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Short-term Realities and Long-term Goals: Achieving Lasting Global Commitment to Women's Rights

March 5th, 2011

To: The United Nations General Assembly,
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
From: Araceli Y. Flores, Stanford University Class of 2011


Within the last century, the international community has made significant strides in defining fundamental freedoms that should be guaranteed to every human being, regardless of their country of origin. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) asserts that all members of the human family possess inherent dignity and inalienable rights, such as life and liberty, health and wellbeing, and education and self-expression. The UDHR exhorts all governments to observe and protect these rights.

The tenets agreed upon in the UDHR express views that United Nations, the representative body of the international community, held in 1948 and wished to establish as universal norms for years to come: As former Secretary-General U Thant articulated, “The world has come to a clear realization of the fact that freedom, justice, and world peace can only be assured through the international promotion and protection of these rights and freedoms.”

As history progressed and women demanded their right to equality of opportunity and protection, the United Nations convened once again to expand the ideas enshrined within the UDHR with specific recognition of gender-based denials of basic human rights. In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was convened by the United Nations. CEDAW reiterated the “truths” upheld in the UDHR, but took a step further: it underscored the urgent need to conceptualize the vision of fundamental human rights in the context of women: “[CEDAW] affirms the principle of the inadmissibility of discrimination and proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms… without distinction of any kind, including distinction based on sex.” Years later, in a famous speech delivered to the UN 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, Hillary Rodham Clinton captured this sentiment perfectly: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

Clinton’s comments highlight the feminization of human rights issues and humanitarian crises. Everywhere around the world, women—in comparison to their male counterparts—face compounded conditions of human suffering based solely on their status as women: where there are already limited opportunities to access food, water, education, and social services, women face even more circumscribed access based on their gender. Moreover, women in the developing world confront a host of impediments to their health and wellbeing that men will never face: among them, reproductive rights and complications from pregnancy.

Current Situation

The United Nations has made significant progress in galvanizing the international community and holding governments to an international standard of human and women’a rights law. The signing and ratification of the UNDR and CEDAW demonstrate the good will of hundreds of member nations to recognize these “fundamental freedoms” and work to incorporate them into their respective domestic laws. However, despite the continued efforts of the UN Office of the High Commissioner and UN Women, a tangible gap exists in the implementation and enforcement of these rights on the ground.

The current realities fall into two camps, with member nations exhibiting the following qualities to varying degrees: In the first camp, there are countries – such as Bangladesh – which have created legal frameworks that uphold women’s rights, in principle. These countries possess all the rhetoric of gender equity and equal protections/opportunities under the law, but yet, their governments are either unwilling or incapable of fully committing to proper enforcement.  In the second camp, countries – such as Iran— have built gender-based discrimination into their very legal code. Lacking even the pretense of solidarity with international conventions or efforts in creating protective internal laws, these countries blatantly defy their international obligations to respect and guarantee human and women’s rights. While the severity of the situation of women’s rights varies a great deal within each camp, the prevalence of traditions that perpetuate violence against women and deny basic human services is troubling. This memo hopes to offer tenable policies that the United Nations can pursue, in addition to its existing efforts, to bolster the rule of law and access to human dignity that all women deserve.


This memo recognizes the need for both immediate and lasting solutions to effect meaningful and enforceable women’s rights laws. In order to address both the symptoms and the sources of violations of women’s rights, this memo proposes short and a long-term mechanisms, along with the theory of action that guides them:


The creation of a monitoring committee to create an international forum for women’s rights accountability that could incentivize government behavior.

Guiding assumption: Often times, governments do not feel compelled to observe their international obligations or respect human rights, especially when no supranational organization exists to “police” or punish deviant behavior. While sanctions have been an effective tool used by UN member nations to influence government behavior in the past, this memo recognizes that part of the crisis women face is humanitarian: cutting trade ties or economic aid to these countries as an attempt to “pressure” change would only further compound the plight of women within their borders. Instead, if anything, these countries need more resources to enact the types of positive change the United Nations seeks. In this vein, this policy recommends the commissioning of a monitoring committee which would produce a yearly “women’s rights report” for every country. This committee should create meaningful indicators of progress– such as increased women’s participation in political processes or decreased government crackdowns or violence against women— that would be used to evaluate and reward progress in securing tangible advancements in women’s rights.

Theory of action: These accountability measures need to be tied to meaningful incentives in order to effect behavior change. The United Nations should publish its report and urge nations to consider country scores when distributing foreign aid, outscoring factories, or creating trade agreements. Increased awareness of the human rights realities on the ground will create opportunities for other nations to target their interactions accordingly and use economic incentives to encourage development and the rule of law in other countries. Most importantly, as previously stated, these scores should not be used to cut off aid or economic opportunities to mal-performing nations. Instead, the score reports should be used as basis of “rewarding” growth in these nations and sustaining that growth (in the short-term) through continued incentivization.


Foster endogenous belief and capacity in the protection of women’s rights as a fundamental responsibility of governments, not as an intermediary means to other government ends.

Guiding assumption: Creating palpable, material incentives to elicit government cooperation on women’s rights issues offers a short-term solution to encourage behavior change. A reporting committee would shine international attention on the actions of these governments and tie these actions to “deliverables” or concrete “carrots” that reward good behavior. This mechanism presents a realistic understanding of the crisis at hand and offers a solution to evoke the type of immediate change that is necessary to implement change in a time-sensitive manner. That being said, observance and protection of women’s rights must be valued as ends in and of themselves, not as just compliance measures or routes to boosting GDP. Only when governments and societies internalize the moral obligation and human rights aspect of women’s rights– not just development or economic benefit-based arguments– can the international community be assured of a meaningful commitment to lasting and sustainable change.

Theory of action: The United Nations should create an investment fund that works to mobilize regional actors and grassroots organization in creating system-changing reform, both top-down and bottom-up. Many times, even if governments wish to enforce gender-equity laws, a fundamental lack of resources causes conditions in which sex-selective behavior (in distributing food, sending children to school, or even aborting fetuses) becomes an unavoidable reality of life.  The investment fund should not only provide financial support to committed governments and non-governmental organizations, but it should also provide the political/human capital and technological materials to grow internal capacities.

It is this memo’s hope that these two proposed mechanisms can be jointly employed– using international influence to engage governments in the short-term, as well as creating the foundations for a self-sustained commitment to women’s rights issues in the long-term.



