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Violence Against Women on the Internet

Campus Sexual Assault Policies
(opens: 4.16.02)
(opens: 4.23.02)
Sex Trafficking
(opens: 4.30.02)
The Internet as a Site of Resistance
(opens: 5.7.02)
(opens: 5.14.02)
NOTE: Modules will launch by 5 p.m. U.S. Eastern time on the date listed.


Sexual Slavery in the 21st Century: An Overview

B. Fueling the Trade: Globalization, Capitalism, Sexism, and Racism

Women have been bought, sold, and sexually exploited for all of recorded history, but only within the last few decades has the sex trade developed into a large-scale, industrialized enterprise. Experts stress that the growth in the sex trade cannot be understood apart from the larger context of social, economic, and political marginalization in which it occurs. Fundamentally, there are four inter-related forces-globalization, capitalism, sexism, and racism-that have combined to increase both the demand for prostitution and the supply of "sex workers." [8] On the supply side, women have long been the quiet victims of globalization. Even as supranational corporations, international banking institutions, and organized crime syndicates grow in size, wealth, and power, women in many regions of the world find themselves with no means of supporting themselves or their families. Systematically excluded from lucrative jobs, denied access to educational opportunities, and lacking a social safety net to fall back on, they leave their homes in search of work. Ironically, at the same time, global market forces have penetrated into even remote rural areas, where they increase demand for consumer goods. Traffickers prey on women's real or perceived poverty and desperation, luring them with false promises of lucrative job opportunities and entrapping them in slavery-like conditions. Victims, typically aged 16 to 35, are often beaten and raped, have their passports confiscated, and are threatened with harm to themselves and their families if they try to escape. On the demand side, sexist and racist values and the "consumer culture" have combined to foster the sex trade by promoting a view of women-and minority women in particular-as commodities to be bought, sold, and consumed on the world market.

In her 2001 report on trafficking in women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, expands on these ideas:

[T]he lack of rights afforded to women serves as the primary causative factor at the root of both women's migrations and trafficking in women. The failure of existing economic, political and social structures to provide equal and just opportunities for women to work has contributed to the feminization of poverty, which in turn has led to the feminization of migration, as women leave their homes in search of viable economic options. Further, political instability, militarism, civil unrest, internal armed conflict and natural disasters also exacerbate women's vulnerabilities and may result in an increase in trafficking…

[W]omen…continue to be denied full citizenship because Governments fail to protect and promote the rights of women. In the home, in the community and in State structures, women are discriminated against on numerous, intersecting levels. The most extreme and overt expression of such discrimination is physical and psychological violence against women. Violence is a tool through which discriminatory structures are strengthened and the more insidious and subtle forms of discrimination experienced by women daily are reinforced. By failing to protect and promote women's civil, political, economic and social rights, Governments create situations in which trafficking flourishes.

Gender-based discrimination intersects with discriminations based on other forms of "otherness", such as race, ethnicity, religion and economic status, thus forcing the majority of the world's women into situations of double or triple marginalization. Not only are women discriminated against as women, but as ethnic, racial or linguistic minorities and as ethnic, racial or linguistic minority women. Because discrimination based on ethnicity, race, religion, etc. is imbedded in State and social structures, such discrimination decreases the rights and remedies available to women and increases women's vulnerability to violence and abuse, including trafficking. For example, the Rohingya women, in northern Arakan State, Myanmar, have been rendered stateless by the fact that Myanmar denies the Rohingya citizenship. Owing to their undocumented status, they are unable to move freely across borders. For this reason, the Rohingya rely on facilitated migration. The women, in particular, become victims of traffickers
who prey on their predicament.

The failure of the State to guarantee women's rights leads to sexual and economic exploitation of women in both the home and the community and within the local, national and global economies. Economic, political and social structures and the models of development that arise from such structures have failed women. They have failed in their attempts to provide basic economic and social rights to all people, particularly to women, and have further entrenched sex-based divisions of education, labour and migration. Basic rights, such as to food, shelter, education, employment, a sustainable living and peace have been denied to a large percentage of the world's population, of which women comprise a large portion.

Trafficking in women flourishes in many less developed countries because the vulnerabilities arising from women's lack of access to resources, poverty and gender discrimination are maintained through the collusion of the market, the State, the community and the family unit. Traditional family structures, which are based on the maintenance of traditional sex roles and the division of labour that derives from such roles (for women, housekeeping, care-taking and other unpaid or underpaid subsistence labour), support the system of trafficking. Further, feudal and exploitative social structures have given rise in many countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, to consumerism and a skewed, gender, caste and class based resource. This in turn legitimates discrimination against women at the community level, as represented by uneven division of wage labour and salaries, citizenship rights and inheritance rights; and at the family level through the high preference for male children and the resulting discriminatory practices against girls that are perpetrated throughout their life cycle. The preference for male children and the culture of male privilege deprives girls and women of access to basic and higher education and, consequently, illiteracy rates among women remain high. In addition, certain religious and customary practices, reinforced by government policies, further entrench and validate discrimination and perpetuate the cycle of oppression of women.

Women's lack of rights and freedoms is exacerbated by external factors such as the ever-widening gap between rich and poor countries, and within those countries, between rich and poor communities. The economic, social and political inequalities that exist between rural and urban, majority and minority, and industrialized and industrializing, increasingly are leading to internal as well as international political instabilities and violent upheavals such as those that were witnessed in Albania in 1997 and in Indonesia in 1998, during which women are targeted by particularized forms of violence, such as rape. The failure of existing economic, political and social structures to provide equal and just opportunities for women to work has contributed to the feminization of poverty, which in turn has led to the feminization of migration, as women leave their homes in search of viable economic options.

Globalization may have dire consequences for human rights generally and women's human rights particularly, in terms of eroding civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the name of development and macro-level economic restructuring and stability. In the countries of the South, structural adjustment programmes have led to increased impoverishment, particularly amongst women, displacement and internal strife resulting from the political instabilities caused by devaluing national currencies, increasing debt and dependence on foreign direct investment. The crisis in ASEAN countries is an indicator that globalization policies can result in disaster if not properly managed. The economic crisis in East Asia has resulted in many women being trafficked to escape from sudden poverty. In some countries, development policies and practices have led to large-scale displacements of local populations. The Narmada Valley dam project in India, which is being protested by thousands of villagers in the Narmada Valley who will be displaced by the project, is an example of the destabilizing capacity of "development". The destabilization and displacement of populations increase their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse through trafficking and forced labour. Political instability, militarism, civil unrest, internal armed conflict and natural disasters also exacerbate women's vulnerabilities and may result in an increase in trafficking. [9]

[8]OPTIONAL READING: For more on this idea, see Brina Milikowsky, "From 'Comfort Women' to '': The Commodification of Women in Global Capital Markets," (2001). Click here to read the full article.

[9]OPTIONAL READING: The full article is available online at

Go on to Part C - Case Study: The Phillippines

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