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January 27th, 2012

Last week in my blog, I had mentioned an article by Nicholas Kristof about a brothel raid that he accompanied as an example of the way in which the media sensationalizes trafficking. As a result, the public’s perception of anti-trafficking efforts is reduced to more dramatic, but not necessarily effective, steps such as brothel raids and arrests.  While reading more about the media’s portrayal of anti-trafficking efforts, I came across an op-ed in a magazine called Salon about Nicholas Kristof’s reaction to a Cambodian brothel raid alongside the Cambodian activist and forced-prostitution survivor Somaly Mam. The author, Ms. Carmon, discusses the response generated to Nicholas Kristof’s tweets about a Cambodian brothel raid he accompanied, following two previous incidents during which he had received some negative publicity: purchasing two Cambodian girls from prostitution in order to free them and naming a 9-year old Congolese rape victim.

The article focuses a lot on the importance of ethical journalism in a time when the medium of tweeting is so immediate, accessible and pervasive. Making your views known is so simple, yet the manner in which they are crafted is almost more important. There is so much that remains unsaid and unseen, leaving the picture only partially completed. I especially appreciated Carmon’s articulation:

“Though Twitter can allow for change over time and even, in its unpredictability, jar us out of our complacency and first-world problems, it does not traditionally provide any nuance for what happens after a dramatic and inspiring moment”.

I often appreciate Nicholas Kristof’s work for the breadth of issues he covers and his passion for the issues he talks about. However, I am constantly bothered by the underlying tone that every human rights issue can benefit from publicity in Western media- regardless of how much work is being done on the ground.

Additionally, expanding on the focus of the media on actions such as brothel raids that seem to actively be abolishing trafficking, I read an article about how abolitionist stances towards prostitution in fact are a deterrent towards efforts against HIV/AIDS.  I had never thought of this angle before, but the article discusses how “reactionary funding and programming policies advocating morally charged (and empirically questionable) positions on issues such as trafficking and prostitution effectively curb the kinds of partnerships and alliances that can be forged”.  Last summer, I volunteered for two anti-trafficking NGOs in India to create a health and life skills curriculum for girls who are at-risk for entering prostitution. One of these organizations was Apne Aap Women Worldwide, and I volunteered at their branch in Forbesganj, Bihar- one of the least developed states in India. Their model is to establish a presence in the red-light district that they are working with, and gradually introduce initiatives to provide women with alternate livelihoods and legal aid. However, this wasn’t always the case. During the first few years of their existence, they conducted a raid on several brothels in the community and the police arrested several residents. Instead of seeing progress, they immediately experienced a backlash, the effects of which they are still combating today. Women immediately removed their daughters from the residential school that the organization had started and husbands banned their wives from associating with the center. As much as strict policy and action is important in fighting something as large as trafficking, each step is entangled in the next and every step has consequences throughout the lifetime of a woman.

A Snapshot of Prostitution in Moscow – Masha and Galina

January 27th, 2012

After the fall of the Soviet Union, a number of factories closed allover Eurasia.  Without the motivation of the Cold War, there was no reason for places like landlocked Kyrgyzstan to produce 400 naval torpedoes annually, nor did it make sense for different parts of one product to be manufactured all across Eurasia.  Soviet efficiency was not true efficiency.  The result today is  thousands of towns all across Eurasia with high unemployment rates and no hope for a prosperous future.

Many girls in the former-USSR are deceived into sex slavery by newspaper ads promising jobs as waitresses, nannies, or nurses in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or abroad.  Others, feel that they have no other choice but prostitution in order to support themselves.  One nineteen year old prostitute, Masha from Ukraine, explained to a reporter in 2005 that she was raised by her grandparents.  Her father was in and out of jail, and her mother who worked in the railways was run over by a train.  Her father, between sentences, would beat her mother, stepmothers, and Masha.  As if the story could not get more tragic, her grandfather was diagnosed with a disease that “made the bones fall apart” and he decided to commit suicide (Ames, “Masha 4-Everyone”).  Not soon after, her grandmother made the same decision following a similar diagnosis.  At this point, Masha was alone.  She fell in love with a boy, lost her virginity at eighteen, and decided to follow him to Moscow.  However, once she arrived, he had vanished.  She thought to herself “Here I was in Moscow, with no money, no friends, nothing. I could do only one thing-sell myself for sex. What else could I do?” (Ames, “Masha 4-Everyone”).  While working as a prostitute, Masha had also enrolled herself in the ninth grade class of a local high school and stated, “I plan to leave this job and get an education” (Ames, “Masha 4-Everyone”).

