Archive for December 2nd, 2009

December 2nd, 2009 – International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

Upper class men are no more likely to be shaken in their positions as heads of families then they are to be shaken in their positions as heads of today seconomic positions.

Susan Ostrander, 1991

As part of the 16 days International campaign toward the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Rutger’s Center for Women’s Leadership (CWGL) has provided a link to the Shirkat Gah Women ’s Resource Center in Pakistan.

Active for sixteen years, among the list of activities in which Shirkat Gah is engaged, as part of the 16 days campaign,  was a conference held today, Dec 2nd in Lahore. They say:

[…The conference will highlight women’s issue(s) and in collaboration with National Commission on the Status of Women, Shirkat Gah is arranging a colloquium on forced marriages in Lahore on 2nd December. A panel of distinguished speakers will highlight the issues of women’s rights in the light of the Quran and Hadith, rights perspective in health and education, and the legal rights of women in Pakistan…]

For more information, go to their name link above. Forced marriage is a kind of slavery. While we in the West have reduced the number of forced marriages, we still smirk about the idea of “shotgun marriages” in which traditionally a man is forced to marry a woman who has become pregnant by him. That we think it is funny implies we still don’t understand that bottom line.

Shotgun marriages were used to force a man into support of the child he helped to produce, or forced into being by rape. Such marriages were also an attempt to recoup value from the damage to the woman. They reiterate the historic bottom line of marriage, which is, that it is first and foremost an economic pact. Because economics still help to determine the class of people in this country, the  reproductive value and wealth inheritance value of marriage is often considered foremost. Men, who have escaped shotgun marriages in our culture, therefore, still find admiration for avoiding the responsibility of an “asset” that would, under other circumstances, require them to be human partners. Men who escape assign zero value to the asset, i.e. women and children.

Families who have raised these pregnant women also determine asset value. They may determine the woman now has reduced, or no future asset value, since in a patriarchal society another man is unlikely to be interested in her use as a reproductive asset for his genetic line and wealth building future. A woman’s future in this situation is uncertain, but likely to be difficult or worse, as is the child’s.

Forced marriage reinforces the idea of women and children as chattel. They are assets to be traded. Pakistan, while it denounces forced marriage as illegal, acknowledges that women are still sometimes used in settling intertribal disputes. Since women are chattel in this trade, it is up to the new owner to decide what to do with their new asset. This is bought and sold slavery at its fundamental base. Agencies like Shirkat Gah have a lot of work to do.

Yet, our patriarchal society still thinks forced marriage is funny. We assign shotgun marriages to rubes and hicks. Not only that, we opine that marriage for, especially poor, women is the way to fix their economic problems – a kind of  sell-yourself-into-bondage solution. In this scenario it really doesn’t matter other reasons there might be for marriage. Those of us who grew up in the velvet cage however, know arranged marriages are not just the province of rubes and hicks. Pakistan acknowledges their efforts to change mindset and action. Are we better? Have we improved our lot? Or, are we still the house N**ger? When do we stop laughing?

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As part of the 16 days campaign toward the Elimination of Violence against Women, the UN has announced the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

“Combating slavery means not only its direct prohibition by law but also fighting against poverty, illiteracy, economic and social disparities, gender discrimination and violence against women and children.  We need to enforce laws against slavery; create mechanisms to combat such practices; reinforce bilateral, regional and international cooperation, including with non-governmental organizations that assist victims; and launch awareness raising campaigns.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Message for the International Day

for the Abolition of Slavery

2 December 2009

Slavery is an international problem. Wikipedia identifies slavery as:

[Slavery is a form of forced labor in which people are considered to be the property of others. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to receive compensation (such as wages)…]

Perhaps we in the United States like to think we fully know what slavery is and condemn it. After all, we sent Eleanor to the United Nations in 1948 and thought we took care of that. We passed civil rights laws and thought that was an end. Some of us have  attempted apologies or reparations.

However, it still exists internationally and it still exists here. We are still a patriarchal society; we don’t place an economic value on the work that people, say, like abused women trapped in their home, do, or are not able to do, because of their situation. Women (and some men) still only have a domestic value if they take their skills across the street to their neighbor who pays them an hourly wage for their babysitting, caretaking and cooking. Therefore, we don’t count an abused woman’s plight as an aspect of slavery. It is. Yet domestic violence is rarely even treated as assault and battery, much less attempted murder or slave trafficking. Never the less, the abusers diminishment tactics that are used are very much the same.

Human trafficking is a component of slavery. It is here in the United States.

Wikipedia says:

[…Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world,[4] with the total annual revenue for trafficking in persons estimated to be between USD$5 billion and $9 billion.[5] The Council of Europe states, “People trafficking has reached epidemic proportions over the past decade, with a global annual market of about $42.5 billion.”[6][7] Trafficking victims typically are recruited using coercion, deception, fraud, the abuse of power, or outright abduction…]

The FBI website has the “Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force Complaint Line” at 1-888-428-7581.

The FBI also has a website devoted to understanding your rights and where you can find help it you are a victim of trafficking and are in the United States.

HumanTrafficking.org is an organization previously supported by the USA State Department, and now, by the Academy of Educational Development (AED). It’s purpose is to bring Governments and NGO’s (Nongovernmental Organizations) in East Asia and the Pacific together, to share knowledge country specific information and laws, action plans and activities in the realm of human trafficking.

They have a hotline you can call if you suspect trafficking.

HOTLINE: 1.888.3737.888

HumanTrafficking states that the United States is principally a transit and destination country for human trafficking.  However, their numbers, while large, appear to reflect that of 2007. In fact, in looking around the web I realized that there was a dearth of figures for 2008 or 2009.

I found a clue to this mystery at another UN organization, UNESCO. They have begun a new project to strengthen research and conduct a literature review and meta-analysis of existing statements on human trafficking.

UNESCO offers a data comparison sheet to show the difficulties with which they are working. Big crime activities are notoriously hard to quantify precisely because they are hidden. Assume, however, that the smallest figure of 600-800,000 people, supplied by the US, has been trafficked globally, between 2000 and 2008.

That figure does not include those who are trafficked within their national borders. According to Wiki, in 2007, 40% were thought to be trafficked sex slaves worth an estimated $29,210 each. The average profit was $3,175 with the lowest for a bonded slave laborer at $950. That is 2.54 billion.  In fact, Wiki quoting, Siddharth Kara, estimates the total for slavers to be around 91.2 billion in just 2007.

This figure does not include the asset and production value of slaves to the new owners. However, these values can be quantified. Learning is one of the first steps toward understanding and then acting. One of my must-reads this week is Siddarth Kara’s book, “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery”.

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