slavery - forcing millions of women into the sex trade
world commemorates International Women's Day, concern is rising at the
alarming growth in the trafficking of women. Marwaan Macan-Markar focusses
attention on this serious problem, which is expected to be taken up again
later this year when the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime
comes up for adoption.
play staged by a Filipino theatre group has become a popular feature on
the international conference circuit, given the powerful message it conveys
- women are abused when they are lured into the international sex trade
by criminal gangs.
by Maria Paulin-Ballesteros, the play draws a parallel between women subjected
to sexual exploitation and a chicken dish that is a favourite in the Philippines,
'lechon manok'. And Paulin-Ballesteros describes her work, titled We're
Syndicated, Ma'am, as a 'fowl play'.
Filipino human rights activist was inspired to write the play after attending
an international forum, where three Filipino women narrated their plight
after being forced into the sex trade in Nigeria. And the response the
play has received - through its live performance or a videotaped account,
in Asia, Europe and North America - has satisfied Paulin-Ballesteros.
Filipino consumers crave the lechon manok, male customers around the world
are going crazy over their young women,' she told a Filipino newspaper
in an interview. Paulin-Ballesteros' concern has been echoed by other
human rights activists, who are equally worried about the rapid rise of
women being transported around the world for the sex industry. Currently,
according to available reports, close to two million women have been forced
into 'sex slavery'.
Regan Ralph, the executive director of the women's rights division of
the United States-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), underscored the urgency
for an international response to such abuse during his testimony before
the US Senate's committee on foreign relations.
has been involved in documenting and monitoring this 'serious human rights
violation' for many years, Ralph revealed. 'We have reported on the trafficking
of women and girls from Bangladesh to Pakistan, from Burma to Thailand
and from Nepal to India.'
view, the current trafficking in women is 'a slavery-like practice that
must be eliminated', since it involves the 'illegal and highly profitable
transport and sale of human beings for the purpose of exploiting their
exposed its prevalence in the United States. In August 1999, for instance,
a trafficking ring was broken up in the southern state of Georgia that
transported up to 1,000 women from several Asian countries into the United
States and '(forced) them to work in brothels across the country'.
evidence was presented in late February at a public hearing before the
European Parliament. Close to 500,000 women are smuggled into Western
Europe every year, experts said. According to researchers, nearly 60%
of the women forced into the sex industry in some Western European countries
are controlled by Russian and Albanian criminal networks.
situation in Britain illustrates this scenario. According to research
conducted by the University of North London's Child and Women Abuse Studies
Unit, six out of 10 women in London's brothels have been 'trafficked'
from countries such as the Ukraine. The study added that the 'criminal
gangs trafficking prostitutes are not confining their activities to major
once the women arrive in Britain, they are informed by the gangs responsible
for their journey that they owe the gangs 'thousands of pounds for accommodation,
fees to the brothel and advertising'.
cases, the manner in which women have been trapped into the sex industry
hardly differs, say rights activists. The woman is approached with the
promise of a good job in another country, 'and lacking better options
at home, she agrees to migrate'.
overseas, however, she is delivered to her employer. In these new surroundings,
the woman has 'no control over the nature or place of work, or the terms
or conditions of her employment'.
is more, when the woman learns she has 'been deceived about the nature
of the work', she finds escape 'both difficult and dangerous', given the
coercive and abusive situations in the brothels.
Bales, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Surrey, in Britain,
sees this explosion of 'modern slavery' as a result of many factors, among
which are 'corruption' in governments and the 'silence' that has encouraged
book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Bales argues
that the international community needs to perceive the difference between
modern slavery and slavery as it was known before the Atlantic slave trade
of 200 years ago.
you insist on defining slavery as 'the legal ownership of one person by
another' then slavery has pretty much disappeared. But the key to slavery
is not ownership, but control through violence...(or its threat). Couple
that with economic exploitation in which someone is paid nothing and you
have a good working definition of the new slavery that encompasses about
27 million people around the world,' he says.
rights groups, too, have brought to light that aspect of the sex industry.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR),
for instance, defines trafficking as a situation where someone is persuaded,
tricked or forced into leaving their country for the promise of a 'better
life', only to end up in forced or slavery-like conditions.
to guarantee the rights of these women, most rights groups feel that new
international standards are required, including a broadening of the definition
of 'trafficking', harsher punishment for those involved in the international
trafficking of women, and guaranteeing that the victims have an opportunity
to seek 'remedies and redress for the human rights violations they have
rights activists have stepped up their efforts to achieve such guarantees
from the international community, given a projected UN convention that
is due to be taken up this year - the UN Convention on Transnational Organised
Crime. To end this cycle of human trafficking, they add, the language
of this convention should not be watered down. For that would be 'extremely
detrimental to women'.
Macan-Markar is a correspondent for the Inter Press Service, with whose
permission the above article is reprinted.
|Older women's health: Facing the challenges
The health concerns of older women require special attention,
especially in a changing social milieu in which there are fewer
people around to care for them.
by Nasreen Huq
IN a region where women continue to be valued less than men, older
women's health reflects their life-long experience of discrimination,
deprivation and neglect. The older women of Asia-Pacific today faced
similar situations of poverty, malnutrition, poor health care, physical
overwork and unhealthy work environments in their younger years.
Along with high infant mortality rates, they faced high maternal
mortality, maternal morbidity and reproductive tract infections.