Many may say that girls like Masha made the decision to be prostitutes out of their own volition.  But one cannot say that they made this choice freely.  Her only other option would be to work in a small kiosk, making a fraction of the earnings she could bring in selling sex.  Those low salaries certainly would not make it possible for her to attend school, rent an apartment, and purchase food.

Authorities unfortunately often take the position that it was indeed the girl’s choice to become a whore, and so they do not feel the need to combat it.  Some policemen detain prostitutes, only to rape them and release them in the morning.

Cases like Masha however indicate that prostitution was a last resort, and even then, just a temporary job until they are able to find a more secure one.  All prostitutes that the reporter Mark Ames spoke to dreamed of finishing their studies, working in stores, or having a family.  Another Ukrainian prostitute, Galina, started selling sex after her husband left her and their baby daughter.  When asked how much longer she would work as a prostitute, she responded “I don’t know. No more than a few months ahead. But I’ll stop” (Ames, “whore.com”)

In Russia, there is no true social welfare system to support these girls.  Prostitution should not have to be the means towards a better future.  In an ideal world, Masha’s grandparents would have been treated for their illnesses, she would have completed high school back in Ukraine, and possibly gone off to university.  Instead, her grandparents realized they could not pay for medical treatments and chose to take their lives, leaving Masha at seventeen alone, with no way to support herself besides prostitution.

Galina explains, “”There’s no money in Ukraine, nothing at all…If I wanted money I had to get out…There’s nothing. In the best case, if you run your own business, you can make up to 1000 rubles a month [about $33 dollars]. That’s if you’re successful. There’s nothing at all” (Ames, “whore.com”).

Ukraine, Russia, and the other former Soviet republics are plagued by recessions and poverty.  The social welfare systems that used to exist have been removed, and capitalism has not provided the prosperity that many hoped for.  Addressing prostitution is complicated, as the roots can be found in the poor economic conditions.  The governments need to find ways to revitalize these old, fading factory towns, or provide better opportunities for advancement to the residents.  In addition, the corrupt officials who turn blind eyes, or worse yet, participate in, prostitution and the sex trade must be brought to justice.  In the meantime, support networks for prostitutes and girls in danger of falling into the profession must be set up, and widely publicized on billboards across Eurasia.

I am cynical about this issue, and I do not believe it will cease to be a problem any time soon.  Perhaps, with recent calls for reform the political atmosphere may change and human rights issues will take a forefront.  But, for the time being, it seems that United Russia has other worries on their mind.


Ames, Mark. “Masha 4-Everyone.” THE EXILE. 23 Sept. 2005. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=7882&IBLOCK_ID=35&phrase_id=59909>.

Ames, Mark. “Whore.com.” THE EXILE. 20 May 2003. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=6938>.

“Russian Workers to Acquire the Only Torpedo Factory Kirghizia.” 16 Dec. 2011. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <http://www.9abc.net/index.php/archives/70336>.


Marianismo and Machismo: Forces of Oppression

January 27th, 2012

Although patriarchy is common to a number of cultures, Latino culture is unique in that it uses religious figures to force women into silent submission. These two forces of female oppression are known as Machismo and Marianismo and define the roles males and females play in Latino society. Machismo is characterized by “an overbearing attitude toward anyone in a position inferior to his, demanding menial services and subservience from subordinates.”[1]Latino males are expected to be strong and dominating, never showing any sign of weakness. In contrast, the female role in Latino society is heavily influenced by the culture’s idolization of the Virgin Mary. The concept of Marianismo, a term first discussed by Evelyn Stevens in the early 1970’s, is the counterpart to Machismo which uses the religious image of the Virgin Mary to justify the oppression of women. In their book The Maria Paradox, Gil and Vazquez describe Marianismo as being characterized by, “Sacred duty, self sacrifice, and chastity. About dispensing care and pleasure not receiving them. About living in the shadows, literally and figuratively of your men […] and your family” (Gil and Vazquez, 7) The Catholic religion and Latino culture thus  relegate women to a status in which they are expected to serve me as well as creates a binary opposition in which virgins and submissive, obedient women are venerated and all women who do not abide by these standards are by default whores.  A woman’s moral character comes to be determined by her sexual behavior and not her contributions to society or treatment of others; her sexual purity becomes a marker of her worth in society.


