There are many forms of abuse of women and girls. I am, however, going to deal primarily with those that contribute to the human overpopulation of the globe as a result of violence to women. Although there are men who respect women beyond the role of a sex object, the general practice of patriarchy worldwide leaves women at the mercy of the male sexual drive and lust for power, which inevitably leads to the current problem of overpopulation because patriarchy, in all its colors, shades, and dimension, sees the rights of women—especially to equal health—as a threat. This disparity is evident in the following ways:
• Women lack economic and social parity with men because the latter are the traditional money earners.
• Women are denied access to education and the encouragement to pursue it in some countries.
• Women are not allowed to drive—or even go outside of the house without a male escort in some countries, to say nothing of keeping their faces hidden behind cloth fences called “burqas.”
• Women lack the freedom to express their wants and needs in the family constellation.
• Women are slighted by some cultural expectations, such as the preference for a male child because he gives greater stature to the family, can work, and when grown will care of his parents.
• Men dominate religious authority, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—Shazia, only 13, sits inside the dank and forbidding Provincial Jail in Kabul, Afghanistan, because she ran away from her 45-year-old husband, whom she was forced, under Islamic law, to marry.span>1
• Females experience a high rate of death than males through selective abortions, abandonment, being sold into slavery as prostitutes, and outright murder.
• Women lack the access to health care, including measures for birth control; in fact, motherhood kills more women in Afghanistan than does war.2
• Physical abuse to girls and women is common throughout the world and is devoid of economic or cultural distinctions, but is, nevertheless, enhanced by the male’s superior strength and dominant position in society.3
With this introduction, let’s take a brief look at prostitution and slavery. Prostitution, which is the use of women for emotionless sex, dates back at least to early Greece, where it was thought a necessity in order for men to be sexually fulfilled. Although prostitutes were treated relatively well in ancient Greece, during the reign of the Roman Empire, they were used indiscriminately.4 In more recent times, the venerable St. Augustine of Hippo (354-371 CE) said that, “If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust,” which translates into, “Remove prostitutes from human affairs, and you will unsettle everything because of lusts.” Years later, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE) equated prostitution to a sewer in a palace—remove it and excrement accumulates.5
Today, prostitution is a source of large amounts of money for smugglers secreting many thousands of women out of the former Soviet Union Republics and the surrounding Balkans, and two to three million girls and women out of Asia and Africa, all bound for the slave markets of Western Europe, North America, the Middle East, Israel, and Japan. The number from the now defunct Soviet Union has skyrocketed since its collapse. Many of these women and girls are not living on the streets, but rather are forced or tricked into leaving their homes. They are told they can get jobs as au pairs, waitresses, dancers, or hat check girls in bars, where they hope to pursue better lives, despite being charged hefty amounts for the trip to their new destinations.
Told they can buy their way out of servitude, they are paid such a pittance—if at all—for their forced services that their ability to achieve freedom is seldom reached. Many become pregnant and must accept illegal abortions to avoid having an unwanted, economically unfeasible child; in addition, they are often seriously undernourished and in need of medical attention.
Women being sold as sex slaves and prostitutes sounds like something out of the dim past, rather than a current phenomenon that reflects the continuing attitude of a large number of men toward women. But during the boom of the 1990’s, many men experienced a great increase in their disposable income, which some used to buy the services of prostitutes. And throughout the Bosnian War, 1992-1995, as in all wars, women, in this case Muslim women, were raped and/or detained by soldiers as sex slaves.
And in Ghana, Africa, there is a religious custom known as “Trokosi,” which comes from the Ewe word meaning “slave of the gods.” Under this cultural practice, young girls, mostly virgins, are sent into lifelong slavery to atone for the alleged crimes of their relatives. Once enslaved, they are forced to work without pay, without food, without clothing, and to perform sexual services for the resident priest.