United Nations General Assembly, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (1948), http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

United Nations in Ukraine, UN Quotable, http://www.un.org.ua/en/information-centre/un-quotable

United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (1979), http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/

Gifts of Speech, Hilary Rodham Clinton, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” (1995), http://gos.sbc.edu/c/clinton.html

United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (1979), http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/WelcomePage.aspx

Policy memo: Where to go from here

March 3rd, 2011


Over the past few weeks, I have written a blog on women’s education in refugee situations for a class on critical issues in international women’s health. Time and again in our class we learned that women in many places in the world fare worse than their male counterparts in most areas of life. We have learned that women struggle to achieve the same levels of education as men almost everywhere in the world, and that it looks as though if more women received more education, it would go a long way towards ameliorating many of the world’s issues, for example, population growth. We have also learned that women in refugee settlements suffer even more abuse and violence than usual, and that their situation can often be truly dire.

Education for women in refugee situations is an enormous topic, and a short series of blogs like this one could never begin to touch on all the issues that fall under that heading. However, since starting this blog several themes have come up again and again:

  • Education is key. The importance of education in refugee situations cannot be stressed enough. It may seem less important than other issues, but after basic survival, education is among the top priorities of refugee families (1). In addition to being a basic right of every human being, education brings countless benefits to settlements and individuals. It’s helpful as a stabilizing force in the lives of children who may have suffered from traumatizing events (2), and is vital to those same children when they’ve grown up and are looking for jobs, because it can mean reintegration into society and the economy (3). Vocational training can take the place of traditional education and prepare refugees for re-entering the job market, as well as providing many women with the opportunity to generate valuable income and work toward economic independence (3).
  • Health education is hugely beneficial to women. Health education is a specific area of education that can have an enormous effect on women living in refugee settlements and help keep them safe and healthy. The example of RHG showed that health education and family planning programs can significantly decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies in a population in a settlement to below the national average, which is valuable to many women who either don’t want or can’t support more children (4).
  • Just one can make a difference. The example set by RHG, in addition to the example set by Dr. Hawa Abdi, show that even one person or group can make a difference in the lives of thousands. It takes someone to recognize a need that isn’t being met in a community and to decide to do what they can to fix that situation.

These themes provide the basis for some policy priorities and actions that should be considered when addressing the issue of women’s education in refugee settlements. The first is that more international attention be brought to the benefits of education in refugee situations, and the challenges of making that education a reality. 40% of the world’s refugees are school aged (5), which means there is a very large number of children in the world at risk for not having their basic right of education fulfilled.

Next, education needs to remain a priority. All the above benefits show that neglecting education could have very serious deleterious effects on a community and the futures of refugee children. The UNHCR already funds many schools that support thousands of children and runs teacher training programs, and should by all means continue to do so.  The Nepalese schools in the third post of this blog (6) serve as an excellent model of schools that aren’t run on much money but have been shown to be very effective at involving the community and facilitating academic success, so the UNHCR should continue working to develop and support effective and efficient programs like these.

Health education should be included in curriculums, and classes for older women health education and family planning should be offered wherever possible in order to help keep women safe and healthy.

The UNHCR should also do whatever possible to facilitate work done by legitimate independent groups, like RHG or Dr. Hawa Abdi, who are able to do so much in their communities and change the lives of thousands.

1)   http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/search?page=search&docid=4a1d5ba36&query=refugee%20education

2)   http://adc.bmj.com/content/87/5/366.full

3)   http://womensrefugeecommission.org/images/stories/Jordan_youth_FINAL_01_2010.pdf

4)   http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/122373785/PDFSTART

5)   http://www.refugeelawproject.org/working_papers/RLP.WP09.pdf

6)   http://www.unhcr.org/3b8a1b484.pdf

Dear Girls Inc.

March 3rd, 2011

TO: Girls Incorporated

FROM: Bisi Ibrahim, Class of 2011, Stanford University

DATE:  March 3, 2011

SUBJECT: Initiating Mental Health Programs For Young Women

As evidenced by thorough quantitative and qualitative research, the current state of mental health and healthcare services for young women in the US and internationally has been exposed, revealing a gaping, wanting void. Nevertheless, interventions and initiatives leading to successful outcomes are under-researched and underfunded, while in our societies we continue to adhere staunchly to our belief that it is not a cause for concern.

As a leading, non-profit organization invested in the empowerment of young women, Girls Incorporated has not only created programs for girls’ issues, but also in an extraordinary display of astuteness, Girls Incorporated has established its own Girls’ Bill of Rights. In this document Girls Incorporated has declared and vowed amongst many rights, two very pertinent rights: Girls have the right to be themselves and to resist gender stereotypes; Girls have the right to accept and appreciate their bodies. Both of these rights are directly related to mental health as often gender stereotypes are the root of mental disturbances and they often lead to an inability for girls to accept and appreciate their bodies. Therein Girls Incorporated inherently needs to address, create and maintain newer mental health-focused programs for an oft-stigmatized issue. Girls Incorporated should not continue to foster the silence that shrouds mental health and that endangers the lives of many young women globally, as it goes against Girls Incorporated’s mission.

The Basics

In the US, researchers have noted and repeatedly concluded that young girls, often beginning during puberty, are experiencing internalized mental disorders at a rate alarmingly greater in proportion than their male peers. For Caucasian girls evidence shows that gender stereotypes and societal standards of beauty in concordance with the traumatizing events of puberty are promoting an increase in depression and anxiety disorders in young women. Cross-cultural studies in the US have also revealed mental health discrepancies for minority women (African American, Asian America, & Latinas), as well as for young women emigrating from developing countries (including refugees of war-torn countries who are coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), but it is unclear whether it relates with the traumatizing effects of puberty.

The latter studies also showed that minority and immigrant women often experience lower incidences of internalized mental disorders, but evidence suggests that the numbers may be unreliable due to the manifestation of these disorders resulting in a different manner than that of Caucasian young women. It has been hypothesized that minority young women are often affected by stereotype threat. For immigrant young women it has been hypothesized that while they are initially afforded economic advantages and general health advantages not conferred by staying in their impoverished, war-torn, or economically unsound country, they arrive in developed countries like the US only to still face barriers in access to mental healthcare—the barrier often being stigmatization and anxiety over the need for assimilation. Therein on top of potential, preexisting mental disorders such as PTSD, they acquire adjustment-related mental health disorders that compound and lead to severe mental health disturbances.

What’s really going on?

