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The Silenced Voice

May 28th, 2010

After a whole quarter of writing this blog, I am sick of hearing myself talk. Who am I to write on this topic, pick apart the problem and even endeavor to attempt to suggest solutions? So for my final entry, I’ve decided to go back to the source, where I probably should have started. Instead of imposing my Western, elitist, academic, and removed ideas on an issue, this week, for once, I want to do what we have agreed upon this quarter as necessary for social change. I want to let the people who are affected by the issue, day in and day out, speak, in hopes that their voices will echo much louder than my own.

A child’s poem about Aids and Hiv in Kenya.

My Name is AIDS

the whole world is crying.
bad, bad word has come.
europe, asia, africa, america and australia are crying.
i am the misery.
aids is my name.
selection i make not.

i am the misery.
aids is my name.
careful have escaped me.
but the foolish have not.

Roshila Nair “Fanon’s Land”
“Threadbare in the blood
bloody in the tongue
tonguetied by the birth push
we have washed up on a word
like an old bed sheet
wrung dry of the fight
on laundry day…
…love still finds me here
in the post-colonial hour,
among the politics of viruses
and neo-liberal economic policies,
here among the grand things that have curled around us
and sprouted wings”

Eddie Vulani Maluleke “Nobody Ever Said AIDS”
Friday night shebeen
Sis Thandeka’s kitchen
Singing loud and rich
To anyone who clapped
And Jabu
All got sick
And skinny like broomsticks…
And just drank and drank
Then they died of TB
In 1996.
…We all died
Coughed and died
We died of TB
That was us
Whispering it at funerals
Because nobody ever said AIDS”

“Just a Child” Mthuthuzeli Isaac Skosana,
“I’m just a child
not prescribed as a cure
I’m not your HIV medication
even my scream could not stop you
your ears are my witness
I’m just a child.”

May we never forget to listen to the voices of those we seek to help. Thanks for everything everybody in this class has taught me this quarter!

Nobantu Rasebotsa, Meg Samuelson and Kylie Thomas (eds), Nobody Ever Said AIDS: Poems and Stories from Southern Africa (Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2004), 191 p.

The promise of social security for the people with intellectual disabilities

May 27th, 2010

After looking into women and disabilities internationally, and cataloguing their problems and needs, as well as their abilities, I began to wonder what resources are available to them. Do their countries provide social security? What does it look like? Does everyone have access to it, or only the literate, educated and urban?

The International Labor Organization asserts that “more than for any other group, including people with other forms of disability, for people with intellectual disabilities, unemployment rates and exclusion from education, employment, health care and other services, and from belonging in their communities are high” (Inclusion Innernational, 2006). With this in mind, and looking at intellectual disabilities, I looked up WHO’s most recent global report in intellectual disabilities.

WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse conducted a survey “Atlas”, on the global state of intellectual disabilities. They didn’t find any striking trends, either by income level or geographic region, in the recognition of intellectual disabilities. Low-income countries are less likely to use international standards or professional diagnostic criteria in evaluating intellectual disease – just over half of them do. However, there isn’t a significant difference between levels of income by country and whether or not they have a policy or program that addresses intellectual disabilities. In the world, 59% of countries have a policy on intellectual disabilities, 22% have intellectual disabilities mentioned in other policies and 18% have no mention of intellectual disabilities in any of their policies.

This, however, doesn’t address what the benefits are. ILO (2010) found that in many countries, the public sector is primarily responsible for financing services to people with disabilities. In Africa, less than 30% of countries provide benefits or services to people with intellectual disabilities. This is including disability pension, subsidies for food, medicine and transport, health security or social security, to adults or families with a child who has an intellectual disability. More than 50% of governments offer no disability benefits at all. Van Ginneken (1999) found that in developing countries over 50% of the population aren’t covered by social security against basic risks (disability, illness, death, widowhood, natural disasters, etc.)

Hagemejer and Behrendt (2008) presents that case that basic social security is an investment with high returns even for low-income countries, and is a necessary building block for sustainable development. He argues that the cost of a disability package is affordable even for low-income countries, especially when one considers integrated donor aid into the financing. A social security program offers some protection to a vulnerable population from economic shocks, something that is important if a country is trying to grow out of poverty by transitioning into new sectors. Countries with social pension schemes include Brazil, Botswana, India, Mauritius, Lesotho, Namibia, Nepal and South Africa. Mauritius and Namibia have even developed pension programs (with pensions oat 30% of per capita GDP) to cover all elderly citizens. Based on this assumption, the average cost of providing basic old age and disability pensions is estimated to range from 0.6-1.5% of a coutry’s GDP. Drake et al (2009) even show that finding suitable employment for people with mental illnesses can reduced or prevent disabilities.