It was estimated in 1997 that approximately 5,000 young girls and women were enslaved in 345 shrines in southeastern Ghana. Although such slavery and rape has been “officially” banned in Ghana, it continues nonetheless.6
Rape is present everywhere in society. Much closer to home, a woman is raped somewhere in America every 90 seconds. Almost two million women are physically assaulted a year, which is to say that a woman is attacked every 15 seconds. Not all rape is based on simple sexual urges, however, as recently demonstrated in Merrwala village in southern Punjab province of Pakistan, where an 18-year girl was ordered to be gang-raped by four members of Mastoi tribal council to shame the girl’s whole family because her brother was seen walking unchaperoned with a Mastoi girl in a deserted part of the village. The crime was that the Mastoi girl was unchaperoned and the boy was of the Gujar tribe, which is considered to be of a lower class than that of the Mastoi.
How could this happen? Pakistan has a tradition of tribal justice in which crimes or affronts to dignity are punishable outside the framework of Pakistani law—and the tribal council was all male, which means patriarchal rule. Another example of gang-rape came to light in The Hague, Netherlands, during a United Nations tribunal in which it was established that some Bosnian Serbs participated in nightly gang-rapes of Muslim women and girls in “rape camps.”7
In addition to rape, an estimated 135 million girls and women have been subjected to genital mutilation, and two million girls are destine for such mutilation annually—approximately 6,000 every day. Female genital mutilation refers to the removal of part or all of the female genitalia, the most severe form of which is “infibulation,” also known as “pharaonic circumcision.”
According to Amnesty International, an estimated 15% of all mutilations in Africa are of this type, which consists of cutting away part or all of the clitoris and labia minora, as well as cutting the labia majora to create raw surfaces that may then either be sewn together or held together with thorns, in addition to which the legs may be bound together for up to 40 days. The purpose of so treating the labia majora is to form a covering over the vagina when the tissue heals. However, a small opening is maintained to allow the passage of urine and menstrual blood. On the other hand, 85% of the genital mutilations performed in Africa consist of removing only part of or the entire clitoris.
While working in Egypt many years ago, I was told that sewing the vagina shut was a common practice to prevent wives from being unfaithful when their husbands left for long periods—a basic lack of trust, which, nevertheless, left the husbands free to act as they pleased. It is not surprising, therefore, that infibulations are practiced in strongly patriarchal societies, where a woman’s “sewn up” vagina is “opened” only for her husband. In other social groups, however, a woman’s genitals are mutilated simply because they are thought to be bulky and ugly if left in their natural state. Despite the myriad reasons given for mutilating a girl’s genitalia, suffice it to say they do not have a choice.
Genital mutilation occurs extensively in more than 28 African counties and in parts of Asia and the Pacific. In the Middle East, the practice takes place in Egypt, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. In the industrialized countries, it is practiced in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the latter countries, however, mutilation of the female genitalia occurs predominantly among immigrants who bring the custom with them.
The type of mutilation practiced, the age at which it is performed, and the way in which it is done varies according to such things as the girl’s ethnicity, the country she is living in, whether she lives in a rural or urban setting, and her socio-economic status. Although the procedure usually occurs between the ages of four and eight, it can be carried out at various ages, from shortly after birth to sometime during a girl’s or woman’s first pregnancy. Removal of the clitoris and labia is viewed by some as a means of ridding a woman’s body of its “male parts,” which is believed to enhance femininity—more particularly, docility and obedience.
What does female genital mutilation entail operationally? Under the best possible circumstances, a girl is from a wealthy family and has the procedure done in a hospital by a qualified doctor under a local or general anesthetic. Girls who are not so fortunate, may be made to sit in cold water in order to numb their genitalia and reduce the likelihood of excessive bleeding, but most often, no anesthesia is administered.
Instead, a girl is simply restrained by older women who hold her down, with her legs spread apart, and gag lest she screams. The mutilation is then performed with broken glass, lids from tin cans, scissors, razor blades, sharp rocks, knives, and maybe even a scalpel. Antiseptic powder may be applied, but more often pastes containing herbs, milk, eggs, ashes, or dung are used in the belief that they facilitate healing.
Almost unbearable pain, shock, hemorrhaging, and damage to the organs surrounding the mutilated area, such as the bladder, urethra, and kidneys, can occur. In addition, urine may be retained after the operation and initiate the development of serious infections. In addition, the spread of HIV is not uncommon from infected instruments that are used on several girls in succession without being sterilized. And then there is scarring, infertility, excruciating sexual intercourse, complex childbirth—and death—as common effects of genial mutilation, to say nothing about the psychological and emotional trauma.8
AND THE ABUSE CONTINUES
In addition to such awful physical violations, women:
• are denied education and thus make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people:
For example, Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban in early October 2012 while on her way home from school in Mingora, a village in the Swat Valley. She was assaulted simply because, as a girl, she wants an education.9
Malala Yousufzai, photograph © by
Gunmen in northwest Pakistan killed five female teachers and two aid workers on Tuesday [January 1, 2013] in an ambush on a van carrying workers home from their jobs at a community center. . .