With such a wealth of information repeatedly uncovering the same outcomes, one would think that there would be relative success in initiatives and interventions to counteract these findings. This, however, is far from the current state of initiatives and interventions. In fact as a whole, youth mental health is in shambles. The rate at which mental-health care services fail to meet the needs of youth patients is nearly 100%, this figure including developed nations. (Patel, 1303; Hickie, 63) This is a result of many mental healthcare services being adapted from adult mental health models, and assumed that with slight variations would have similar success for young adults and adolescents. Decades later, it is plainly just not working. (Hicke, 63).

For young women, the mental healthcare system fails them twice. Not only are intervention models faulty, but also diagnoses are often occurring decades after the onset of a mental disorder. Young women are not often diagnosed with mental disturbances until they are well into adulthood, and by then their mental disturbances have influenced other health and development discrepancies, including lower educational achievement, substance abuse, violence, and poor reproductive and sexual health. [Note: Girls Incorporated already has programs with many of these aforementioned co-occurrences, so why not deal with the root of the problem?]

What can be done?

Successful interventions are rare but are possible by incorporating several key components. For the few interventions that do exist, many are still being tested and their results are still in infancy; they also often need financial support. Nonetheless, addressing financial allocations and resources should not be the first step in creating successful interventions and initiatives for mental health and wellness for young women.

We must first begin with the minute details such as awareness and education. First, it is important that we begin to see mental health as an issue equal in magnitude to physical health. As a society we cannot continue to put mental health off as something that happens to the “others”—whomever we assume those “others” might be, we often fail to realize are those closest to us. Furthermore, health and wellness as a whole include the body and mind. In fact, it should be noted that mental illnesses are often correlated with the spread of communicable diseases, increased rate of acquiring non-communicable diseases and increased injury.

Secondly, on the cusp of education we must make it very clear that early intervention is key. 75% of adult mental disorders start before age 25, of which 50% have an onset before age 15; either way by adulthood the effects of a mental illness are less reversible and more challenging to care for. (Hickie, 64) One in four young people will experience a mental health disturbance in their lifetime that will significantly influence their adolescence and/or early adult life. However, in spite of this statistic early intervention has been associated with significant improvements in at least the first two years after presentation of a mental disorder. It would be a travesty to not take advantage of an answer sitting right in front of our faces.

Finally, we must work on the development of youth oriented mental health models. Current approaches are ineffectual and we must be open to newer models such as those incorporating the use of online systems, electronics, and computer interactions. We could get bogged down in arguments over whether technology alienates us from each other, but research has repeatedly shown that youth and young adults are less inhibited when interacting with computers and are more willing to share their conflicts and emotions leading to earlier diagnoses. (Coyle, 2007) It still requires that ethical and privacy considerations are hashed out, but it shows significant improvements in comparison to traditional interventions.

By focusing on mental health, Girls Incorporated will come full circle in maintaining its mission to inspire strong, smart and bold girls. If Girls Incorporated were to have a mental health program it could function much like the already existing pregnancy prevention program. The program would be divided along distinction age groups, and in the age groups most affected by mental health disorders (i.e. 12-14, 15-18), there needs to be extra emphasis placed on not just on awareness and education, but the removal of stigmatization in seeking mental health. Further ties should be made with the already existing PEERsuasion Program to make sure that peers do not feel that it is on them to keep mental health issues in secrecy, but instead have peer appropriate interventions (i.e. having peers realize that they are often the first resource for their friends suffering from a mental illness and having them remind their friend that seeking further help is not only an option, but the best option.)

I truly believe Girls Incorporated has the willpower, means and inherent motivation to create such a program that will hopefully become the model for future successful, intervention models for mental health in young women.

Coyle, D., Doherty, G., Matthews, M., Sharry, J. (2007). Computes in talk-based mental health interventions. Interacting with Computers 19, 545-562.

Hickie, I.B. (2011). Youth mental health: we know where we are and we can now say where we need to go next. Early Intervention in Psychiatry 5(1): 63-69.

Patel, V., Flisher, AJ., Hetrick, S., McGorry, P. (2007). Mental health of young people: a global public-health challenge. Lancet 269, 1302-1313.

The Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department in Cambodian National Police under the Ministry of the Interior

March 3rd, 2011

The Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department in Cambodian National Police under the Ministry of the Interior

To Whom It May Concern:

As a concerned citizen of the world, I would like to bring your attention to the plight of Cambodian girls and women who are forced into the sex trade. As you may be aware, 1 in 40 girls in your country will be sold into the sex trade. I have spent the past nine weeks researching sex trafficking in Cambodia, and hope to share with you my findings, and propose an intervention to rehabilitate the girls and women, so that they may be healthy, productive and contributing members of society. The goal of my research and this policy memo are to address the questions:

1. How can we most effectively rehabilitate these girls and women? How can we empower them to raise strong and healthy children who are the future of Cambodia?

2. How can we prevent the sexual exploitation of future generations of females?

Who We Need to Help:

Sex workers are not just teenage girls – we see women of all ages, and girls as young as infants being exploited by brothel owners and pimps. Paying for sex is a fundamental violation of human rights: the right of a woman to her own body, dignity, and freedom. In addition to violating her at the time of sale and for the duration of time in which she is enslaved, sexual exploitation affects a woman’s entire future. If she contracts a sexually-transmitted-infection or suffers severe physical or psychological injuries during her time in a brothel, she will be unable to raise healthy and productive children, who can contribute to Cambodia’s workforce and future as a nation.

Effective Rehabilitation:

I propose that the Ministry of the Interior model a national program after that of Somaly Mam. Somaly is more than a survivor of sex slavery- she’s a human rights crusader, saving girls from brothels and giving them a new life. Her organization is unique because it employs doctors, social workers, and former victims to teach the girls and women at her centers about AIDS prevention, sexual health, emotional health, women’s rights, and the joys of living freely and independently. “Being a former victim myself, I know exactly what their needs are. What they need most is love and understanding,” she explains. Rehabilitation will be most effective if it combines health professionals with strong female mentors who are survivors of sex trafficking or prostitution themselves. This way, girls are less likely to feel intimidated or judged by the people trying to help them.

  • Goal: Provide girls and women with the skills to reintegrate into society and the courage and self-esteem to reduce their risk of falling back into the sex trade.
  • Approach: “All of our programs share an emphasis on the collective voice of the survivors, who participate in every aspect of our work. Survivors who have gone through our rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration programs can choose to join our Voices for Change initiative, which offers them the opportunity”  to do outreach and teach classes to other survivors. VFC members visit brothels, distributing condoms and doing HIV/AIDS education. Girls in the program learn how to speak, read, and write English, use computers, and learn trades. They’re also given time for creative expression and reflection.