To add to all these, few of them received immunisation as children
or benefited from the public health interventions that have developed
since. Consequently, the diseases of the older years such as maturity
onset diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, stroke, heart
disease, arthritis and cancer are superimposed on an already compromised
state of health. These are acute issues facing the societies of
the Asia-Pacific region. As life expectancy increases and fertility
rates continue to decline, the region would see in the coming years
more older persons, particularly older women, needing care and fewer
people available to care for them.
Recognising this growing trend, the 1995 Beijing Platform for
Action emphasised that older women's '...health concerns require
particular attention. The long-term health prospects of women are
influenced by changes at menopause, which, in combination with life-long
conditions and other factors, such as poor nutrition and lack of
physical activity, may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
and osteoporosis. Other diseases of ageing and the interrelationships
of ageing and disability among women also need particular attention.'
In an effort to call for the non-marginalisation of older people,
which includes older women, the United Nations declared 1999 as
the International Year of Older Persons, with the theme, 'Towards
a Society for All Ages'.
Diverse realities, common problems
Traditionally, women gained value, status and authority within
their family and community as they became older, for their wisdom
and nurturing role as grandmothers. With modernisation and urbanisation,
traditional families are giving way to nuclear families - a single
set of parents, their children and a grandparent or two. In this
setting and with the growing need for families to have multiple
incomes to survive, grandparents, especially grandmothers, have
become convenient babysitters whose medical needs are addressed
within the economic constraints of the family. Such a responsibility
comes at a time when these women expect to have the freedom to focus
on their own needs and begin to experience a range of health issues
related to ageing. Caring for young children is a demanding task
that can isolate women, particularly women who lack financial and
social resources to create a support network to maintain their physical
and emotional well-being. These burdens would be particularly felt
by older migrant women who do not speak the local language of the
host country (e.g. older women sponsored by their children to enter
and stay in a foreign country).
Longer lives coupled with the tradition of marrying older men
means that more women will face the loneliness and vulnerability
of widowhood. With a spouse's death, older women face a significant
loss of economic security. Discriminatory inheritance laws regarding
parental and spousal property greatly contribute to their vulnerable
economic situation. Thus, widows become financially dependent on
their children, while single older women may have no one to turn
to but the state. In several South-East Asian countries, older women
who came as migrants from other parts of Asia worked in the informal
sector to support their families back home. Few of them had access
to state pension schemes. Today, they have practically no savings
and are financially helpless.
Older women are vulnerable to violence from both their families
and society. The risk increases with their loss of independence.
The violence is physical and emotional. Glorification of youth in
the modern culture has created negative stereotypes of the elderly,
particularly older women, and they are subjected to much abuse as
a result of ageism. Widows may suffer from violence by their own
children or by relatives. For married older women, they may have
suffered a history of violence since their younger years.
Addressing the health needs of older women
Clearly, the lack of health policies, programmes and services
that address women's health needs from a life-cycle and holistic
approach greatly affects their lives as they age. Special attention
should be given to adequately meeting the specific physical, emotional
and mental health needs of women aged 50 to 60, 70 to 80 and over
80. The views of older women are therefore important for any health
policy and service development to be effective in addressing older
women's realities. Mechanisms need to be put in place which would
allow these women to be actively involved in the planning, design
and implementation of health policies and programmes which concern
their own health and that of their community. Care for older women
must consider their pre-existing state of health and address their
overall health-care needs instead of merely treating the immediate
Due to their increased vulnerability in their later years, the
issues of cost, quality and mobility or location of healthcare services
would have to be considered carefully. Policies which promote parental
care and support by the children need to be supplemented by appropriate
support mechanisms (such as state-supported income security schemes),
and high-quality affordable health and residential care for those
older women who are unable to rely on family support. It is also
imperative that boys and men are socialised into caring and nurturing
roles so that the burden of caring for elders does not fall on women
alone. Governments need to be committed to their social responsibility
in the area of health and be ready to support effective community-based
initiatives in meeting older women's health needs.
It is important to recognise that the ageing process, for some
women, may be about declining health, frailty, emotional vulnerability
and even senility. For other women, the ageing process may be a
very positive experience. Nevertheless, decision-makers who plan
policies and programmes for older women must recognise that active
ageing will not circumvent the need for adequate caregiving, which
can sometimes be intensive in nature. While it is true that older
women have many contributions to make, their right to finally take
a break from commitments and responsibilities in their old age should
not be overlooked. Older women are not only survivors - they have
made their contributions to society. In return, society should give
them space to seek self-fulfilment.
Doress, Paula Brown; Diana Laskin [et al.]. 1994. The New Ourselves,
Growing Older. New York: Simon and Schuster.
United Nations. 1996. The Beijing Declaration and The Platform for
Action. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, 4-15
September 1995. New York: UN.
World Health Organisation. 1999. 'Global movement for active ageing'.
Ageing and Health. [Information Package]. Geneva: Ageing and Health
The above article, which appeared in Arrows
for Change (September 1999, vol. 5, no. 2), is based mainly on the
writer's participation in the conference, 'Women's Health - The
Nation's Gain: An International Conference with a Special Focus
on Older Women in Asia', organised by KK Women's and Children's
Hospital and Tsao Foundation, Singapore, 5-7 July 1999. Nasreen
Huq is the coordinator of ICPD Follow-up Activities and is also
on the Programme Advisory Committee of the Asian-Pacific Resource
& Research Centre for Women (ARROW).
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