I’m Canadian. I count myself lucky almost every day for being born in a country that allows me free speech, a democratic government, health care, and a (mostly) unbiased justice system. I know all of these things could be a lot better, but relative to places around the world, I have a lot to be thankful for.
It’s important for women in these parts of the world to continue fighting for equality, because if we’re not careful, many of the things women in the past have fought for and won for us will be taken away. This week, in fact, the Canadian Government voted on a motion to reopen the discussion on criminalizing abortion, despite Prime Minister Harper promising this would not happen in the last election.
BUT I DIGRESS: Another reason it’s important to stand up for our rights is because if we can’t stand up for ourselves, how can we stand up for the millions of women, girls, and children around the world who are treated worse than animals, things to be owned, sold and controlled, beaten, raped, and killed, every single day?
Now my original plan was to do a list similar to “5 Reasons you Dismiss Feminism,” but it quickly became apparent that the things I want to talk about are difficult to summarize, and each deserve a thorough discussion that would end up being too long for one blog post. Also, the issues I’m going to be talking about are pretty disturbing, so I’m thinking I’ll spread out the horrible so you don’t spend the rest of your day sinking into a deep depression because sometimes it seems like the world just sucks too much.
Yes, the world does suck. Especially if you made the poor decision to be born with a vagina. But I feel like having a real understanding of what happens to women around the world is crucial to understanding why feminism and the fight for equality is still so important. Until I know that rape is no longer being used as a weapon of war, that women are no longer being stoned to death, or that sex trafficking is a thing of the past, I will never be able to say that women have achieved equality and that feminism, finally, is no longer necessary.
Horrific Crime #1: Sex trafficking
Sex trafficking is something everyone is aware of, at least peripherally. It’s discussed on the news; apparently the UN doesn’t like it. Someone somewhere is “cracking down” on it. I knew a little more about it than most after watching a documentary on the CBC called “Sex Slaves.” If you can find it, watch it. This documentary hit home with me because I finally realized that often times the girls being sold into the sex trade are my age or younger, and illustrated just how easily these women and girls are being lured into these traps.
How does it happen?
Imagine you’re a young woman from a poor family in Mexico, China, the Philippines, Moldova, the Ukraine, or fill in the blank. Your parents can’t work. There are no jobs to be found, and you have a bunch of younger siblings with mouths to feed. You come across an opportunity that looks legitimate: they will fly you somewhere else – Western Europe, Bosnia, Canada, America– and you can work as a Nanny, or janitor, or waitress, and you can send the money back to your family. After a year or so you can go back home to your family and be that much better off for it.
Sounds great. So you get on a plane with a few other girls. Once you get where you’re going, you’re driven to a brothel and given this information: you will be working as a prostitute, and you owe us money. It cost us a lot to get you here, so you need to work off your debt before you can even think about earning money. And don’t even think about running away, or arguing, or not working, because we will beat you until you give up, and if that doesn’t work, well we will just shoot you.
This is the reality for millions of women and girls around the world every. single. day.
This is just one way sex traffickers lure their victims. It is estimated that 800,000 people are trafficked worldwide every year. 79% of those victims are women or girls. That’s almost the entire population of San Francisco.
What really, really gets to me about this is that all these girls did wrong was be born somewhere were this could happen to them. That’s it. All they wanted to do was earn money to help their families. The only difference between me and these girls is that I happened to be born in Canada.
Who is paying for this?
It’s bad enough to know that this is happening, it’s worse when you realize who is creating the market for these trafficked women. What kind of vile, disgusting person would knowingly pay money to rape an often under-aged girl, who you know is here against her will?
If you get the chance, I recommend you watch the 2011 film The Whistleblower by Larysa Kondracki and starring Rachel Weisz. While you’re at it, read the memoir it’s based on “The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and one Woman’s Fight for Justice” by Kathy Bolkovac. Just be prepared for being really, really angry, and maybe prepare those around you for rage-rants. You can watch the trailer here
This is a quick summary of Blokovac’s story.
Kathy Bolkovac was on a UN mission in Bosnia following the war. She was an American police officer and was working under a military contractor called Dyncorp, which the American Government hires to take care of international military and police obligations. Dyncorp was working with a 15 million dollar contract from the United States to supply troops to the UN Mission.
Bolkovac was in the human rights division of the mission, and specifically investigated cases involving crimes against women – cases generally looked over by local law enforcement officers. This lead Bolkovac to discover that local brothels were selling trafficked, under aged, women. From this Blokovac learned that among the clientele at these brothels were American soldiers from the UN Mission, sent to Bosnia to help restore order. They were also accepting bribes from the owner of the brothel to stop them from raiding the establishment. This was not a case of ignorance. The American soldiers paying to have sex with these girls were well aware that they were trafficking victims, and went out of their way to keep them like that.
When Bolkovac brought this to the attention higher up UN and Dyncorp officials, she was threatened with physical violence, fired, sent home, and her reputation was attacked by many of her superior officers and UN officials. She brought her case to court and won, yet to this day she in unable to find employment within any international law enforcement agency. The men she had evidence against were given a slap on the wrist and sent home. Many of them have returned to the United States and back to their old jobs as cops, security people, or comfortable retirees.
Dyncorp and the UN went out of their way to shut Bolkovac up and did nothing to stop these brothels from running, or to help the women being held there and forced into prostitution. This fact disturbed me almost more than anything else. It blows my mind that this is something that actually happened. In recent history. And oh yeah: The American Government continues to pay Dyncorp multi-million dollar contracts.
So, if you get as angry about this as I have, here are some links.