There are so many psychological consequences of prostitution, torture, rape, and physical violence that absolutely stay with the girls for the rest of their lives. We want to minimize the long-term negative consequences of theses traumatic experiences, so that we will have a healthy and capable workforce, strong families, and a just social system and culture of equality and prosperity. Girls who are living in the Somaly Mam Foundation/AFESIP centers undergo intense post-traumatic stress and grief counseling with social workers and doctors. Rescued children and women cannot just be released back into the world, but need counseling, medical care, education, and support to learn to live independently. This transition to the real world must be done in a safe and nurturing environment, because many escaped sex slaves are paranoid of the world around them, untrusting of all men, and have such low self-confidence that they don’t realize they can make decisions for themselves about their bodies and their lives. In order for a rehabilitation center to be effective, it must be in a safe, protected location. It is important that we allocate enough resources to hire security for the facility, as there have been problems with pimps breaking into centers and stealing their girls back.

Structural Change:

Around the world, sex trafficking and sex slavery are a huge issue. Cambodia is not alone. It’s important to help the survivors, if we want to produce a more productive and sustainable workforce in sectors that do not violate human rights.  The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSALVY)’s efforts to eradicate the sex trade are commendable, and I urge you to work towards more of these programs for the benefit of all sectors of society. I was thrilled to learn that the Ministry of Women’s and Veteran’s Affairs and MOSALVY collaborates with UNICEF’s Community-Based Child Protection Network, to teach young community members about the hazards of trafficking, so that individuals are equipped with the tools to recognize potential victims and help them. It is wonderful that MOSLAVY operates two shelters and works to place survivors with NGOs for long-term recovery. I hope that by learning from the Somaly Mam/AFESIP model, the Ministry of the Interior can expand upon its efforts to end sexual exploitation by thoroughly training its staff, expanding its community outreach to both address and prevent these issues, and creating new and improved rehabilitation facilities.  Ideally, we could prevent this before it happens by helping families rise out of extreme poverty without selling their daughters into the sex trade.

Cultural Change:

I believe that Cambodia can benefit from adopting the spirit of Eve Ensler’s V-Day campaign and commitment to ending all forms of violence and silencing of women. Ensler’s “V-girls” global network of activists and advocates is about letting girls embrace their unique energy, compassion, passion, and vibrant joie de vivre to make change. “What changes things is people. People becoming emotional creatures. What’s changing the Congo is people speaking up. if we’re not awake in our emotional creatures, we can’t wake up others,” says Ensler. Cambodia has thousands of girls with strong voices who are being silenced, numbed, buried. If we empower these girls to use their spark to create the change they imagine for this world, we will see a revolution led for the girls of the sex trade, by the girls themselves. What women want and need in a rehabilitation center is a place to heal, a place to be trained to heal others, and a place to gather their strength. We need to use dance, theater, music, art, and writing to harness the energy of girls, and help them rise out of trauma and subjugation. I understand that resources are limited, but may I suggest that we provide every single Cambodian girl who is rescued from a brothel with a copy of Eve Ensler’s “I am an Emotional Creature,” a collection of monologues inspired by girls around the world, about their experiences in and with sex slavery, forced labor, FGM, body image, and the emotional rollercoaster of life. Ensler proves that the written word is tremendously empowering and inspiring of creativity, activism, and lasting grassroots change.

Preventative Measures:

The Human Rights Task Force on Cambodia, an international NGO set up by five Asian and one American human rights organizations, believes that women may be sold into the sex trade by family members, but if they ever escape, they face immense discrimination, isolation, and stigmatization by relatives and friends. We must realize that a woman permanently bears the ‘mark’ of a sex slave, and may be completely abandoned by her former support network. Furthermore, her marriage prospects are significantly diminished, so starting a new life and finding employment and a romantic partner may seem and be impossible. This contributes to the heavy shame that women bear, both during their time in brothels, and once they leave. If we do not do something to eliminate this paralyzing social stigma, we will lose a generation of Cambodians, because their moms will be uneducated, and living in poverty, without the support of their community and government.

In addition to being ostracized, a woman’s physical and psychological health are damaged, sometimes beyond repair. For girls and women who contract HIV/AIDS and other dangerous STIs, as well as those whose psychological distress escalates into severe depression or suicidal thinking, actually leaving the brothel doesn’t have any benefits. Physical “freedom” or distance from the brothel, pimps, and clients doesn’t equal immunity, protection, or an erasure of cumulative damage. If a woman gets pregnant through intercourse with a brothel client, she risks giving birth to an unhealthy baby, or one with HIV. Because of the severity of mother-to-child transmission of this disease, we need to make an effort to make medical services available to these women.

What can the government’s rehabilitation centers do to promote family support of survivors?

  • Offer multi-faceted support (sort of like family therapy) for girls and women who have escaped from the sex trade, or better yet, do it preventatively, in schools and community centers. Teach families that sex slaves are not to blame for the spread of HIV/AIDS, survivors of rape and sexual abuse are not unworthy or impure, having sex with virgins does not cure a man of AIDS, and all women deserve respect, dignity, and the protection of their human rights.
  • Make parents and siblings of survivors a big part of the support network post-rescue. Perhaps holding gatherings to allow parents to voice their concerns, support each other, and learn to accept, respect, and love their daughters, celebrating their strength.

I hope that through collaboration with local and international NGOs, the Ministry of the Interior can expand its efforts to rescue girls and women from the sex trade, and rehabilitate them so that they are empowered, productive members of society. Through dedication to ending the human rights violations of sex trafficking and slavery, we can create a more equal, peaceful, just, and cohesive nation that will thrive economically, socially, and politically.

Thank you for your consideration.

In good health,

Elise Geithner

Stanford University Undergraduate


Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. “Cambodia: Prostitution and Sex Trafficking.” US Department of State. 23 July 2010. Web. 20 Jan. 2011. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2732.htm>.

Ensler, Eve. “I am an Emotional Creature.” Presentation at Castelleja School, Palo Alto, CA. 3 March 2011.

Hansen, Chris. “Children For Sale.” MSNBC. 9 Jan. 2005. Web. 2 Feb. 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4038249/ns/dateline.nbc

HumanTrafficking.org. “Cambodia.”  http://www.humantrafficking.org/organizations/42

3 March 2011.

Human Rights Task Force on Cambodia. “Cambodia: Prostitution and Sex Trafficking.” Human Rights Solidarity. 13 Aug. 2001. Web. 20 Jan. 2011. <hrsolidarity.net>.