The effect of machismo and Marianismo on Latina sexuality is obvious. The power dynamic in Latino relationships clearly becomes skewed in favor of men and women have little say in how and when they engage in sex. As a macho, a man is allowed and expected to have extramarital relations and women are expected to accept them as a consequence of their “superior morality”. However, these affairs (especially in a culture where the use of barrier methods is discouraged) can have serious implications on the sexual health of Latinas. Latino males are much less likely than their Anglo counterparts to use a condom, and yet tend to have more sexual partners ( Woods and Price, 1997). Thus Hispanic heterosexual couples are at greater risk for the transmission of HIV and other STI’s. In addition, because Latinas are expected to be subservient and pure, their sexual gratification is often overlooked and discouraged. For many Latina’s, sex is viewed as yet another item on a long list of duties, not a mutually pleasurable experience. Therefore, I believe  in order to effectively tackle the issue of Latina sexual health, one must take a more culturally aware approach. Emphasis should be placed on breaking down traditional gender roles that are oppressive to women and put them at higher risk for developing and STI.


[1]  Machismo and Marianismo  Society [0147-2011] Stevens, E P yr:1973 vol:10 iss:6 pg:57

Woods & Price (1997).Machismo and marianismo: Implications for HIV/AIDS risk reduction and education.American Journal of Health Studies 1997, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p44 9p



Everyone has favorite criminals…

January 27th, 2012

“Mine are pimps. We can all rob a bank; we can all sell drugs. Being a pimp is a whole other thing.” 

- Chris Rock

American culture has put pimping on a pedestal. Perhaps it is due to quotes such as these. Perhaps it is due to songs about Big Pimpin’. But pimps are not men to look up to. They shouldn’t be role models for little boys or figures glorified by pop culture. In fact, they are the reasons why thousands of girls in America go missing each year.

It is important to take some time to identify what a pimp actually is. According to Merriam-Webster, a pimp is “a man who solicits clients for prostitutes.” While this definition is technically correct, I’m not a huge fan of it because it leaves out some key aspects that pimping entails. Here’s a typical story. A young girl runs away from a troubled, unstable home. She walks down the street late at night, lost, scared, and confused. Several men pull up in a car offering money, food and a place to stay. Desperate and alone, she accepts their offer. Without her knowledge, she has just entered the business of prostitution. Soon after being picked up she is told that she has to have sex with someone in order to earn her keep and bring back her earnings for her pimp. If she disagrees, she is yelled at, beaten, and eventually forced into having sex with one, two, thirty, fifty men. Whenever she tries to escape, she is found, beaten, and dragged back.

This sad account is one told by several girls in the documentary “Very Young Girls” which looks at prostitution in New York City.


So, one would naturally ask, why go back? Why not leave the pimp? Why return to prostitution after successfully escaping? Why feel guilty about leaving a man that beats you, yells at you, and puts you down whenever you disobey?

Aside from the possibility of being beaten, many of young girls’ responses to their pimps are due to the multiple mental health symptoms that arise from being in prostitution. According to IOM reports,  “typical victims of trafficking experience many symptoms reported by those who have experienced torture, such as psychosomatic reactions, psychological reactions, psychoactive substance abuse and dependence, social reactions and psychophysical consequences of STDs or injuries.”2 While many mental health issues occur, there is one in particular that explains why many girls are quoted saying that they love their pimps and want to return to their lifestyle: Stokholm syndrome.

A literature review on the effects of human trafficking states “As with all victims of human trafficking, adolescent girls may display symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, otherwise most frequently seen among prisoners of war and torture victims. As a means of emotional and physical survival, the captive (the girl) identifies with her captor. She expresses extreme gratitude over the smallest acts of kindness or mercy (e.g., he does not beat her today), denial over the extent of violence and injury, rooting for her pimp, hypervigilence regarding his needs, and the perception that anyone trying to persecute him or help her escape is the enemy.”3 This quote encompasses many things that young girls feel. Luckily, though these girls may not recognize that they have this syndrome, many of them seek out counseling and help. One organization seeking to help young girls is GEMS in New York City. This non-profit takes in young girls and provides shelter, counseling (in groups and individually), and educational courses. While these programs do not completely eradicate all mental health issues that young girls have, they are working in order to help girls escape the dangers of prostitution. In my next blog I hope to focus on other programs like this one that are working to intervene and eliminate sex-trafficking and prostitution in the U.S.

