By Martha P. Ortiz
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the United Nations is in its 58th year of delegations, the Committee on Status of Women (CSW) is now planning a final outcome document on its post-2015 development goals. Some of the challenges that women and girls face is violence, including domestic and sexual violence.
Severe austerity programs inflicts poverty and inequality especially to those women and girls around the world who are marginalized, live in rural areas, and face gender discrimination in the labor market, and face unequal rights at many levels of occupations. An onerous answer would always be instrumental the key role of education plays against poverty and as an accelerator for development; to promote women’s agency and empowerment; and to promote active citizenship. But how can private and public sectors implement programs to eradicate all forms of exploitation of women and girls, especially violence, and keep them in school, empowering them economically, politically and socially?
There are many academics and advocates that specialize in women’s issues that publish non-fiction books that provide case studies on international level, one of these being Women and Globalization, edited by Delia D. Aguilar and Anne E. Lacsamana, and Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff.
“For the majority of the world’s population, contrary to the opinions of academics cited early on, globalization has brought on a predicament that is far from being cheered or exalted. In the public mind in developing countries it is associated with the debt burden and structural adjustment programs, both of which are linked to “conditionalities” imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. . .the irony cannot be missed that it is elite white men like Stiglitz and financier who would write about how year after year the flow of money has been from the poor nations to the wealthy, rather than the other way around, as assumed by common wisdom and fostered by the major media (Women and Globalization ed. by Delia D. Aguilar and Anne E. Lacsamana, p. 14).”
It was refreshing to read this, it impacted me because where academics like Harvey and Stiglitz are working as valued actors where they truly start out to have intentions for the greater good, the institutions they work for like IMF and WB are interest actors that act as debt collectors, they just want to get paid! It’s really contradicting. There are great economists working for IMF, whom has belief values that are for global equality and eliminating poverty. But you know what they say: Institutions are shadows of people. . .
So, how much is the flow of money coming from the poor nations to the wealthy?
Each year 400 billion USD go from developing countries to industrialized countries- this is much MORE THAN WHAT ENTERS FROM INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES IN THE FORM OF OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT AID (ODA)! So, is Stiglitz work biased?
These corporations (pure interest actors) take resources from the global South- OFTEN without paying taxes, but leaving pollution and damage behind. Taxes needed to help agendas like development and public services that are much needed in societies of the global South.
But these international institutions are producing harm and to the point that it is recommended that intervention from non-governmental organizations are integrated into the general debate and the thematic globalization discussion, taking into consideration geographical balance in favor of the G5. “Today the international debt exceeds two trillion dollars; place the poor majority of the world in virtual debt bondage. To ensure debt payments, the IMF/WB injunction has been the production of goods for export . . . the employment of women and children as cheap labor have been the key ingredient (Women and Globalization ed. by Delia D. Aguilar and Anne E. Lacsamana, p 14).”
The Security Council reaffirmed that women’s and girls’ empowerment and gender equality were critical to ensure international peace and security and that the economic empowerment of women greatly contributed to the stabilization of societies emerging from armed conflict. It is a statement that needs proposed cooperation in the organization of work to implement that women in the world have access to employment and to remove the obstacles that stand in the way from this to happen.
Between 2000 and 2012, women’s employment rates declined from 48.6 % to 47.9% compared with 73.8 to 72% of men. Despite the changes, women are 24.8 % points lower than men. In the “third world” or the global south, women in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia stand out as regions where they are extremely disadvantaged, with gender gaps of 52.3, 48.2 and 48.0 % points. (The statistical data taken from UN Economic and Social Council document E/CN.6/2014/3).
Countries’ that pass severe austerity programs are already setting a death sentence and enslaving millions of girls and women who will fall into the plight of human trafficking. But how is this modern day slavery happening? It is because driving factors like poverty, migration, and vulnerability that many girls and women fall victim to being manipulated with traveling for prospective jobs, and then suffer the horrible reality that the jobs were scams.
What are my experiences on human trafficking that leads me to be so interested in this issue? A human trafficking story, a woman who survived and told her story through art installation called Journey, physical, mentally, and emotionally impacted me.
Elena Varga was asked by a famous actress to outline her life as a victim of human sex trafficking. Actress Emma Thompson worked with the Helen Bamber Foundation to create Journey an exhibit that illustrated the experience of human sex trafficking on Tuesday morning, November 10,2009. The conversations between Elena Varga and Thompson were inspiration to create the project Journey. Varga’s words are part of the art exhibition that helps raise awareness against the harm of human trafficking and to understand a trafficked woman’s experience.