Murray, Anne. “From Outrage to Courage.”

The Road to Traffik. Prod. Norman J. Roy. The Somaly Mam Foundation. Web. 12 Jan. 2011. <www.somaly.org>.

Nair, Sowmia. “Child Sex Tourism.” US Department of Justice. Web. 20 Feb. 2011. <http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos/sextour.html>.

Iran's Women: Subtle Dissent and Vocal Protest

February 25th, 2011

Araceli Y. Flores

In last week’s blog, I presented Iran as a unique case study in women’s rights. Like many other Muslim nations, Iran upholds Sharia law, the sacred law of Islam derived from the Qur’an and teachings of Mohammed. As a theocracy, however, Iran relies on Sharia law to dictate not only private customs and traditions, but also public life in Iran. Using Sharia law as the basis of its legal code, the Islamic Republic of Iran has reversed many of the gains made by the women’s movement prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Iranian women face many types of gender-based discrimination, especially in family and marital life. Often, nations have the constitutional framework for equal rights, but societal norms subvert proper enforcement of these laws. In Iran’s case, however, gender-based discriminations are inscribed directly into the legal code and then further supported by societal customs. In this way, Iranian women are doubly denied basic rights and freedoms. Harsh laws dictate how women are allowed to dress, who they can marry, and the rights they have as both wives and mothers. Even harsher punishments, such as public beatings and honor killings, exist for violating these laws: “In cases of divorce, child custody, inheritance and crime, women do not have the same legal rights as men. In the past four years, President Ahmadinejad has made it easier for men to practice polygamy and harder for women to access public sector jobs” [1].

Still, despite the repression that Iranian women face on a day-to-day basis, Iran possesses one of the most resilient, courageous women’s movements in the Middle East. With the election of the moderate leader Mohammad Khatami in 1997, the women’s movement regained footing in Iran. Many women viewed Khatami’s election as a wake up call: nearly two decades after the 1979 revolution, the “freedom and independence” promised by the revolutionary government still had not been achieved; it fact, equality under the law had been denied to women.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, women had formed a huge support base for the Islamic Revolution during its principal stages. Now, two decades removed from the illusions and false promises, women’s alliances emerged to press the state for social and legal policy changes. Both Muslim and secular female activists used various arenas to voice their complaints about gender segregation, widespread domestic violence, and the discriminatory effects of Iranian family law. Interestingly, Iranian women activists have utilized a wide array of mediums to get their message across, from mass media to the film industry to literary works and poetry .

Within the last decade, Iran’s women’s movement has made great strides in increasing women’s participation in a variety of industries— while the total number of women participating in the labor force has not grown dramatically, women have expanded their presence and influence into nearly every sector: commercial, educational, agricultural, entertainment, and even political. Moreover, women’s education has boomed, surpassing men in percentages of college enrollment and graduate degrees. Using these skills, the women’s movement continues to expand their mission on a national level by publishing women’s journals, university magazines, and even feminist website sites.

The women’s movement in Iran has two faces: subtle defiance and vocal protest [2]. On a small scale, women artfully flout the state’s strict dress code through “carefully planned flashes of their hair under their head scarves, brightly colored fingernails, and trendy clothing that can be glimpsed under bulky coasts and cloaks” [3]. These small acts of defiance showcase the spirit of rebellion that fuels the Iranian women’s movement. On a larger scale, these same women have form the frontline of marches and protests against the government. The highly contested reelection of Ahmadinejad in 2009 provides a remarkable example of just how readily and willingly women in Iran will fight for their rights. Iranian women marched alongside men to protest the fraudulent elections, brushing up against the armed military who fought to suppress the crowds [4]. Women were among several of the protestors and demonstrators who were fatally wounded in the skirmishes. Unafraid, the women’s movement took to the streets to protest, challenging another term of governance under Ahmadinejad’s hard line government and continued repression of women. One Iranian woman, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, commented that inspiration behind women’s involvement in the electoral protests originates from long seated resentment and frustration at the government’s rollbacks of women’s rights: “Because women are the most dissatisfied people in society, that is why their presence is more prominent” [5].

The women’s movement in Iran demonstrates the determination of women to courageously challenge the repressive laws placed upon them by their government. The expansion of women’s presence across Iranian industries and their commitment to education provide encouraging signs of change and growth. Hopefully, as demands for greater human rights and civil liberties sweep the Middle East —as seen by 2011 revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain– the Iranian government will be charged both domestically and externally to recognize and grant greater freedoms to its people. Iranian women continue to be strong agents of this change.



[1] Mahdi, Ali Akbar. “The Iranian Women’s Movement: A Century Struggle.” The Muslim World (2009) http://go.owu.edu/~aamahdi/Iranian%20Women%20Movement%20A%20Century%20Long%20Struggle.pdf

[2] Lyden, Jacki. “Despite Odds, Women’s Movement Persists In Iran” NPR.org(2009): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100039579

[3] “Iranian women fight on the frontlines of protest,” MSNBC.com (2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31531225/ns/world_news-mideast/n_africa/

[4] Basu, Moni. “Women in Iran march against discrimination” CNN WORLD (2009): http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-19/world/iran.protests.women_1_iranian-women-mohammed-khatami-reformist?_s=PM:WORLD

[5] “Iranian women fight on the frontlines of protest,” MSNBC.com (2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31531225/ns/world_news-mideast/n_africa/

Do something.

February 24th, 2011

If you’ve been outraged by what you’ve read, what you’ve seen and what you know to be the sad reality for millions of women, then this is one post you need to read.

In light of all the problems I have focused on in my posts—rape as a tool, political conspiracy against gendercide, domestic violence in oppressed societies—I’d like to take up Anne’s call to turn toward the solutions, the stories of women’s courage amidst the outrage. The best way to do this, I believe is by highlighting a few organizations that are taking a new approach to change in the female empowerment movement. As we learn about all the critical issues facing women in the world, whether they are in war-time situation or in their own homes, we need to start asking ourselves how we can get involved. A revolutionary solution often starts with a very simple idea.

Women for Women International

• What they do: “Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies. We’re changing the world one woman at a time.” [1]
• How they do it: They help women move from victims to active citizens by providing financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education. [1] Their work has reached countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Congo, Nigeria, and Sudan.
• What you can do:

  1. Host an Event
  2. Volunteer (though most immediate opportunities are in the D.C. office, you can e-mail volunteers@womenforwomen.org. to get more information about getting involved!)
  3. Intern (there are opportunities in policy, fundraising, executive office, advocacy, grassroots, marketing, etc.)