1. Merriam Webster

2. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1090&context=edpsychpapers

3. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/humantrafficking/litrev/#domestic

Social Acceptability of Queer Men and Women

January 26th, 2012

I really appreciated the comments received from the first blog post, and I wanted to address one of the questions Will brought up: Is it more difficult to be a gay man, a gay woman or are they equally disadvantaged?

This is a very complex issue that I’ve been struggling to answer for a while. It’s a question for which I don’t believe a correct answer exists. For now, I would like to address one particular stance. However, I really look forward to reading the class’s comments on this issue in order to formulate a better understanding.

In Estelle Freedman’s book, No Turning Back, it was argued that historically, “women have had opportunity for same-sex relationships, but usually not to the exclusion of reproductive ones.” In certain ceremonies such as the “Mati” practice in Suriname, for example, women engage in sexual practices with both men and women. At this point in time, male and female sexuality were seen predominantly for the purpose of sexual reproduction. When we were able to see a clear shift “toward a more widespread (visual) sexual identity (versus a reproductive identity following) an urban commercial economy,” individual wage earners were able to express sexuality apart from family surveillance.

Yet, who were the wage earners at this time in the late 1890s and early 1900s, however? It was men who generally spent a large part of their time away from the home, free to explore, even if in a hushed nature, the blossoming homosexual bars seen in metropolitan areas such as London, New York during the 1890s. At this time, women had fewer opportunities to stray from traditional homemaker roles in a heterosexuality-dominated society. As a result of women’s’ economic dependence on men, they were not free to explore areas of sexuality away from the surveillance of their homes and communities.

Same-sex relationships between females did start to surface more visibly until a decade later around the early 1900s in bars and clubs of developed cities such as Paris and Berlin. Yet, as with homosexual men in the 1890s, all of these social encounters were still frowned upon by general public, and frequently raided by the police. Even more troubling is the fact that a German sexologist, Richard Von Krafft-Ebing, argued that queer women were “revolting… (and) suffered from a neurological disease.”

As women joined the work force and sought equal economic opportunities, negative associations were made with” lesbianism.” For instance, “because women’s rights advocates transgressed male space politically, sexologists assumed they were lesbian,” (Freedman).  They tagged these women with a negative association in order to discredit them and further discriminate. So this presents a lose-lose situation essentially. Women who were driven, sought an education, and stood up to the male-dominated workforce were only further cast aside. This is because they went against the images our society has made us believe women should portray as “docile, compliant human beings (that seek to be approved of,” (Helen Stacy).


In all, women who not only take ownership of their economic future in seeking jobs to financially support themselves, but women who choose to identify as queer are seen as a threat to a male-dominated society. For this reason, many argue that queer women are even more marginalized than men. And, in many ways, pop culture seems to have cast a more positive (and traditionally) comedic role for queer men to fit into. Pop culture is beginning to realize same-sex relationships with women. However, what matters is that this portrayal is not for the mere male-stimulated attraction to two women being intimate with one another. Rather, the actual solidified identification of a woman owning her sexuality in being attracted to other women needs to be respected.

I don’t want to discredit the difficulties queer men face. When pop culture paints the quintessential effeminate image of a gay guy, society loses credibility in actually accepting male homosexuality by insisting on packaging it and selling a more appealing “commodity” that the public finds entertaining.

I do, however, believe that because of compounded gender discrimination, it appears that women may faces even more barriers to labeling as queer.

And, as will be later discussed, even when it is recognized, “it seems that (queer women identification) is confined to white western women, it is often because The Third World lesbians and lesbians of color come up against more obstacles to (their visibility)…..The struggle for lesbian rights is indispensible to any struggle for basic human rights. It’s part of the struggle of all women for control over their own lives.”

Girls, Not Brides

January 26th, 2012

Within the topic of global adolescent health, the first topic that I am choosing to focus on is the effect of child marriage on an adolescent girl’s life.