There is a lot more research to be done, and probably many more stumbling blocks before social security can be provided to 100% of the population, but I think low costs and the possibility of strong results, both in personal freedoms and happiness, as well as economic, lend promise to the goal of social security.

Works cited:
Drake, R. E., J. S. Skinner, G. R. Bond, and H. H. Goldman. 2009. Social security and mental illness: reducing disability with supported employment. Health Affairs 28(3): 761-770.

Hagemejer, K. and C. Behrendt. 2008. Can low-income countries afford basic social security? Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Accessed 27 May 2010 from .

Inclusion International. 2006. Hear our voices: a global report. People with an intellectual disability and their families speak out on poverty and exclusion: 2. Accessed on 27 May 2010 from .

International Labor Organization. 2010. Questions and Answers on Intellectual Disabilities. Access on 27 May 2010, from .

Van Ginneken. 1999. Social Security for the Informal Sector. A new Challenge for the
developing countries. In: International Social Security Review 52: 49-71.

World Health Organization: Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. 2007. Atlas: Global Resources for persons with intellectual disabilities 2007.

Change is inevitable

May 27th, 2010

I have to take a stand so that society can see that change is inevitable.”  – Men as Partners activist

As I sat down to write this final entry, I wasn’t quite sure how end my blog about engaging men in the effort to promote international women’s health and human rights.  Throughout the past eight weeks, I’ve talked about the reasons for getting men involved in international women’s health, the barriers and conflicts, and actual ways in which various organizations are engaging men.  I wanted to make sure that I included a list of different organizations that are leading the charge in working with men to play constructive roles in promoting gender equity and health in their families and communities so that you can go and explore the websites yourselves:

I also wanted to summarize the many thoughts and ideas presented throughout this blog.  Firstly, I think it is important to question men’s and women’s attitudes and expectations about gender rules in order to achieve gender equality.  According to MenEgage, manhood is not defined by “how many sexual partners you have, by using violence against women or men, by how much pain you can endure, by how much power you can exert over others, or by whether you are gay or straight.”  Manhood is defined “by building relationships based on respect and equality, by speaking out against violence in your society, by having the strength to ask for help, by shared-decision making and shared power, and by how much you are able to respect the diversity and rights of those around you.”  Furthermore, gender is relational.  Men, along with women, should be engaged in achieving gender equality and in achieving the rights, health, and well-being of girls in order to truly prevent such abuses from occurring in the first place.

There are some other concepts that I did not get to discuss, but I thought I would just list them so that you can think about them on their own: engaging men as caregivers, addressing the vulnerabilities of men and boys are sometimes also victims, and building an evidence base to more effectively design programs.  This movement is fairly new, and I am excited to see that there has been so much progress within the past five years.  So what are the next steps?  I think there needs to be continuous efforts to make this movement more widespread, so widespread that is the norm.  These organizations are showing that cultural and social norms about manhood can be redefined and that it is possible to change the status quo.  Like the quote above, I really do hope that change is inevitable, and each change needs to start with every individual man as a partner, father, community member, and human being.

