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Discussions on the themes of peace and violence


Participants at the 6th International Meeting of the World March of Women broke up into workshops today, Tuesday, July 4, to talk about the themes of peace and demilitarization and violence against women.

Emily Naffa spoke about the state of violence in the Middle East and conveyed Palestinian women's request for solidarity from the World March. She denounced the US policy and its project of building a "Great Middle East".

Josée Kusinza, of the Democratic Republic of Congo spoke about the situation of war and impunity in the African Great Lakes region. After attending an earlier presentation and listening to women from Peru, Columbia and other areas of the world, she said she realized that this was a universal problem.

Before their discussions, women were treated to a theatre piece that involved five stations or installations in which actors portrayed different situations of violence against women in the Quechua (indigenous) communities of Peru.

In one of the photos below, the piles of stones symbolize the number of women who have died as a result of violence; in the other photo two men discuss their reactions to the violence of which their wives were victims.

"Current discourse often hides the more political nature of violence as a tool of control over women's bodies," remarked Awa Ouédraogao of Burkina Faso, who also mentioned beauty contests and the advertising industry that sets the standards of female beauty. "It is also a tool for controlling women's sexuality, women who, without any access to contraception, are forced to carry numerous pregnancies to term. It is a tool to control women's lives, aggravated by the fact that in many poor countries few women possess identity cards and are completely subjugated to the male head of the family."

During this meeting, women of the World March will be discussing the merchandizing of women's bodies, the trivialization of prostitution and procuring, the feminization of immigration and its link with violence against women, and pornography.

Jean Enriquez, of CATW, spoke about trafficking women:

 " I was asked to speak about sex trafficking as the focal issue within the theme violence against women. However, I want to state in the outset that prostitution itself, the buying and selling of women and children’s bodies, is a system of violence against women which determines trafficking. The act of buyers and business establishments of using our bodies in exchange for profit and other consideration is a flagrant violation of our integrity, dignity and autonomy. The acts committed by buyers and capitalists exploit the context of lack of choices for women, whether in the North or in the South. (I will expound on this question of choice later.) Trafficking is merely the means to ensure the supply of women’s bodies towards the demand side – that is, the prostitution industry. Thus, we want trafficking to be more sharply defined to constitute not only those that include the element of physical force, but from the feminist perspective, such acts that exploit or take advantage of compulsions or vulnerabilities created by societal contexts of economic and gender inequality.

The term “violence against women” refers to many types of harmful behavior directed at women and girls because of their sex. In 1993 the United Nations offered the first official definition of such violence when the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. According to Article 1 of the declaration, violence against women includes: Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

The fact that women are often emotionally involved with and financially dependent upon those who abuse them has profound implications for how women experience violence and how best to intervene. Cultures contain beliefs, norms, and social institutions that legitimize and therefore perpetuate violence against women. The same acts that would be punished if directed at an employer, a neighbor, or an acquaintance often go unchallenged when men direct them at women, especially within the family or when the women are paid, as in prostitution.

I speak here, not only as an advocate with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, but as someone who directly works with survivors of prostitution. In counseling sessions with them, I am convinced on a daily basis that women’s engagement in prostitution are linked to their experiences of incestuous rape, to the cynicism of their families and communities to their experiences, to cultural pressures to be sexually available to men and consider men’s access to our bodies as “empowerment.” When I speak of choices, therefore, it is not just about economic choices. Choices are also about women’s roles in relation to men’s, it is about enabling and disabling contexts where sexuality is defined and determined. Whether in the North or in the South, the common context of women’s lives is patriarchy, where women are raped, battered, sexually abused, where women are seen and treated as sexual objects for use by men, where it is hip for young women to be sexually accessed according to MTVs, where men also believe that women enjoy rape and prostitution – all to the advantage of patriarchy.

And patriarchy intersects with capitalism and the economic inequality it breeds. Whether in the North or the South, women are disadvantaged economically, politically and socially. Poverty and racial discrimination exists in both, although impoverishment is in greater magnitude in the South. And in both hemispheres, we know that globalization affects women worse.