The phenomenon of child brides is more universal than just in Asia and Africa. The minimum age of marriage in New Hampshire, for example, is 13 for girls, with parental consent. Equality Now, a New York–based rights organization with international reach, prepared a table of marriage ages around the world; it lists dozens of countries where adolescent girls marry, through force or by choice, between the ages of 14 and 17 [1].

The UN tends to focus on children’s rights or women’s rights, but what about the age in between?  Who is looking out for adolescent rights? Equality Now deals with all sorts of issues that adolescent girls face, including incest, teacher rape and trafficking. Girls of school age have also been sold into bonded labor or dragooned into armed conflict, sometimes to serve as sex slaves, cooks and porters [1]. These girls are at risk because they are old enough to attracted “unwanted”/”undesired attention” (they are developing breasts and hitting puberty), but still too young to deal with the rigors and responsibilities of adulthood.

A group of leaders called The Elders has formed recently and includes names like Kofi Anan, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Ela Bhatt, former leaders of the world and champions of human rights /women’s rights in their own countries. The Elders have made child marriage one of their priorities, mostly because the UN barely recognizes it.  The groups released a statement this week that summarizes the issue: “Most would believe that child marriage, when forced on a girl who has no say in a decision that ends her independent life before she can finish school or assert herself in any way, is a crushing violation of her human rights. It makes a girl more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and death in childbirth, because her small body is not ready for pregnancy. It is also one of the root causes of a wider societal dysfunction (along with the denigration and abuse of women) that severely hampers human development and, by extension, national development.” [2]

Some of the Elders are the leading voices in Girls Not Brides, the new campaign to end child marriage, which was formally launched at the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York and has the backing of many foundations. The group targets the 10 million girls a year worldwide, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, who are married under the age of 18, some as young as 7 or 8. [3]

But as with most of the issues we discuss in class, there is opposition in the name of culture, economics and preservation of virginity in brides. The girl can contribute to the family income earlier if she is married off and her family receives the bride payment. Marriage is still used to seal family pacts and the age of the girl getting married is irrelevant in comparison to the politics. Younger girls also have had less time to have sex and thus are more likely to be virgins.

But like The Elders have said, younger marriage leads to younger pregnancy. Children’s brains are not fully developed cognitively until their twenties, and in societies where females are generally undervalued, a girl is biologically and socially incapable of making decisions for herself. The girl is pulled out of school, out of being a child and is forced into a childbearing role. She is put at much greater risk of contracting STDs from her husband and at much greater risk of being raped by authority figures, whether they are teachers, in-laws or strangers. This is where the problems begin for females.

So that’s step one to saving adolescent girls: society has to view them as children. If we can put off the transition from child to woman by 8 years, the girls have that much more time to go to school, pick up a vocation and learn to see value in themselves outs ide of marriage.

These children are girls, not brides.

[1] Equality Now Website

[2] The Nation article: http://www.thenation.com/article/165868/elders-take-stand-against-child-marriage

[3] www.girlsnotbrides.org

Conflict, Rape, and PTSD in the Congo: Meet Honorata Kizende

January 26th, 2012

Honorata Kizende (pictured on left) Photo courtesy: Women for Women

“Honorata had been a sex slave and kept in captivity by armed militias in eastern Congo for almost a year. She was repeatedly gang-raped in public. After she escaped, the stigma of rape made her family reject her. Alone and destitute she found refuge in a friend’s house and was raped again when armed men looted the property. This time her daughter had to watch.” (1)

The Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced major conflict both internally and externally (spillover from the violence prevalent in the Congo’s eastern neighbor, Rwanda). The country has been through multiple wars, including the First Congo War, which ended in 1997, and the Second Congo War, which officially ended in 2003. (2) Although formally, the country is not currently at war, turmoil is still abundant and violence against females is still occurring.  Aside from conflict, the average citizen of the Congo is extremely poor, despite the vast abundance of natural resources available in the country.