Nuns in Action

May 27th, 2010

Growing up in a Catholic family, nuns have always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Aside from Sister Thomas Marie who could dance and sing with the best of them in my small church population, my interaction with these puzzling women who wear those interesting outfits has been somewhat limited. Upon deciding to write about this topic for my blog, I gave my mom a brief phone call to hear a few stories from her days in Catholic School, and I found that her memories were mostly concerned with their habits (the outfits they wore) and the fear that a few sister’s had instilled in her. My favorite two accounts show both sides of this. According to my mom, Sister Felipe, would roll her habit up and tie it in her belt where the rosary beads would hang, and then proceed to play basketball with the kids. The other paints the nuns in a little more of a negative light, in her first grade classroom, my mom was so afraid of her teacher, Sister Judith, that she wet her pants instead of raising her hand to go to the bathroom… apparently some nuns are not only mysterious, but terrifying as well.
Despite these few little anecdotes, I still didn’t feel as if I really have a grasp on what nuns are like, I decided that I would do a little bit of investigation inspired by my mom’s quote that, “The best nuns are the most human”.
Nuns and Sex Trafficking
While there have been many groups of nuns throughout the world that have stepped up to call attention to the issue of sex trafficking, and provide support for those that have been victims to it, one of the biggest movements at the moment is a group of nuns worldwide that are dedicating themselves to preventing sex trafficking occurring during the 2010 World Cup. They are at the forefront of a campaign titled, “2010 Should Be About the Game,” which will target fans, potential victims, religious leaders and the general public with the hopes of limiting the amount of trafficking that occurs during the World Cup in South Africa, something that many are concerned about.
Nun Quotes
“Tess Duenas is forty-two, but she appears decades younger, with her short dark hair, jade green eyes, and suntan from gardening and running; I did a double take when I first spotted her jogging in shorts around the monastery . . . Her biggest obstacle was celibacy. Tess asked various sisters how they dealt with the physical longings. Some sisters joked that they took showers; others said they went for walks or sought physical activities. Others confessed celibacy was difficult at first but became easier as they got older. “I’m not going to deny it. I’m not going to stuff it,” she added. “It’s a matter of going and sharing our story with each other. We joke about it. That’s one tension-relieving way. We also cry about it and say, ‘You know, I’m just having one of those horny days, so watch out!’” . . .
I have to admit that I was particularly shocked by this quote, like I said earlier, I have always viewed nuns as somewhat of an unknown, and hearing them talk about sex and being horny really does not fall under the umbrella of typical topics I’d expect to hear a nun discussing. I think its great that Tess is so open about this subject, and how it really brings to life the community that nuns can live in.

Nuns on the New Healthcare Bill
“Catholic nuns who “broke with the bishops and the Vatican to announce their support for health care reform,” adding “This brave and important move, demonstrating that they cared as much about the health care of families in America as they did about church hierarchy, was a critical demonstration of support.” A group called NETWORK claimed in a March 17 letter to the House of Representatives that it represented 59,000 women religious across the U.S. It urged members of Congress to support the bill. It was cited as support for the legislation by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic.”

While reading about these somewhat “rebellious” nuns, I was encouraged by these women who had taken the courage to break away from the rest of the church. In reading about the reasons why they supported the health care bill, one of the main ideas was the right to health that they believe every individual to have, along with many other rights that they believe in. Much of the rhetoric that they used in their reasoning for this was similar to our class in that every human is valuable, and has rights in which cost effectiveness, etc. should not hinder.

Nuns and Teenage Moms
The concept behind the residential facility was introduced in 1887, when five Catholic Misericordia nuns arrived in Staten Island to help care for pregnant women and shelter them. . . All of the girls, who are referred to Rosalie Hall by the Administration of Children’s Services, are in foster care, and many come from troubled homes with histories of violence, drug abuse, and poverty. At Rosalie Hall, the girls receive pre-natal care and work closely with social workers who address their psychosocial needs . . .
While the Catholic Church has gotten quite the bad rep for being anti-abortion, one positive thing that they have done that is a positive is the number of houses they have opened to pregnant women, or mothers who are left without support. The church where I grew up going operated a house such as this one, where women could come to stay with their children in a safe environment. These nuns have cared for thousands of women when no one else has, and I think that that in itself is very commendable.
While this is only a glimpse into the various lives that nuns lead, hopefully it will help to transform their image from mysterious women who choose to live lives in those funny outfits, to powerful women that live in community, building each other up, and encouraging others to make the world a better place. These women are anything but quiet and meek as many expect them to be, and they are full of wisdom, courage, and devotion to other women around them.

Rays of Hope: Top 10 Best Places to be a Mother

May 27th, 2010

News has been good lately: the number of maternal deaths has been reported to have dropped from over 500,000 in 1980 to about 350,000. Reasons for the improvement among pregnant women might be attributed to lower pregnancy rates, fewer women in extreme poverty, access to education, and the presence of medical professionals.

According to the State of the World’s Mothers Report 2010, the top ten best places to be a mother include Norway, which ranks first, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. These countries enjoy low maternal mortality and relatively generous maternal leave policies. These factors are assessed using the “Mother’s Index,” which is based on an analysis of indicators of women’s and children’s health and well-being. So far, the index has indicated that access to education, economic opportunities, and maternal and child health care gives mothers and their children the best chance to live and thrive.