The underlying causes of violence against women lie in patriarchy therefore, aggravated by poverty— in men’s assumptions of dominance over women and ownership of their bodies as sanctioned by social institutions, the denial of women's equality with men in all areas of life. It is about definitions of masculinity where men are given unbridled access and unquestioned ownership to women’s bodies. It is about myths of men’s uncontrollable urge and right to buy or rape women whenever they feel the urge. So even when there is no cash involved as in prostitution, there is rape. Particular groups of women are also targeted because of their race/ethnicity, class, culture, sexual orientation, or if they are coming from marginalized communities.

The health consequences, the violence, and the sexual abuse suffered by trafficked women and girls are also the same as to those who were battered and raped. The problem is that when women and girls are subjected to this kind of violence in prostitution, it is viewed as "sex" (Raymond, et al, 2001). Contrary to the contention that prostitution is akin to any other kind of work, prostitution which is the end destination of most trafficked women, is a notorious site of violence. In prostitution, women are assaulted, raped, beaten up, subjected to sadistic acts , sexual harassment, verbal abuse, sexual use by numerous men and other inhumane acts. Living under a climate of fear, many women survive by drugging themselves or resorting to alcohol abuse to forget the trauma of their everyday lives. Several studies have already established that women who have been in prostitution for some years suffer PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that is normally associated with people who had traumatic experiences in war.

It is therefore imperative to question the demand side, the definitions of masculinity, and globalization -- the ideology of which promotes and aggravates the buying and selling of women.

Let me illustrate this unbridled demand for men’s access to women’s bodies:

Australia: Each week 60,000 Victorian men spend $7M on prostitution, with the legalized industry turning over more than $360M a year and drawing on some 4500 prostituted women and girls (Jeffreys) Netherlands: professional associations of prostitution buyers and entrepreneurs, e.g. Cooperating Consultation of Operators of Window Prostitution Italy: 1 of 6 (or almost 17%) Italian men uses women in prostitution. Differently stated, this means that in Italy, 9 million men use an estimated 50,000 women in prostitution (International Conference, 2004). Germany: 18% of German men regularly pay for sex Adolf Gallwitz,” 2003). One million prostitute-users buy women daily in Germany for sexual activities (Herz, 2003). UK: 10% of London’s male population buys women for the sex of prostitution (Brown, 2000) USA: Estimated one half of the adult male population are frequent prostitute-users, and that 69% of the same population had purchased women for sexual activities at least once (Brown, 2000). Thailand: 5.1 million sexual tourists a year, 450,000 local customers buy sex every day (Barry). 75% of Thai men were prostitution buyers, almost 50% had their first sexual intercourse with women in prostitution (Brown, 2000) Vietnam: 70% of those caught in brothels are reported to be state officials, 60% to 70% of men in Cambodia have purchased women for sexual activities

Having illustrated in concrete terms the role of patriarchy in creating and maintaining sex trafficking or prostitution, et me now reiterate the role of globalization in promoting prostitution and trafficking. The most recent General Agreement on Trade in Services within WTO agreements provides for liberalization of tourism. As such, the unbridled investment in this sector has been and will continue the use of women as exploitative “resources” in the tourism industry being sold to tourists. Even before this, we already know that globalization has impoverished millions of women, laying them off or contracting them in 3-month or 6-month jobs, giving them the lowest of salaries, or throwing them off their lands that have to be converted into cash crop agriculture.

Given massive impoverishment of women, the system is further globalized with the globalization of economies and grown to be a multi-billion global industry:

- Global trafficking is a $7 Billion industry (UNICRI). According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, human trafficking generates an estimated $9.5 billion in annual revenue.

- In Thailand, trafficking is a 500 billion Baht annual business (equivalent to approximately 124 million U.S. dollars), which represents a value equal to around 60 per cent of the government budget (CATW). In Korea, sex industry profits reached 24.0712 trillion won, which is equivalent to 4.4% of 578.8 trillion national GDP and was the same as the profits from agriculture and fishery industry.