            Women are especially vulnerable in this impoverished conflict-ridden country. Population estimates of the Democratic Republic of Congo are estimated at 70 million individuals. Of those citizens, a report published in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that nearly 2 million Congolese women had been sexually assaulted at some point in their life. (3) The study also revealed that many women experienced sexual abuse at the hands of someone in their household. The extreme poverty in the Congo could be a root cause of this trend (i.e. poverty causes stress within the household; this stress in turn could be manifested in the form of violence against women). A further shocking statistic is that 9.9 percent of women in the Congo reported that their first sexual encounter was against their will, while 16 percent of women reported that they had been forced to have sex against their will at some point in their lifetime. After being raped for the first time, Honorata moved to Bukavu, the capital of the province of Sud-Kivu. The town of Bukavu was known by many as a “safe-haven” for victims of abuse. (1) However, in this province alone approximately 42,000-43,000 women are estimated to have been raped in the past year. (3) Honorata saw a similar fate after her move—she was raped once again while in Bukavu.

Living in a society where rape occurs frequently and sexual violence in the household is also commonplace must be taxing upon a woman’s mental health. Not only does it cause women to endure the physical and psychological pain of sexual violence, but also the mental distress of being devalued to a token of war that men can use to achieve “political” gain in the war. Honorata is a woman that endured the physical and mental anguish of rape in wartime and is now helping other women in her community by sharing her story. She is a member of a group of women who have had similar experiences of sexual abuse and collectively they share their experiences, provide support for one another, and learn practical skills that will help them better their positions in society. This is especially helpful for Honorata since her family alienated her after her gang-rape. These women-led groups for victims of sexual violence are especially important given the fragile state of the Congo’s formal mental health system (as discussed in my blog post last week).

Agencies and NGOs also contribute to supplement the Congo’s mental health system. The Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program is a multi-agency effort that seeks to reintegrate ex-combatants back into society. This program has worked to train social and health care providers (nurses, doctors, social workers, etc.) on counseling victims of gender-based violence, particularly to help those who are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The training emphasizes Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) where women can recount their own stories in a safe environment. (4) This effectively serves as a therapeutic activity and also one of empowerment since women are in control of their own narrative.



(1)  http://www.womenforwomen.org/global-initiatives-helping-women/stories-women-congo.php

(2)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11108589

(3)  Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Peterman, et. al. American Journal of Public Health

(4)  http://www.mdrp.org/PDFs/N&N_05_09.pdf

“I never thought that I would feel like a human being again" : MSF Providing Mental Health Care for Women

January 26th, 2012

Often after a war, natural disaster, famine, or any other traumatic event, there are lasting physical and emotional scars left on the survivors; these emotional needs can be neglected, especially if you are an impoverished woman in a developing world.   MSF is a leader in working to support survivors with psychological trauma and they have implemented mental health programs in over 40 countries.  I want to focus on their programs that specifically help women after rape and sexual abuse, and how MSF is working with community health workers to understand and treat emotional trauma with women.

A 2009 report on post-rape psychological support for women found that women in Brazzaville in the Congo showed improved psychological states after they received counseling and emotional support.  MSF had been working in Brazzaville treating victims of sexual violence since 2000 by providing free medical care.  From 2000 to 2004, their program they treated 1,115 women for sexual violence within two hospitals in Brazzaville and 86% of those women received post rape psychological support.   Within just one year of their program starting, they performed a preliminary assessment and found that 40% of the women showed anxious disorders.  We can see that there is a strong and dire need to provide mental health for women, especially those affected by sexual abuse, in areas in Brazzaville and beyond.

MSF provides journal entries and interviews with their staff that have worked on the field, in enthralling pieces they call “Voice from the Field.”  In one of these pieces, Erika Seid, an American psychotherapist moved to Kinkala, a town in the Congo and an area that has experienced violent civil war.  With the help from MSF, she helped establish a counseling center to provide mental care for all.  Erika wrote that one of her patients was a mother of two that had escaped the capital during the war and had seen her husband be abducted and killed.  For six years after that event, she had lasting emotional scars and had to deal with insomnia, panic attacks, and cramps.  After working with Erika at the counseling center, the mother’s emotional pains were relieved and the mother stated that, “I never thought that I would feel like a human being again.”  Erika addressed the issue that women who have been victims of trauma like sexual abuse have issues caring for their children; one of her female patients had multiple suicide attempts after being gang raped in her village.  Erika’s answer was the create activities, like art projects, for pregnant women who have survived traumatic events, to bond with their unborn child.  MSF provides the town of Kinkala with free access to mental health care, as well as surgical, maternity, and pediatric care, free of charge.