“If people could experience for just five minutes what it’s like, then maybe they would not be so cruel,” said Thompson on Varga’s experience. Thompson recreated the story of Elena Varga, a sex slave at the massage parlor that she walked by everyday on the way to the London subway. Thompson encountered Elena, a Moldovan girl, in 2006 through her work with the Helen Bamber Foundation, an organization that helps abuse victims. “I never expected people to listen to the whole story for fifteen minutes and they listen because she is so extraordinary. . . I feel as though if you can somehow get her voice in everybody’s head in the world, people would know so much more and so much could be done with that story!” said Thompson.
Oscar winning British actress and human rights campaigner, Thompson, is the chairwoman of the Helen Bamber foundation. Hosted by Thompson, Helen Bamber herself, and other members of the “Journey” team, the exhibit is seven portable shipping containers made by a collaboration of dozen artists under the foundation. Thompson helped Varga in portraying her story not only for the purpose of making this art exhibit to raise public concern of the underground business of human trafficking but also to serve as a therapeutic outlet to help rehabilitate.
“Part of the therapeutic process was to turn her capacity to tell her own story into something more and powerful in order to help other people” said Thompson. “We got seven stages here and I would like you to write in each box, what part of your experience you think should be inside it” said Thompson of the instructions she gave to Varga at the beginning of the “Journey” project.
The seven shipping containers are the seven stages of a trafficked woman’s experience: Hope, Journey, Uniform, Bedroom, Customer, Stigma, and Resurrection. Through “Journey”, Elena told her story of being led to the United Kingdom with the promise of a job as a receptionist. Once she left her home, Elena was forced into the sex trade at age of 19 after her passport was taken away once she entered the UK. The container room “Hope” explained the illusions of leaving Elena’s home and her family for the opportunity of accepting job offers in order to provide a better life for herself.
The room “Hope” contains several key holes against the wall, in which visitors can peer through and see Varga’s life at her home, in art form. The next room, “Journey,” was the experience of traveling, while audio was played of a train moving, showing how Elena was soon to be stripped of her identity and forced to abandon her once life behind. “Uniform” was a room where face-sized holes are in the walls, where the visitors can peer and see women in revealing outfits; a prostitutes uniform.
In the room “Uniform,” the writing above the face-sized holes, Varga wrote “This could be you.” The most disturbing room and ultimately the most influential, was the “Bedroom,” a foul smelling room that showed the conditions of where many victims of human trafficking eat, sleep, and “work.” In “Bedroom,” the bed was on hydraulics, moving up and down, resulting in the eerie visual that one can imagine a customer violently having intercourse with the victim.
Also in the room, Varga demonstrated the prices women have for themselves written on a board hanged on a wall alongside a mirror, which was written in lipstick, tally marks of the daily customers. Meanwhile, one can hear a repeatedly played audio of men grunting, woman whimpering, screaming, slapping and men ordering sexual acts.
Human sex trafficking has forced millions of women into a life of cruelty, violence and rape. The business of human sex trafficking subjects their victims to physical and physiological torture, form which the survivors must rebuild their lives from these deeply traumatizing experiences. The aim of Journey is to explain that human sex trafficking is happening not just in other countries, but also here in the U.S., even in New York City.
Thompson explains that girls and women were often forced into the sex trade by a male relative and lured out of the country on false pretenses of a better life and job offers. This business is a form of slavery, abusing the human rights of women and children all over the world. New York Mayor Bloomberg established the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force in 2006 to help decrease foreign and domestic human trafficking, and coordinating the efforts of different organizations contributing against human trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. The NY Mayor’s Office has partnered with the task force to provide services to victims and employees of massage parlors and helped pass the New York State Anti-Trafficking law in 2007.
International experts said that 2.5 million people at any one time, are recruited, entrapped, transported and exploited for sex or forced labor. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports people from 127 countries are victimized in 137 different nations. Thompson comments that human trafficking was a much easier business than dealing with drugs or weapons.
“You can make $150,000 from one girl in a year . . . because moving people around the place is easier than moving guns around,” Thompson said.
What can we do?
Instead of criminalizing prostitutes, or “sex workers,” criminalize the customers. Studies have shown in European countries where they underwent severe austerity programs but criminalized customers who seek to pay for sex, the industry of prostitution and human trafficking went down drastically. So it isn’t impossible or too ambitious of an object to eradicate exploitation of girls and women, and ending violence both domestic and sexual to make the world a safer place.