But I felt a need to acknowlegde your extensive research & compassion for those less fortunate and in stituations that are so unreal and evil that we cannot imagine happen.
    You have a heart of Cotton Candy & Steel. Finely spun delightful sweetness and strength that can with stand great pressure.
    Be Well and Safe. With Love, Liz

    • batesla says:

      Aunt Liz,
      Thank you! You should read Half the Sky. You won’t be able to put it down once you start. And they do a much better and more comprehensive job at explaining the issues. Love you!
      Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

      • Liz Woodhatch says:

        I am going to read this Book!!
        I have checked out the websites you listed and I have been swirling ideas in my head and working a creative plan to raise Awareness and Funds. I’ll keep you Posted. Love, Aunt Liz

  2. Jessi Traughber says:


    I’m so excited for you and so proud to know someone who is advocating for change in such a simple but powerful way. I agree with you too that it starts with education. I was lucky enough to work with a teacher this school year who spent an entire unit introducing human rights issues (many of them women’s) to her ninth-graders. Maybe they didn’t quite get it, but at least they were introduced to things they otherwise may never have encountered. With motivation from people like you and this teacher, I hope we can educate each other more and promote a positive change throughout the world.

    I wish you the best of luck and so much love. I look forward to hearing more about your travels, experiences and encounters. You are doing something beautiful, and I hope you feel empowered and can pass that along to the women you meet. Take care of yourself out there.

    Good luck.

    • batesla says:

      Jessi, thank you so much. I am equally proud of you, and I know how strenuous but rewarding your job was in Seattle this year. Those kids were so lucky to have you!
      I do feel empowered, but its because of the people and women in my life like you! You taught me so much last year and I miss you and the multisa crew every day. I love you and thank you for all the support! Un gran abrazo y beso!
      Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  3. Hannah says:

    Hello darling!
    This is fantastic and I’m truly grateful to you for doing work to bring issues like these to light. But I would do some more research into feminism because the reasons you say make you a non-feminist aren’t actually tenets of feminism at all. I would venture to say that you are indeed a feminist (gasp!) and quite a good one at that 🙂
    Love you!

    • batesla says:

      Mi amor! I totally agree! I only meant that the modern interpretation of the F word has a negative connotation that I don’t want uninformed ppl to classify me under. I mean I’m not waving my bra on a stick and lighting it on fire…yet ;). and the last thing I want to do is distance some ppl because our interpretation of a word differs. But I am woman, hear me roar! Haha. Y pienso que hay un posibilidad que voy a estar en turkey para el nuevo ano!!! Un beso!!!!!! Love you!

      • Hannah says:

        Ok, yeah, I TOTALLY understand what you’re saying. Isn’t that so sad?? All the connotations that go with that word are sooo negative. I mean, did you know that no bra burnings ever actually occurred?? It was just something that the media grabbed and ran with.

        And, um… OH MY GOD, WHAT????? Tell me more about these potential Turkey plans!!

      • batesla says:

        It is sad! That’s why I shy away from saying it because I feel like the stereotypical interpretation of the word has more weight in our society than what it actually means. Anywhooo, I did not know that was just media play! How effective…And yes maybe Turkey, I’ll explain in an email or over skype 🙂 Besitos mi amor!

  4. Paul says:

    Lauren, I find your interest and passion inspiring. None of the statistical information however is new to me as I have read much about the subject. My personal belief is that much of the solution lies in education. However I would caution that the “content” of the education is key. Some religious or societal educations perpetuate the problems. Interestingly I would also suggest commerce is a way to effect social change. It has been stated by some analysts that the reason China is outperforming India economically is that they educate their women and India does not! The secondary consequence of that education is the potential for them to achieve equality in their society.

    I am particularly impressed by your independence of thought. I tried very hard to raise my daughters as independent thinkers, which is not necessarily true of all educated individuals.

    I think the reason “feminist” has become a negative label is in some ways deserved. Unfortunately a number of women who labeled themselves as feminists made two serious errors as they tried to institute change. First they made a mistake that you are avoiding. They labeled all men as the whole problem and were very vocal about not needing men in any way. Those premises were, of course, nonsense for reasons too numerous to discuss here. The other major mistake they made was to castigate a large segment of the female population who had chosen to do things they considered anti-feminist such as leave their job to raise a child. The strong verbal attacks attempted to marginalize those women and alienated them from the term “feminist”.

    It is refreshing for a passionate “feminist” to acknowledge the equal responsibilities we all share to solve these problems. We are so much stronger as a team.

    • batesla says:

      Hi Paul,
      Thank you! I definitely agree that the content of the education is very important. Have you read Factory Girls? It’s about the education changes made in China and the flux of newly educated girls moving to Chinese cities to work in factories. I really believe that the empowerment and education of women is a profitable investment for countries.

      Also, the two reasons you listed for the negative perception of the word “feminism” are exactly why I hesitate to use the word. But maybe that’s something that will change in the future?

      One of the things I’m really beginning to question is if foreign involvement in female education programs is really beneficial. I’m visiting a lot of countries where western development appears to be hurting the local communities and causing more problems than intended. The locals working for grassroots programs understand the cultural constructs and norms so much better than foreigners. But then again many of the grassroots organizations don’t have the funds to produce large-scale change. I think the ideal situation would be if governments stepped in to improve and support girls education (like China did), but unfortunately that’s not happening in every country. Like you said it’s all about the content and it’s hard to know which organizations are providing the most accurate, constructive, and empowering education to women and girls.

      Best, Lauren

  5. Eileen Scofield says:

    Hi Lauren! Pat Scofield is enjoying following your blog and has gotten her daughter Amy (who is a nurse) and some of her friends interested. She said that she was looking for a book in the airport and saw one of your suggested books (Half the Sky?) and feels really drawn to your cause. (She bought and read the book) My friend Kim (who lives in Lake Charles) has a son who just graduated from Tulane and is now working for a non-profit in California (Something about whistles, and connected to Tom’s shoes) She is going to give him your blog link so you may hear from him. He is trying to decide what to pursue in grad school. Y’all are sort of at a similar stage of your lives. I’m so proud of you.! Love, Eileen

    • batesla says:

      Hi!! That’s so great to hear :). I would love to talk to her son. Can you send me his email address and the name of the organization he’s working with? Do you know where in California? Love and miss you!!!! Xoxo
      Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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