“Women are afraid to tell their husbands they have been raped since they don’t want them to go and fight,” stated one Darfur woman in a recent report on mental health by the MSF. Throughout Darfur, MSF is working to train community health workers to identify and treat women who have been victims of rape and other sexual abuse.  By training these community health workers, they are creating a sustainable system.  For my continuing blogs, I really want to research and focus how the MSF is working with community health workers to create more sustainable health systems in impoverished areas.











FGM and the role of religion

January 26th, 2012

This is the second week of our blogs and since my blog topic was talked about a lot in class, I wanted to sort of look at those readings and branch off from them a little bit.

One of the things that was great about the particular reading called “Opening the Gates”, or the thing that struck me the most was their mention of some really great Arab authors called Nawal El Saadawi and Fatima Mernissi. I have read some of each of their books and written on them for other classes and they are great reads that really reveal some of the problems in the Arab World. They also were my impetus for wanting to take this class and write about female genital mutilation as it affects women in Islam and in the Middle East. Though the two don’t necessarily overlap, they did overlap in the books by these two women. For example, over winter break I read two books by Nawal El Saadawi and read a third book by her during the quarter. In all of these books, she talks about FGM and the role in has in her protagonist lives. In Woman at Point Zero El Saadawi’s main character is a victim of FGM and she describes the feelings of loss and the idea that a part of her is missing. She has this feeling of “incompleteness”, a psychological symptom described by the Female Genital Cutting article that we read for this week. This symptom goes hand in hand with many others such as behavioral disturbances, a loss of trust and confidence in caregivers, anxiety, depression, and frigidity. These symptoms which manifest themselves in the characters of El Saadawi’s books are not always directly tied to FGM but I wonder if they are, actually, an unknown bi-product of this procedure.

If they are not a bi-product of this, than indeed they are a bi-product of the society and culture in which Middle Eastern women live. The “Opening the Gates” article which talks about Mauritanian culture describes some of these cultural features. One example is, the idea that sexuality is proper only to men. In the books by Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian author, this is certainly the case. Her books are filled with sexual scenes but they are scenes which are typically controlled by men or ones in which men are the ones talking about sex. And though it is not necessarily explicitly explained in the article, there is the implication that men are more powerful than women. Yes, the midwives who are addressed in the article are the ones who are performing the FGM (so they have that power) but they are doing it mostly for men because many men say they will not marry a woman who is not circumcised. However, the women don’t seem to be performing the procedure for any reason other than cultural reasons. That is to say, they are not worried about their religion, which is Islam, and what it has to say about FGM. The people who are most interested in following religious practices (not just cultural traditions) are the men in their tribe.

So what does it mean that the men are more overtly religious in the Arab World? It seems to me that men in the Arab or Muslim World are more traditionally religious than women. I say this based on the books I have read by Arab Muslim writers like the two aforementioned authors as well as many others. I also say it based on the fact that in Islam, on Friday’s men are required to go to the mosque to pray while women are not required to go. Often times, as well they are relegated to a different part of the mosque from where men pray, though this is not required of the religion, it is a religious practice which is fairly widely enforced. Many people say that the opposite sex is a distraction during prayer. Regardless, this means that Islamic men are receiving a centralized message by an imam every week whereas women aren’t necessarily hearing a unified voice on religion on a weekly basis. Perhaps this is how religious practices enter into men’s minds and then proceed to be enforced by them, because they are receiving a message directly from a holy man. Is this why FGM continues to be practiced in some Muslim countries? The practice of FGM does predate Islam but there are some Muslims, as seen in the article about Mauritanian women, who believe FGM is necessary for cleanliness and holiness.

Though Islam is not present in every one of the countries where FGM takes place, I wonder if that often contributes to its perpetuation more than simple cultural practice. Does religion people a stronger reason to hang on it a practice? Cultural practices do stay around but what if someone logically explains the lack of necessity of a cultural practice? Will it go away? But with a practice which is legitimized by religion, what happens? Does it have a deeper grounding in a society? I think these are important things to consider when considering the role of FGM in the Arab and Muslim Worlds. I also think they’re important to consider when creating a process to eradicate the practice. Is the practice more religious? Or is it more cultural? And which one holds more weight?