Despite these notable improvements, much work remains to be done, particularly in the bottom ten places to be a mother. These countries include Afghanistan, which ranks last, Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea, and Equatorial Guinea. These countries lack adequate access to health care. In Afghanistan and Chad, fewer than 15 percent of births are attended by skilled health personnel. In contrast, skilled personnel are present at virtually every birth in Norway. The factors that impede access to this kind of health care include lack of skilled personnel and lack of patient education and income to pay for such health care.

Looking ahead, those who advocate change have realized that creative approaches are necessary to address these inadequacies. For example, one approach in Sub-Saharan Africa involves a handbook on maternal and child health care titled “The Maternal and Child Health”. The handbook was first introduced in Japan in the 1940’s and will now be introduced in eight countries in East Africa to help track maternal and child health. The purpose of the handbook is to keep records of a mother’s condition during pregnancy, delivery, and growth of the child, as well as immunization records, so that health professionals can refer to it during referrals, follow ups, and emergencies.

Such initiatives that are underway and the numbers that keep dropping give me hope that one day, the maternal mortality crisis will be a distant memory. To me, mothers are the most valuable people in the world. They love, they nurture, and they empower. I have faith that the efforts of the kind-hearted will win in the end, and these phenomenal women will be saved all the time, every time.

Pretty woman wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to fit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

–Maya Angelou


“AllAfrica.com: Africa: New Handbook to Improve Maternal and Child Health.” AllAfrica.com: Home. Web. 28 May 2010. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201003030439.html>.

“Maternal Mortality Drops Around the World.” Women’s Rights | Change.org. Web. 28 May 2010. <http://womensrights.change.org/blog/view/maternal_mortality_drops_around_the_world>.

State of the World’s Mothers Report 2010, <http://www.savethechildren.net/alliance/what_we_do/every_one/news.html>

The UN and the fight against sexual violence in conflict

May 27th, 2010

In this final week of my blog, I will focus on the UN as a key player in the fight against sexual violence in conflict situations. Many people have mixed feelings about the UN, recognizing the value in its conventions and resolutions but also expressing frustration at its slow pace of work and its frequent inability to enact quick and concrete change. Both sentiments apply when considering the UN’s work on sexual violence in conflict zones thus far, but I do think the UN is beginning to step up and take notice of this issue – particularly this year. To that end, I would like to highlight what the UN is doing right now and where I think it needs to go.

On February 2, 2010, the UN Secretary General appointed Margot Wallstrom as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict – a position that had never before existed [1]. I believe this represents a major development in the fight against sexual violence, both symbolically and pragmatically. Symbolically, the creation of a role and a team within the UN system dedicated to addressing this specific issue demonstrates the recognition of both its importance and of the urgent need for change. Pragmatically, Wallstrom is now positioned to help the UN enact real change and push for desperately needed solutions to the abuses. In one interview, Wallstrom identified her priorities as bringing these issues to the attention of the 15-member Security Council, as well as ending impunity and ensuring that cases are brought to the International Criminal Court. She also noted that she plans to tackle this issue in countries within and outside of Africa, as sexual violence within conflict is undoubtedly a global problem [2].

In this interview, Wallstrom also made what I think is a critical point; she stated that many people see sexual violence within conflict as inevitable, something that has occurred throughout history and that unfortunately will always endure. In that vain, she said, she also became used to describing sexual violence within conflict situations as “so complex” and “so tough.” One day, however, she decided that she would never again describe it in that way, and never again believe it was anything but solvable [2]. I think this kind of fierce determination is exactly what the UN needs, and I am thrilled about Wallstrom’s appointment and about her vision for gender equality. In an article in The Huffington Post last year, Wallstrom argued for the creation of a more female-centered foreign policy, writing, “By excluding women from conflict management, we exclude a female perspective and experience that could contribute to peace building projects that better correspond to the real needs of all those affected by conflict” [3]. She also wrote that, “Including women in policy-making and peace-making processes would reinforce democracy and be an important step forward, allowing them to fight for concerns that are close to their hearts” [3]. Her appointment to lead the UN’s efforts on sexual violence is, to me, an affirmation of her words and an extremely positive step forward.