The attack was another reminder of the risks to women educators from Islamic militants who oppose their work. It was in the same conservative province where militants shot and seriously wounded 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, an outspoken young activist for girls’ education, in October.
The van was transporting teachers and aid workers from the center in conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It is an area where Islamic militants often target women and girls trying to get an education or female teachers.
Militants in the province have [also] blown up schools and killed [other] female educators. . .10
• produce three-fifths of the world’s food
• perform two third’s of the world’s work
• earn one-tenth of the world’s income
• own one one-hundredth of the world’s property
And in a large number of agricultural societies in the non-industrialized world, woman both plant and harvest the crops, collect water and gather fuel for cooking, take care of the chickens and other livestock, do the household chores, and see to their children’s needs. Here, women are so overburdened with responsibility that they turn to their children for help. Children are thus viewed as performing necessary tasks that would otherwise befall the woman. This is especially true in areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where it is mostly women and children who carry out the work of subsistence farming with only basic implements—hoes and shovels, which greatly limits the potential yield.11
Moreover, a recent United Nations report (February 13, 2013) says that human trafficking—mainly women and girls—is currently found in 118 countries.
A new U.N. report paints a grim picture of the millions of people trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor: They come from at least 136 different nationalities, have been detected in 118 countries, and the majority of victims are women though the number of children is increasing.
. . .
The report said trafficking for sexual exploitation accounts for 58 percent of all trafficking cases detected globally while the share of detected cases for forced labor has doubled over the past four years to 36 percent.
. . .
The International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor globally, a figure that includes victims of human trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation.
. . .
According to the report, trafficking for sexual exploitation is more common in Europe, Central Asia and the Americas while trafficking for forced labor is more frequently found in Africa, the Middle East, south and east Asia and the Pacific.
Women account for 55-60 percent of all trafficking victims detected globally, and women and girls together account for about 75 percent.
One worrying trend is the apparent increase in the trafficking of children, with the percentage of detected victims increasing from 20 percent between 2003-2006 to some 27 percent between 2007-2010, the report said.
Among the child victims detected, it said, two of every three trafficked children were girls.12
And, on October 13, 2013, the headline, Daughters for Sale: India’s Child Slavery Scourge, in ABC news caught my eye:
Millions of Indian children work as slaves in factories, brothels or in the homes of families. Out of poverty and desperation, parents sell their daughters, and human traffickers wait at train stations for runaways and scour for orphans in monsoon-ravaged villages.
On the day that Durga Mala was rescued, she lay crying on the stone floor, where she was attempting to cool her back. She was 11 years old and her skin was covered with blisters, from her shoulder blades to her buttocks. A few days earlier, her owners had poured hot oil over her because they thought she was working too slowly.
Suddenly Durga heard screams and huddled on the floor. Acting on a tip, police stormed the apartment in the heart of Bangalore. When they broke the door down, Durga crossed her arms in front of her chest and closed her eyes. She was only wearing a pair of panties—that’s all the clothing that her owners had allowed her to have. Durga says: “I was ashamed.”
One of the men wrapped the small girl in a sheet and brought her to a hospital. Doctors treated her for a number of days. In addition to her burns, she was malnourished, infected wounds covered her fingers and her lips were scarred. “I dropped a glass once,” says Durga, “and the woman got angry and pulled my fingernails out, one by one.” Sometimes they poked her in the mouth with a needle. Durga was supposed to work, not speak.
It’s estimated that millions of children in India live as modern-day slaves. They work in the fields, in factories, brothels and private households—often without pay and usually with no realistic chance of escaping. The majority of them are sold or hired out by their own families.