• What they do: CARE is a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. They work “ alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. CARE supports community-based efforts to “improve education, prevent the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources.” They also deliver emergency aid in cases of war and disaster. [2]
• How they do it: They have teams set up for each of their initiatives (from Agriculture to Nutrition to Emergency Relief). The teams work with local policy makers and organizations to provide resources and solutions. They provide funding for clinics, push for research and international law reform, raise funds for relief efforts, and run hundreds of local projects. Check out some of their team efforts here.
• What you can do:

  1. Look into events to attend/get involved in with “CARE in your community
  2. Start a CARE profile or a blog (you’ve been dong in this class for a quarter, why not keep going?)

Feminist Majority Foundation (and Feminist Majority)

• What they do: FMF’s mission is to “develop bold, new strategies and programs to advance women’s equality, non-violence, economic development, and, most importantly, empowerment of women and girls in all sectors of society.”
• How they do it: They do research and policy development, public education and development programs, grassroots projects, and participates in and organizes forums on issues of women’s equality and empowerment. The sister organization, the Feminist Majority, engages in lobbying and other direct political action, pursuing equality through legislative avenues. [3]
• What you can do:

  1. Get involved in one of their campaigns (from Freeing Iranian feminists to fighting fake abortion Clinics!)
  2. Volunteer—either permanently in their D.C. or LA office or get in contact to launch a local campaign. To inquire e-mail volunteerdc@feminist.org or call 703-522-2214 (for DC) or volunteerla@feminist.org 310-556-2500 (for LA).
  3. Intern (DC or LA)

I call each of you who read this article to critically evaluate each of these organizations. Ask yourself:

Am I passionate about this solution? Should I get involved?
What are they doing right? What can they do better?
Who else is working on these issues?
What can I do?

First steps:

o Get on Twitter.
(Most of the above organizations have an account, start following., start posting…)
o Use that Facebook.
(Facebook gives you the option to step out onto the modern front lines. “Like” an organization, join an international women’s network, or check out a regional group.)

Get involved. Don’t just be another bystander with open ears, a wealth of knowledge, and a stagnant desire to do something—go do it.

According to a Newsweek/Gallup opinion poll 56% of women and over 66% of young women in the United States self-identified as feminists. [4] I would venture to say 100% of the women (and our male allies) in our class would self-identify as such. As feminists, it is our duty to not only know the issues, but to move forward…


[1] http://www.womenforwomen.org/about-women-for-women/we-support-women-survivors-globally.php

[2] http://www.care.org/about/index.asp

[3] http://feminist.org/welcome/index.html

[4] http://feminist.org/welcome/index.html

A Sisterhood of Support

February 24th, 2011

After exploring the horrifying causes and consequences of the sex trade in Cambodia, I think it is time to cover a more positive aspect on the issue: the courage of survivors, the importance of support during recovery, and the road to healing. I’ve chosen to explore some successful programs in Cambodia which aim to empower women through various approaches. As Anne highlights in her book, there are many women’s groups who have come together to support each other and advocate for change. I believe that we can learn from these groups’ approaches and experiences how to best support women and girls who have been rescued or have escaped from the sex trade. As emphasized by Betsi Hoody and Devi Leiper of the Global Fund for Women, it’s “rights not rescue” that we must remember to focus on. With issues of human rights violations, I’ve found that is so important to look at both prevention, education, and awareness and ways to rehabilitate the survivors of abuse and help them integrate back into society, in culturally sensitive and healthy ways.

Devi Leiper explained that many women in Cambodia want factory jobs and economic independence. They move to urban centers hoping to find employment that will allow them to provide for their family, gain social status, and feel empowered by her efforts. With the migration of poor women into the cities, we see many getting coerced into trafficking schemes – taken to other parts of Asia for domestic work, and tricked into sex work domestically or abroad. Women are easily trafficked because their labor (not to mention their worth as human beings) is undervalued and often goes undocumented. So what happens when women see their only opportunity for income or economic independence in sex work? In the words of Somaly Mam, many girls and women “have no choice. They have to sell themselves, they have to have sex.” What if they are lured by promises of a good job, but get taken to a brothel and become indebted to the owner?

What about the girls and women to escape the brothels, or are rescued by NGOs or sudden police raids? Where do they live once they are “free?” How do they reintegrate into society, join the workforce, regain the trust and love of their family? How can we help survivors of abuse find support, love, and acceptance in a supportive community of fellow survivors? I believe we can begin to tackle these challenging questions by learning from the missions and actions of these organizations:

1. Kachin Women Association Thailand (KWAT)

  • Fact: Young women are vulnerable to forced sex because of the violent conflicts in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia.
  • Goal: Train young women to become leaders of the women’s rights movement and work to cultivate gender equality in the community.
  • Approach: Promotes women’s rights and tries to restore their status in post-war society through leadership and skills training “to help women become politically aware and economically independent” (Murray 155).

2. Girl Guides Association of Cambodia

  • Fact: Today’s girls are tomorrow’s women. If we empower young females, we can cultivate gender equality and increase understanding of women’s unique health issues.
  • Goal: Educate young girls to become “the agents of change” by teaching them about domestic violence, gender equity, women’s health issues.
  • Approach: Offer non-formal education and encourage participation in community projects and camping trips to help the girls “develop self-esteem, appreciation for leadership, and concrete roles as responsible members of society” (Murray 68).

3. Urban Poor Women Development, Phnom Penh (UPWD)

  • Fact: Poor women in poor urban areas generally have low social status and limited economic opportunities.
  • Goal: Help poor women in urban areas find jobs and develop economic independence and increased social status.
  • Approach: Give funds to women to start small businesses, train women to be leaders in local organizations and NGOs (Murray 5).

4. Strey Khmer in Cambodia

  • Fact: Cambodia’s political system is dominated by men. Women’s voices and rights need to be heard and respected.
  • Goal: Encourage women to get involved in politics, so that at least 30% of government seats will be filled by female leaders in the near future.
  • Approach: Lead workshops in language training and leadership skills, teach classes on gender-based violence and women’s health, include male supporters of women’s rights in the effort (Murray 223).

As I discussed in my first blog post, I am most moved and inspired by the mission and work of the Somaly Mam Foundation. Founded by Somaly Mam, an escaped Cambodian sex slave, the foundation works with AFESIP to fund shelters in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand that house rescued girls and offer them “the comprehensive services they need to heal, and to create healthy, sustainable futures for themselves.”