Beyond Wallstrom’s appointment, the UN is taking other steps to address sexual violence in conflict zones. I highly recommend the UN Action’s website Stop Rape Now (www.stoprapenow.org) as a resource; the website is informative and full of tools to equip all people to become advocates for an end to sexual violence in conflict. It includes sections on taking action, news, testimonies, NGO links, video links, and advocacy resources; I find the website empowering and hopeful. It also asks people around the world to upload pictures of themselves making a cross with their arms, as a statement that they are “cross” about this issue. The organization that runs the website, UN Action Against Sexual Violence, brings together 13 UN entities that all have an interest in ending sexual violence in conflict. UN action is “a concerted effort by the UN system to improve coordination and accountability, amplify programming and advocacy, and support national efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors” [4].

Another recent UN program aimed at curbing sexual violence in conflict zones is a 5-year campaign, launched in 2009 by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to boost the number of female UN peacekeepers in conflict zones. I wrote my blog last week about UN peacekeepers as both protectors from and perpetrators of sexual violence. The new program aims to increase the percentage of female peacekeepers to 20 percent in police units by 2014 and 10 percent in military units [5]. I believe this program is an extremely important one, although its recruitment efforts have not yet shown great success.

In all of these ways, the UN is making a difference. Whether that difference is a change in the rhetoric in our culture, a change in our attitudes and readiness for advocacy, or a change in the actual conditions on the ground, it is definitely working for change. I do not mean to imply that there is not more work to be done, and Margo Wallstrom certainly has her work cut out for her. But I am encouraged by what I see the UN doing, and I am hopeful that, with the efforts of the UN in conjunction with advocates, governments, and NGOs around the world, a better future for women in conflict zones is possible.

[1] http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/sga1220.doc.htm

[2] http://www.neurope.eu/articles/100978.php

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margot-wallstrom/women-we-need-towards-a-m_b_156274.html

[4] http://www.stoprape.org

[5] http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=89194

Giving Voice to NGOs Fighting Against Sexual Violence in the DRC

May 27th, 2010

In previous weeks, we have looked at the extent of the atrocities being committed against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as possible solutions to the problem of sexual violence—namely, the end of the war. But an end to the conflict is unlikely in the near future, and recent estimates from the UN Population Fund suggest that over 8,000 women were raped in North and South Kivu last year alone. Thus, until the international community finds the political will to stop the war, we must focus our attention on minimizing the risk of sexual violence and helping survivors heal and recover. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has taken several measures to do this. Given that many women are raped when they venture out to gather water and firewood, the UNHCR has distributed 4,200 fuel-efficient stoves and firewood to families in North Kivu to prevent the need for women to venture out. In addition, the UNHCR is working to provide medical treatment, counseling and legal advice for survivors; last year, for instance, the agency gave legal assistance to 145 survivors.

These UN efforts, unfortunately, are not enough. Whereas 8,000 women were raped last year, the UN only offered legal assistance to 145 survivors—that equates to less than 2% of the rape victims. This reality highlights the importance of NGOs that are working on the ground at the local level to empower survivors of sexual violence and the crucial need to support them and include them in high-level policymaking to reduce sexual violence. Two such groups are HEAL Africa, which offers medical treatment, counseling, economic empowerment, and safe houses, and Women for Women International in the DRC, which seeks to transform women “from victim to survivor…to active citizen.”

In Women for Women International’s one-year program, women engage in a “multi-phase process of recovery and rehabilitation,” which begins with direct financial aid from a sponsor to help them “deal with the immediate effects of war and conflict such as food, water, medicine and other necessities.” The sponsors also provide an “emotional lifeline” that allows the women an outlet to tell their stories and heal. The women then participate in the next part of the journey called “Renewing Women’s Life Skills Program,” which gives them “rights awareness, leadership education and vocational and technical skills training.” This foundation in turn ultimately equips survivors with the capacity to “help improve the rights, freedoms and status of women” in the DRC through local grassroots efforts. In fact, in Rwanda for instance, 15 percent of the Women for Women International “graduates” were elected as leaders at the village level. Clearly, NGOs such as Women for Women International and HEAL Africa, have the capacity to effect change, beginning at the local level by empowering the women in the DRC to take a stand. At the end of the day, survivors themselves and women living in conflict situations know more than anyone else—including the UN—what help they really need. Thus, as an influential player, the UN needs to work harder to involve and give voice to NGOs on the ground, many of whom have effective strategies but insufficient funding.