According to an Indian government census from 2001, this country of over 1 billion people has 12.6 million minors between the ages of 5 and 14 who are working. The real number is undoubtedly significantly higher because many children are not officially registered at birth—and the owners of course do their best to keep the existence of child slaves a secret. Aid organizations estimate that three-quarters of all domestic servants in India are children, and 90 percent of those are girls. Although both child labor and child trafficking are illegal, police rarely intervene—and the courts seldom convict child traffickers and slaveholders.13
1. Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah. Islamic law remains Afghanistan’s law. Chicago Tribune News Service. In: The Oregonian, Portland, OR. May 9, 2002.
2. (1) Niko Price. 2002. Motherhood kills more Afghan women than war. Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. May 6,2002 and (2) Vandana Shive. The violence of globalization. Resurgence 207 (2001):6-7.
3. Erica Goode. Study Says 20% of Girls Reported Abuse by a Date. The New York Times. August 1, 2001.
4. Allison Glazebrook and Madeleine M. Henry (editors). 2011. Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE–200 CE. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI. 360 pp.
5. (1) http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3010.htm; (2) http://catholicforum.fisheaters.com/index.php?topic=3427618.0; and (3) Mary Ann Weaver. Prostitutes in the Middle Ages: A Choice Between God or Husband. http://www.greenstone.org/greenstone3/nzdl?a=d&c=whist&d=HASH446815082e998f72e5fb06&
6. The foregoing discussion of girls and woman as sex slaves is based on: (1) Mark Memmot. Experts: Trafficking of people Soars. U.S.A. Today. June 1, 2001; (2) Anna Dolgov. Russian groups begin campaign to fight trafficking in women. The Associated Press. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. May 17, 2001; (3) Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. 2000. Speak Truth to Power. Umbrage Editions in collaboration with Amnesty International. New York, NY. 64pp; (4) Raf Casert and Paul Shepard. Human bondage: The global sex slave industry is thriving as never before. The Associated Press. In: Albany (OR) Democrat-Herald, Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times. November 25, 2001; (5) Amnesty International. 2002. Human Rights Abuses Affecting Trafficked Women in Isreal’s Sex Industry. Amnesty International Website http://www.web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/index/femgen/MDE150172000; and (6) Jerome Socolovksy. War crimes tribunal rules on sexual enslavement case. The Associated Press. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. February 23, 2001.
7. The brief discussion of rape is based on: (1) Bob Herbert. Violence That Won’t Let Go. The New York Times. August 27, 2001 and (2) Khalid Tanveer. Pakistani tribe orders gang-rape as penalty. The Associated Press. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. July 4,2002.
8. The preceding discussion of female genital mutilation is based on: (1) Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. 2000. Speak Truth to Power. Umbrage Editions in collaboration with Amnesty International. New York, NY. 64pp; (2) Amnesty International. 2002. What is female genital mutilation? http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT77/006/1997/en/3ed9f8e9-e984-11dd-8224-a709898295f2/act770061997en.html (2012); and (3) Teri Schultz. Will the EU help end FGM? http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/european-union/100309/female-genital-mutilation-eu (March 21, 2010).
9. Muhammad Lila and Nick Schifrin. Malala Yousufzai: Pakistani Girl, Nearly Killed by Taliban, Rushed to UK for Treatment. http://abcnews.go.com/International/malala-yousufzai-pakistani-girl-killed-taliban-rushed-uk/story?id=17479249#.UHwYqRwU64A (October 15, 2012)
10. Riaz Khan. Gunmen Kill 5 Female Teachers in Pakistan. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/pakistan-child-measles-deaths-surge-2012-18105771#.UOMEChwU64A (January 1, 2013).
11. Rita-Lyn Sanders. Women still need support. Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. October 16, 1997.
12. Edith M. Lederer. UN Says Human Trafficking Found In 118 Countries. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/human-trafficking-found-118-countries-18481834 (February 13, 2013).
13. Anne Backhaus. http://abcnews.go.com/International/daughters-sale-indias-child-slavery-scourge/story?id=20540368 (October 13, 2013).
Text © by Chris Maser 2013. All rights reserved.
This blog is excerpted in part from my 2004 book THE PERPETUAL CONSEQUENCES OF FEAR AND VIOLENCE: RETHINKING THE FUTURE. Maisonneuve Press, Washington, D.C. 373 pp.
If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit mywebsite.
If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit mywebsite.