Somaly is more than a survivor, she’s a human rights crusader, saving girls from brothels and giving them a new life. “The Road to Traffik” movie explains that “Somaly was once told by a man that if she wanted to survive, she had to keep her silence. But she is no longer keeping silent. She is giving a voice to these girls.” Somaly’s work is a living testament that “raw courage can transcend a world of cruelty.” Her organization is unique because it employs doctors, social workers, and former victims to teach the girls and women at her centers about AIDS prevention, sexual health, emotional health, women’s rights, and the joys of living freely and independently. “Being a former victim myself, I know exactly what their needs are. What they need most is love and understanding,” she explains.

  • Goal: Provide girls and women with the skills to reintegrate into society and the courage and self-esteem to reduce their risk of falling back into the sex trade.
  • Approach: “All of our programs share an emphasis on the collective voice of the survivors, who participate in every aspect of our work. Survivors who have gone through our rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration programs can choose to join our Voices for Change initiative, which offers them the opportunity”  to do outreach and teach classes to other survivors. VFC members visit brothels, distributing condoms and doing HIV/AIDS education.

The women who have started these organizations are strong, loving, courageous, creative, and determined. The women they serve are survivors, healers, mentors, teachers, mothers, sisters, lovers, and friends. The power of women to envision and actualize change cannot be underestimated. In the words of Maya Angelou, “You can write me down in history with hateful, twisted lies, you can tread me in this very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”


Murray, Anne. “From Outrage to Courage.”

Roy, Norman Jean. “The Road to Traffik.” <Somalymamfoundation.org>

Women's Rights in Iran

February 18th, 2011

Araceli Y. Flores

Over the course of this blog, I hope to shed light on the gap between the rights “guaranteed” by legal institutions and the very disparate reality that women face in accessing and attaining these rights on the ground. Bangladesh, as presented in my previous posts, fits this mold perfectly: Over the years, its constitution, constitutional amendments, and legal frameworks have worked to promote a progressively more liberal view of women’s rights and freedoms. While there are an infinite number of offenses to these rights, a commitment exists, at the very least, in written form.

This week, I would like to address a completing different, grimmer set of circumstances in which the government itself perpetrates abuses of women’s rights and justifies these abuses through the nation’s legal code. Iran presents a unique case in the study of women’s rights. Since the end of the twentieth century, the world has seen the advent of globalization and a general trend toward increased democratization and economic liberalization. With these two forces working hand in hand, societies are often pushed toward increased openness and challenged to protect the rights of their citizens. Instead of progress, however, Iran has seen a reversal of the rights provided to women: On February 11, 1979 the pro-Western Iranian constitutional monarchy was overthrown and the nation became the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new, theocratic leadership rolled back much of the progress made by the women’s movement under the Iranian monarchy. Ironically, many women initially supported the Iranian Revolution because they believed its promises of greater “Independence and Freedom” would help advance equity for all citizens. [1]

Sadly, the women’s rights gained under the Shah regime were systematically removed and denied under the new government. Even before the Revolutionary Council had indoctrinated a constitution for the “new” Iran, they passed a series of laws directed toward effacing women’s basic marital and family rights: The revolutionary regime passed laws allowing men to take multiple wives and granting men full custody of children in all divorce situations [2]. Just last year, a new bill was passed allowing men to marry new wives without consent of their current wife. The bill also places greater restrictions on women’s access to alimony post-divorce, and places taxes on alimony that is received. [3]

Interestingly, women in Iran have greater access to basic political freedoms, such as the right to vote, run for Parliament, and travel freely than they do to social freedoms and bodily protections: Women are subject to police beatings and torture for violating perceived social norms, such as immodest dress in public. Moreover, women’s protections within the private space, the home, are even more tenuous—many women are silent suffers of domestic violence. [4]

A recent petition to revoke Iran’s status as member of the UN Women’s Commission captures the social status of women perfectly: “Women lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women’s admission at universities, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws.” [5]

These realities paint a grim picture of the status of women’s rights in Iran. Next week, I hope to explore the ways in which different women’s movements within civil society are challenging the social norms and restrictions placed on them by their government.



[1] “Women’s rights under Iran’s revolution” BBC NEWS (2009): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7879797.stm

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Iranians Protest Bill on Rights of Women” New York Times (2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/world/middleeast/18iran.html

[4] “EXCLUSIVE: U.N. Elects Iran to Commission on Women’s Rights” FoxNew.com (2010): http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/04/29/elects-iran-commission-womens-rights/#ixzz1EHxP6llC

[5] Ibid.

Women’s Rights Awareness Education in Refugee Settlements

February 17th, 2011

As we have heard in class and in our readings, violence directed at women in refugee situations is sadly quite common. Refugee women fear for their safety at night, outside of the camps, inside of the camps (due to cramped living spaces), and when the men in their families leave in search of work (1). As we’ve also heard, many women aren’t aware of their rights to safety, education, food, and other basic human rights. Educational campaigns can be helpful in raising awareness among women concerning their rights, but it remains to be seen whether this awareness will lead to decreases in incidence of violence.

Programs to spread awareness about sexual violence and women’s rights can cover a multitude of topics and take many forms. According to the UNFPA, “Topics could include preventive measures, seeking assistance, laws prohibiting sexual violence, and sanctions and penalties for perpetrators. Pamphlets, posters, newsletters, radio and other mass media programmes, videos and community entertainment can all be used to transmit information about preventing sexual violence” (2).

After campaigns to raise rights awareness, women report that there is less stigma associated with reporting sexual violence and that women feel more “…that they have the right to speak” (1). However, in several camps of Bhutanese refugees studied, incidence of violence increased during this time, despite the campaign. In these same Bhutanese camps, there has been increased awareness on the part of men in terms of appropriate behavior and education about sexual abuse. Education about actions that can be taken if a woman is victimized is also important to emphasize, so that women know that they have options if assaulted, and that it isn’t their place or duty to be victimized by perpetrators, including their husbands (1).

The UNFPA cites involvement of refugee women themselves and information campaigns as two key components in the fight against sexual violence against refugee women. Committees of women should meet in order to speak up for women’s issues and do what they can to protect at-risk women. The UNFPA also says that it’s necessary for both refugees and health workers to acknowledge the problem of sexual violence in settlements (2). With continued efforts to fight violence against women in refugee settlements, it’s possible that incidence to violence will decrease. However, according to one woman, “This problem is due to so many people being packed so tightly together. As long as we are in these camps, in such cramped conditions, such problems will exist. No amount of social awareness training will be able to deal with this. To remove this problem, there has to be a permanent solution for the refugees” (1).