  1. “DRC: Survivors of Sexual Violence Supporting Each Other.” (2010). Refugees International. http://www.refugeesinternational.org/blog/drc-survivors-sexual-violence-supporting-each-other
  2. “UN refugee agency dismayed by impunity for endemic rape in DR Congo.” (2010). UN News Centre. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=34458
  3. “What We Do.” Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c2.html
  4. “What We Do: From Victim to Survivor…to Active Citizen.” Women for Women International. http://www.womenforwomen.org/about-women-for-women/victims-to-survivors.php

The increased vulnerability of immigrant women in Arizona

May 27th, 2010

In my immigrant rights student group recently, we have been talking about the atrocities of the latest immigration bill, SB1070, that was passed in Arizona in April by Governor Jan Brewer.  We think it involves serious human rights abuses, including unfair discrimination and a sacrifice of public safety.  This week, I decided to focus on how the bill specifically affects immigrant women.  As I’ve reiterated throughout my blogging, the United States certainly is not exempt from the countries that are disadvantaging women by way of our domestic and international policy.

The SB1070 bill is intended to identify and deport illegal immigrants in Arizona.  The law gives local law enforcement the authority (when “practicable” – whatever that may mean) to detain people who they believe are in the country illegally.  Not carrying immigration papers is now a state misdemeanor in Arizona.  Basically, international immigration law that is normally handled by the federal government is falling under the jurisdiction of state police.  One major problem with this is that it is a recipe for racial profiling: how can police officers possibly have reasonable suspicion about immigration status without judging someone based on the color of their skin?  Governor Brewer insists that the police will have sufficient training to carry out the law – that racial profiling would not be tolerated, saying “We have to trust our law enforcement” (1).

The ironic thing about Governor Brewer’s statement is that there are millions of people living in Arizona who are now completely unable to trust police to protect them.  How will immigrants now ever feel comfortable reporting crimes that affect themselves, their children (many of whom are U.S. citizens), or other members of society from harm?  Immigrant women are at particularly high risk as a result of this law.  Those who are being abused by their partners become even more helpless: reporting their husbands to the police now means risking their lives in the United States as they know them.  Even going to the supermarket will not feel entirely safe for women – which can exacerbate the control that their partners have over them.  Similarly, women who are exploited by employers cannot report unfair practices, lest they risk their own deportation (2).

I was happy to see Shakira speaking about the increased risk for abused immigrant women on CNN recently.  A humble, well-spoken Shakira talked for a few minutes (which seems like ages compared to your standard 10-second soundbite) about Arizonian women she’s talked to who now fear for their lives, because they have essentially no protection against discrimination and abuse (3).  I think it will be critical to have pop artists – especially those who are immigrants themselves, like Shakira – spread awareness about the specific abuses facing women that have resulted from U.S. laws.  Amassing an educated electorate is incredibly important if we want to prevent laws like this from being passed in other states.

Another frightening result of the Arizona law is the increase in the number of mothers separated from their children.  I have heard accounts of mothers being detained while their kids were in school, leaving their children without a caretaker and without knowledge of their mothers’ whereabouts.  A graduate student at Stanford has created a documentary called “La Familia,” to tell the stories of parents being deported from the United States – leaving children without support and guidance.

The Arizona bill demonstrates a completely flawed ideology that some have come to embrace in the United States.  The bill criminalizes all illegal immigrants.  But the vast majority of immigrants are not criminals in the least – they are hard-working, contributing members of our society.  The bill is intended to increase the role police have in “protecting” citizens.  But it fails to protect thousands of women facing abuse and discrimination, and instead makes them even more vulnerable to abuse, because they are fearful on a daily basis.

We must not only recognize the human rights abuses faced by women in other countries, but also those that are prevalent in our own.

Archibold, Randal.  “Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html

Garza, Irasema. “Arizona Law Compounds Immigrant Women’s Vulnerability.”

Hill-Mann, Brandann. “Shakira: Arizona Immigration Law Will Hurt Women and Children.”

Helping women and children in refugee and conflict situations: A reflection

May 27th, 2010

For this last blog, I thought that I might spend some time trying to tie together all the past blog entries I have made. As a reminder, this blog has focused on the issues that women in conflict and refugee situations face. If you can recall,  a refugee, as defined by the UNHCR, is someone “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”[1]Refugees include men, women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. But refugees are just a one classification of peoples whose lives are disrupted by conflict and disasters. In working on this blog, I also discussed internally displaced persons (IDPs), these are people who are seeking safety in other part of their own country. And lastly, I also discussed stateless people, these are people who might not have been apart of a sovereign state before a conflict and are further displaced when a conflict does occur.