- Pornography/Cybersex industry generates approximately $ 1B annually and is expected to grow to 55-7B over the next 5 years.

- Owners, pimps, managers earn from the system while women continue to lose, as they are forced to use drugs, their bodies are mutilated etc.

- Employers in developed countries keep on importing cheap/slave labor; illegal recruitment is commonplace in the South n Government policies normalize the trade (legalization of prostitution, toleration, etc)

The demand is created by both patriarchy and globalization, but also by militarization of countries by US forces and the growing competition within the globalized sex industry. In Korea alone, 5000 Filipinas and even more Russian women are in prostitution around the US military bases. Competition, meanwhile, creates the pressure to “import” younger and younger women from more “exotic” backgrounds, thus victimizing our indigenous or aboriginal girls.

The challenge right now is about governments themselves legalizing prostitution, delinking trafficking from prostitution. It has been so in many states in Australia, New Zealand, in the Netherlands, Germany, and tolerated in many countries where civil society only criticize the so-called worst forms of child labour or “forced” prostitution. Why do sectors qualify violence against women as only prostitution that is ‘forced’? Is there such a thing as “free” prostitution? How do you locate free prostitution in the context of cultures forcing women to accept that when all else avenues fail, making our bodies accessible also uplift our self-esteem and power?

The challenge right now is to oppose the global ideology normalizing prostitution as women’s empowerment, citing it as sex work. This is a very recent phenomenon, concurrent with the rise of postmodernism, the refusal to locate prostitution within the context of patriarchy and structural economic and political inequalities. Refusing to locate it in a continuum of rape, hetrosexism and use of rape in war as conquest.

The challenge right now is to oppose the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution. To shift criminalization from the women and children whose vulnerabilities are exploited towards criminalization buyers and business, towards weakening patriarchy and global capitalism in the prostitution industry. The challenge is to criminalize the demand side.

The challenge right now is pressuring states not only to provide programs for survivors of prostitution, but to address the root causes of prostitution and sex trafficking – patriarchy where men define their sexuality through their superiority over women and access to women’s bodies, as well as global economic inequality operationalized by neo-liberal globalization where women’s work is exploited as they remain impoverished without control over resources.

To end, let me cite these figures: 30 M women & children in Asia (UN, 1998); 10-40M bonded laborers in India (US TIP Report, 2006). At least 2000 leave the Philippines daily, 74% are women (CATW); 200,000 from Colombia to Europe

Our alliances therefore, are with survivors of prostitution. In our direct work with them, they testify that if options are available, if the world is different, if prostitution is not the catch-basin of wounded and impoverished girls, they will not be in prostitution. Prostitution therefore, is not something they dreamt of as a little girl.

At this very minute, as I talk, millions more of women and children are trafficked to and from Asia, South America, Africa and even the North. Our vision is for a world where women are not prostituted, where women are not considered an underclass as a group.

As feminists, it is our duty to work for a world free from violence against women – from rape, from battery, from prostitution and trafficking; to address the root causes of sex trafficking and prostitution, and not be complacent with victims’ statements that there is nothing that can be done and just accept trafficking and prostitution as women’s work. As some slaves have spoken before that slavery is alright, we did not rest to accept, instead we struggled to abolish slavery. Do we dare rest and allow women and girls, our daughters and granddaughters be treated as sexual slaves, and just call their situation as work? I am not talking of forcibly removing women from the brothels, I am talking about organizing them, and together with them, fighting for alternatives by critiquing the power structures. As in the Philippines, we organize together with the survivors, deepen our feminism through education, provide health and other psycho-social services not limited to HIV-AIDS education, and fight WTO policies that exacerbate the vulnerability of women and girls, and seek to abolish structures of inequality and replace them with feminist and socialist alternatives. "

Last modified 2006-07-07 06:37 PM
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