Works Cited:

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Sadaawi

Zeina  by Nawal El Saadawi

“Opening the Gates” by Margot Badran and Miriam Cooke

“Female Genital Cutting” by The World Health Organization


An Introduction to Human Trafficking in the Philippines

January 26th, 2012

As I illustrated in my first blog post, human trafficking is a global issue. Because it is a global issue, I wanted to zoom in more on human trafficking in a particular country with hopes of shedding light on this issue in a developing country, but not one we would likely cover in class.

The Philippines is currently listed in the U.S. Department of State’s Tier 2 Watch List from the Trafficking in Persons Report 2010. There are three tiers and four categories within this report- Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3- and by definition, countries on the Tier 2 Watch List fall under the following:

“Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, AND: a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or, c) the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.” (1)

The Philippines was placed in this tier even after having passed R.A 9208, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 which is a penal law against human trafficking, sex tourism, sex slavery, and child prostitution (2). This was due to the Philippine government’s alleged failure to show evidence of progress in convicting trafficking offenders, especially those responsible for labor trafficking, but there is still action being done in the Philippines to bring an end to human trafficking within their country.

As a Filipino-American, the situation in the Philippines is very personal for me. I have heard stories of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who become stuck in involuntary servitude to those they work for, which is one way these workers become seen as trafficked for forced labor. I have also seen the reality of the poverty which people must survive each day. In order to illustrate the situation in the Philippines, I will share an anecdote depicting life in the Philippines for those who live in poverty, but keep in mind, this is not as case of extreme poverty which can be found throughout the Philippines and is getting worse.

A woman was born the seventh of eight children in a northern province of Luzon. Her younger sister would be born stillborn. She grew up living in poverty in this northern province where a majority of her relatives lived within the surrounding barangays (towns). Her meals included a small bowl of rice with some sauce, and a piece of fish or meat if her family had the money to buy some. She would wake up before the rooster’s crow at dawn to help her mother sell vegetables in the town market before she would go home to clean the house and cook for her family and relatives visiting her house. Her day had only begun.

She would then walk several blocks to school with sandals so worn down her heels could touch the dirt road. Her family did not have enough to pay for books, so she borrowed books to study. She also only had enough for one uniform, so she would do her best to make sure it was clean whenever she went to school. As this girl grew older, she remained in school until her parents could no longer afford her education.

At this point, this young girl could have dropped out of school and worked in the market with her mom to make money. She could have become a domestic servant for another family or been sent off as an OFW to a closeby asian country as these job options are not uncommon in the Philippines. There is another chance that if she was desperate enough, she may have slipped into a sexually exploitative job as there are many within her province, especially by the American naval base.

Luckily, this girl’s older sister who was already working was willing to help pay for the education. The girl continued on through high school and college before finding work in Metro Manila. With her new job, she was able to save up to buy her own apartment and also send money to support her family back in the province. After a few years, she fell in love with a man and settled down in the US with him to give their future children a better life.

I am the third daughter of this woman, and I am reminded of how lucky I am to have this life in America when I watch the Filipino news about the abductions, the violence, the corruption, the poor living conditions, the diseases in the aftermath of natural disasters, and several other problems which plague the Philippines.

Human trafficking is just one of many injustices the Filipino people face, and it does not help that their situation leaves them very vulnerable to it. For example, the female peasants of Makato in Western Visayas must supplement their income as they are seasonal farmers of land they do not own. Some do this by becoming sex workers in Boracay, a popular tourist spot for its beautiful beaches. The Philippines is also known for its sex tourism, and those in that industry are at times also trafficked to other countries.

The end of human trafficking in the Philippines is a very complicated issue because it depends on finding solutions to all of the factors which allow this injustice to thrive. Education for girls, alternative jobs for income, and finding more ways to decreasing the rate of poverty in the Philippines could all be great solutions, but we must keep in mind the feasibility of such programs under a corrupt government.

Over the next several weeks, I will cover in more detail the case of the OFW, the possibility of interventions to protect OFW rights, sex tourism and trafficking, interventions to help downsize the sex industry, and what has been or is being done in the Philippines to find justice for victims of human trafficking or bring about the end of human trafficking.



  1.  U.S. Department of State, 2010. Tier Placements. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2010/142755.htm
  2. Republic Act No. 9209 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. Retrieved from http://www.chanrobles.com/republicactno9208.html