In writing the entries for this blog, it has often been  sad and shocking to learn about the unfair, unjustice, and inhumane treatment of women and children in refugee and conflict situations. In class we learned that women are often made vulnerable to severe physical, mental, and sexual violence in conflict and refugee situations because of the pervasive and always present gender inequalities that devalue women and girls. But presence of such pervasive gender inequalities does not mean that the situations of refugee women and children is hopeless. Organizations like Women’s Refugee Commission have done much work in trying to outline the key issues and needs we can address in refugee situations to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of women. Here are the key issues as identified by Women’s Refugee Commission[2]:

  1. Keep refugees and IDPs safe. Ensure that they are settled in a secure location away from borders and ongoing conflict.
  2. Provide safe access to basic needs, including food, safe and appropriate cooking fuel, potable water, sanitation and shelter.
  3. Communicate with the people most affected and ensure their safety whether or not they have legal status or official documents. Ensure every adult is provided with individual documentation that allows him or her to access key services.
  4. Provide life-saving health care, including reproductive health care. Ensure there are enough health workers and all necessary medicines and supplies to prevent and respond to infectious diseases and other health needs. Establish priority reproductive health services for women and girls.
  5. Prevent and respond to sexual violence. Protect women and children from sexual violence by ensuring safe access to food, cooking fuel, water, latrines and other basic necessities. Offer medical services and psychosocial support to survivors of sexual violence.
  6. Reduce the transmission of HIV. Enforce use of infection control measures by health workers; make condoms freely available; and ensure blood for transfusion is safe by screening it for HIV and other blood-borne diseases.
  7. Prevent excess maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity. Provide skilled birth attendants for normal births; manage obstetric complications at health facilities; establish 24-hour emergency referral system; provide contraceptives to meet demands; provide clean delivery kits to all visibly pregnant women.
  8. Identify vulnerable individuals with specific needs, such as unaccompanied minors, child- or women-headed households, pregnant women, victims of trafficking and persons with disabilities. Secure their care and physical security. Monitor, report and respond to violations against children.
  9. Provide education to children and young people. Offer structure for children and restore hope and a sense of normalcy in a safe, adult-supervised space. Teach basic literacy and numeracy skills, and provide vocational training for young people.
  10. Provide economic opportunities and preserve existing economic assets. Build on refugees’ skills, taking into account local market needs, to provide the best chance for a sustainable income. Protect women and girls from sexual exploitation by providing them with economic opportunities.

This list of needs that is outlined here is an extremely comprehensive one, and though on paper it may seem so simple to say that these are the things we need to implement to ensure the well-being of all refugees – not just women, it is often harder than it looks. In conflict and refugee situations, the state itself is often in turmoil or often the cause of turmoil, infrastructure and resources become scarce, and the politics between nations states often make it difficult to help men, women, and children hurt and displaced. However, cases such as the Hmong refugees in left in Laos  after the Vietnam war and comfort women who were forcibly held in prostitution for the Japanese military demonstrate that the plight of women in conflict and refugee situations is one that we all have to take ownership  because our countries are often directly or indirectly involved in the conflicts in these countries, but more importantly we, as global citizens, are all inextricably linked to the struggle of human rights.

[1]United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Refugees: Flowing Across Borders” http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html April 7, 2010
[2] http://womensrefugeecommission.org/top-10-needs-facing-haiti-earthquake-survivors

When did trafficking in women become a human rights issue? – The "white slavery" panic

May 27th, 2010

International trafficking in women came to focus with the movement against white slavery (1). However, the extent and severity of white slavery has been debated since historical accounts of it have been varied and inconsistent (2). The term was assigned various definitions over time, but by the late 19th century, white slavery’s meant the procurement by use of force, deceit or drugs – of white women or girls against her will for prostitution (2). The abolitionist struggle over slavery in the United States significantly influenced early campaigns against prostitution, and later, the rhetoric of white slavery in the late 19th century. Victor Hugo first made this connection in a letter to anti-regulationist Josephine Butler, in which he characterized prostitutes as sexual slaves For some reformers, white slavery meant that all forms of prostitution, voluntary or coerced, was a form of sexual slavery, while others saw white slavery and prostitution as distinct but related issues (4).