1) http://www.hrw.org/en/node/10953/section/5

2) http://www.unfpa.org/emergencies/manual/4.htm


February 17th, 2011

Saving Vaginas, Protecting Vaginas, Celebrating Vaginas!

I am still reeling, beaming, and laughing after seeing a phenomenal  performance of “The Vagina Monologues” on campus. It was my first exposure to the production, and I was moved beyond words. It definitely made it particularly special that I am close with the director and several actresses, but it was the spirit of the words and movements that glided across the stage, the engagement of men and women in the audience, and the love and warmth shared by all that really made my week. Watching the monologues got me thinking about our society’s general discomfort with using words such as “orgasm” and “vagina” in conversation, and in public. Or the guilt women often feel when privately reflecting on their pleasurable sexual experiences or fantasies. I consider myself very open, liberal, and extroverted when it comes to discussing sexuality, the female body, and sexual pleasure in general, and yet, it isn’t until recently that I’ve felt comfortable talking about MY vagina, for example. In the medical, education, and philanthropic fields, many of us “get” the importance of prioritizing women’s emotional and physical health, talking about FGM and obstetric fistulae and the injustices of sexual slavery and rape as a weapon of war, domination, and control. Yet, most American schools’ sex education programs are so limited, barely skimming the surface of a topic that is rich with (controversial?) layers of pleasure, mystery, and intimacy. It’s quite common to pick up an article of Cosmopolitan magazine and read “101 Tips to Make Your Guy Go Wild” or “Pampering Your Hoo-Ha,” yet discussing these techniques in a public forum is considered bold.

So, in honor of Eve Ensler and in the spirit of “V-Day” (a global activist movement that supports anti-violence organizations throughout the world, helping them to continue and expand their core work on the ground, while drawing public attention to the larger fight to stop worldwide violence (including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), sex slavery) against women and girls), I will explore the issues associated with rescuing girls and women from the sex trade in Cambodia, and how to best offer therapeutic support to the girls (and their vaginas) and their families!

Rescuing Girls, Teaching Parents

I’ve really appreciated the comments and feedback I’ve received on my prior blog posts about Cambodian women and girls in the sex trade.

1. Vaughan raised the question, “Are we hurting these girls by raiding their brothels and taking away their livelihoods? Many have no education and came from nothing, many willingly sell their bodies and make much more money in this industry than they could in any other?”

2. Warner suggested, “Families should not have to make a ‘cost-benefit’ analysis of selling their own daughters.”

The Human Rights Task Force on Cambodia, an international NGO set up by five Asian and one American human rights organizations, believes that “the increased punishment for parents and guardians selling children” is ineffective and worrisome. Punishment does not address the root cause of what pushed a parent to sell their child in the first place: desperate poverty. Instead, HRTFC says, “a process of education and awareness-raising of parents” would be a much more positive part of a revised law on kidnapping, trafficking, and exploitation.

What are the problems with family?

  • Women may be sold into the sex trade by family members, but if they ever escape, they face immense discrimination, isolation, and stigmatization by relatives and friends.
  • A woman permanently bears the ‘mark’ of a sex slave, and may be completely abandoned by her former support network. Furthermore, her marriage prospects are significantly diminished, so starting a new life and finding employment and a romantic partner may seem and be impossible. This contributes to the heavy shame that women bear, both during their time in brothels, and once they leave.
  • A woman’s social status, physical, and psychological health are damaged, sometimes beyond repair. For girls and women who contract HIV/AIDS and other dangerous STIs, as well as those whose psychological distress escalates into severe depression or suicidal thinking, actually leaving the brothel doesn’t have any benefits. Physical “freedom” or distance from the brothel, pimps, and clients doesn’t equal immunity, protection, or an erasure of cumulative damage.

What can we do to help?

  • Offer multi-faceted support (sort of like family therapy) for girls and women who have escaped from the sex trade, or better yet, do it preventatively, in schools and community centers. Teach families that sex slaves are not to blame for the spread of HIV/AIDS, survivors of rape and sexual abuse are not unworthy or impure, having sex with virgins does not cure a man of AIDS, and all women deserve respect, dignity, and the protection of their human rights.
  • Make parents and siblings of survivors a big part of the support network post-rescue. Perhaps holding gatherings, much like “Family Members of Alcoholics” support groups, will help parents voice their concerns, support eachother, and learn to accept, respect, and love their daughters, celebrating their strength.
  • Change the way women are portrayed in the media. How can we make it clear that the female body is not an object, to be used, controlled, dominated, and hurt by men?

Unfortunately, many women and men who try to speak out against these unjust views of women and the deplorable condition of brothels, are persecuted and discouraged. As we saw with Somaly Mam and her co-workers, she has been personally threatened by men who are trying to stop her work (her 14-year-old daughter was kidnapped a few years ago, but luckily found in a far away Cambodian village, after having been drugged and gang raped). Mu Sochua is a Cambodian politician and women’s rights activist.

“She founded the first women’s organization in Cambodia, Khemar, and in 1998 became the first woman ever to be elected into Parliament and hold a seat in the Women’s Affairs Ministry. Mu Sochua has worked extensively to end sex slavery, including negotiating an agreement with Thailand allowing Cambodian women trafficked as sex workers to return to their home country instead of being jailed. She was nominated for a Nobel Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women in 2005. In the past year, after witnessing first hand the ongoing injustice against the people of her country, specifically the women, Mu Sochua filed a lawsuit against Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia who has ruled the country for over 30 years. As a result she faces persecution and prison.” (VDay.org).

Sochua says, “in many people’s eyes Cambodia is on the road to reconstruction. Unfortunately, this stage of reconstruction has faltered and in many ways Cambodia is fast regressing to soft dictatorship. Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge genocide, at least 1 million Cambodian children go to bed hungry every night while hundreds of thousands of Cambodian girls are ruined in brothels” ( VDay.org).

Sochua has personally experienced the damaging impact of Cambodia’s pervasive attitudes towards women as sexually deviant, if they attempt to use their strength to speak out or break free.  “Despite the fact that I have been assaulted – with clothes torn from my body in the attempt to prevent the improper use of government vehicles for campaigning in Cambodia – by a general nonetheless – I now find myself assaulted yet again – this time by the prime minister himself who recently compared me to a hustler or prostitute, his words of shame blasted through a media that is totally controlled by his own party and family” (VDay.org).