In 1885, the National Vigilance Association (NVA) was established to set up an international organization that would be able to oppose the international network of traffickers. The NVA, which had lobbied for British legislation to contain provisions for trafficking committed in foreign countries, formed the International Association for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade in 1899 in response to the discovery (5). In 1902, Delegates from 16 European nations met in Paris to draft an agreement for an international law on prostitution – the International Treaty for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade. Various white slavery offices were established throughout Europe after the convention.  By 1910, it was agreed to adjust domestic laws to prosecute trafficking in girls under the age of 20, even if the victim gave consent, and that the acts would be criminalized if committed across national borders (6).

By 1919, the Association suspended its actions and re-formed into the International Bureau for the Suppression of Trafficking in Women and Children (IBSTWC).  In 1921, however, the League of Nations officially took over the issue of white slavery. It is important to note the League changed the crime’s name from ‘white slave trade’ to the ‘traffic in women and children’ to stress that no victim would be discriminated or neglected on the basis of their race or ethnicity. More importantly, the name change emphasized white slavery’s transition from a domestic to international issue (5). The League produced the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children (1921), with thirty-three signatories. But despite the initial enthusiasm for the 1921 Convention, only 14 countries had ratified it by 1923. While the 1921 Convention contained provisions for forced prostitution, it did not protect adults of either sex from being procured as prostitutes if they consented and stayed in the country, nor did it make keeping a brothel an offense. The IBSTWC continued to lobby Convention signatories to pass legislation making trafficking a crime and to protect children. The result was the 1927 Report, which gathered information from both traffickers and prostitutes to produce a detailed account of how the trade operated (5).

Before the war, organizations like the IBSTWC functioned as “domestic pressure groups”, whose influence and interests helped enact change within the national borders. However, after the war, these types of organization evolved into what we would now consider international NGOs. According to Gorman, this transformation was the result of two factors, “the emergence of internationalism as a foreign policy ideal, and the increased attention paid by British imperialists to humanitarianism” (5). Internationalization helped facilitate social relief efforts in the 1920s. The most expansive social relief campaign of the era was that directed against the traffic in women and children, led by organizations such as the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene (AMSH) and the IBSTWC. These organizations facilitated the transition from domestic to international social relief, and began the practice of working with foreign organizations to combat trafficking (5).

Gorman notes that the anti-trafficking campaign of the 1920s indicates two important conclusions. First, it facilitated the move from domestic to international reform efforts, as evidenced by the League of Nations taking on white slavery and eventually introducing the official concept of traffic in women to the international arena. Second, international actors began to give increasing attention to those who ran the trafficking system, instead of blaming prostitutes for their position. Before, anti-trafficking reforms to end regulated prostitution focused on the supply side of the issue instead of addressing the demand. Thus, when the League of Nations took over the issue in 1921, for the first time white slavery was framed as an international, rather than domestic humanitarian concern that should be addressed by negotiations between international bodies and institutions.

1. Trafficking in women first emerged on the international political agenda when the League of Nations began to address white slavery in 1921. In 1927, the League of Nations changed white slavery to trafficking in women to abandon the racial specificity of the term.

2. Walkowitz, Judith R. (1992). City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Victorian London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. p.247; Billington-Greig, Teresa. “The Truth About White Slavery”. The English Review. Vol. XIV, April to July 1913. London, pp. 429-31; and Doezema, Jo. “Loose Women or Lost Women? The Re-emergence of the Myth of White Slavery in Contemporary Discourses of Trafficking in Women. Gender Issues Vol. 18, Number 1. December, 1999, 25-26 all note that credible accounts of the international trafficking in women exist, but many, if not most, accounts of white slavery were often exaggerated or unsupported by evidence. White slavery has often been seen as a sign of moral sensationalism of prostitution. It drew on particularly sordid and embellished accounts in order to communicate a specific message about prostitution.

3. Irwin, M. A. 1996 “White Slavery’ as Metaphor: Anatomy of a Moral Panic.” The History Journal vol. 5 p. 4

4. Willis, W. N., The white slaves of London. London: S. Paul, 1912

5. Gorman, Daniel. “Empire, Internationalism, and the Campaign against the Traffic in Women and Children in the 1920s”. Twentieth Century British History, 2007. Oxford University Press, p.12

6. Bristow, Edward J. Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery, 1870-1939. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982