Global Roundup: Are Anti-Trafficking Efforts Doing More Harm Than Good?


Welcome to our new Weekly Global Reproductive Justice Roundup! Each week, reporter Jessica Mack will summarize reproductive and sexual health and justice news from around the world.  We will still report in depth on some of these stories, but we want to make sure you get a sense of the rest and the best.

In Egypt, Women’s Football V. ‘Virginity Tests’                        
Sahar El-Hawary is North Africa’s first female referee, and is pioneering female football in Egypt. Al Jazeera profiled her story and work this month as part of their wonderful Africa on the Move series, which features uplifting stories from across the continent. The piece is beautifully done and well worth the watch. El-Hawary grew up with brothers and a father who were rabid football fans, and dreamed of playing and coaching herself. Two decades ago she began training a girls’ team in the secrecy of her own home, and today she has helped to set up girls teams in almost every region of the country. She recruits female players, coaches and referees, and in the process is helping undo a male-dominated sport and culture. Her son Omar helps manages the team. “Women can change the structure of societies in these areas,” she says. Here’s a video of one girls team playing back in 2007, which is pretty bad ass.

Meanwhile, women in Egypt are facing other setbacks. Last week a military court acquitted an army doctor accused of conducting forced “virginity tests” on female protesters last year. Activist Samira Ibrahim, who initially brought the charges, said the entire trial and resulting acquittal was “a joke, a theatre.” Ibrahim and other female detainees had alleged that military personnel sexually assaulted, harassed, and abused them in various grotesque ways – including “testing” to see whether they were virgins. (Let’s remember that penetration by any object without consent is rape, folks.) In response, one Army general deflected: “We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place.” Wow, just wow. Via Al Jazeera and VOA.

Thank You, Condoms: South Africa’s New HIV/AIDS Infections Plummet
South Africa, where 17 percent of adults ages 15 to 49 are HIV-positive, shoulders a heavy AIDS burden, but the rate of new infections in the country has dropped dramatically in the last decade. A study released last month suggests that this is largely due to increased condom use. In 2009, 75 percent of young South African men reported condom use at their last sexual encounter, compared to just  20 percent in 1999. It’s a significant revelation that such a simple and widely available tool can be so effective, given some setbacks and delays with other prevention options. Lack of condom use has been attributed to cultural attitudes toward masculinity, perceptions of promiscuity, and taboos about sex more broadly, but that is changing and national leadership on this issue has stepped way up. Remember when the Pope claimed that condoms would not help Africa’s AIDS crisis? Still a ways to go, but it’s looking like he was wrong. Via Economist.

A New Snapshot of (Positive) Sex Work in Thailand
A new report by the Empower Foundation, a sex workers’ rights group in Thailand, offers a more nuanced picture of the country’s sex work industry – a well-developed, perhaps world-famous, and now increasingly legitimate sector for many. Hit & Run: Sex Workers’ Research on Anti-trafficking in Thailand is the result of a year-long survey implemented by sex workers among sex workers, to uncover the state of the industry. The report finds that sex workers are better off and better connected than many thought. Sex workers have access to hi-tech tools (e.g. smart phones) and use them to stay connected and safe; migration is part of the culture of sex work, and often helpful/voluntary (i.e. sex ‘trade’ not ‘trafficking’); and the average sex worker makes enough money to comfortably take care of his/her family. Of course it’s not positive all the time for everyone. But anti-trafficking groups and initiatives in Southeast Asia are a dime a dozen with many ineffective, oppressive, or all together useless. Everyone from Nicholas Kristof to Ashton Kutcher is trying to “save” girls and women and while these efforts may be well-meaning they tend to erase critical nuances in the issue and drown out the voices and agencies of sex workers themselves. “There are more women in the Thai sex industry being abused by anti-trafficking practices than there are women exploited by traffickers,” Empower director Chantawipa Apisuk said.  Via Nation Multimedia.

Story on Genital Cutting in Liberia Draws Threats
A Liberian journalist who published a piece on the persistence of female genital cutting in the Sande tradition this week has received threats to her wellbing. Mae Azango, a fellow for New Narratives and the Pulitzer Center, said that just days after her piece was published she received phone messages threatening to injure her for speaking out. Azango has not been sleeping at her house since. Signaling just how sensitive this issue is, Azango’s interview subject requested a pseudonym as protection for even speaking about her experience with the practice. As she point out, Liberia is one of five countries in Africa still holding on to the practice and little data exists to depict its magnitude. Other countries, including regional neighbor Senegal, have been open about the challenges in uprooting the practice but have become well-known for their rapid abandonment of the practice. It does beg the question though: why has this issue remained so rooted and clandestine in Liberia? Why, especially, when the country is under the tenure of Africa’s first female president (now in her second term) Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year along with her country-woman (and fellow activist!) Leymah Gbowee. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday issued a letter to President Johnson-Sirleaf requesting formal protection for Azango. Via CPJ.

Drama Series in Kenya Takes on Sexual Taboos

Shuga: Love, Sex, Money is a six-part drama series based in Nairobi, Kenya and looks pretty awesome. It’s racy, soap operatic, filled with good-looking and talented African actors, and meant to address persistent health and social taboos that have gone unaddressed for too long. A joint effort by MTV, the Partnership for an HIV-Free Generation, UNICEF and others, the series looks at rape, transactional sex, and other issues young people are navigating without many resources. It will be shown in 70 countries around the world. The series is also being used in youth HIV prevention and education programs, and has an accompanying toolkit to facilitate discussions and encourage status knowledge and testing. You can join discussions of “Shuga” online here. Via Humanosphere.

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  • womononajourney

    To the comment that voices of those in the sex industry are being “drowned out” by anti-trafficking advocates–this is not true. There are many women and men working to end the sex industry who  were prostituted (their word) for years and years. There are even women currently in the industry who want to get out and are part of the movement.  Where we can agree is that women in systems of prostitution should be at the front of the crowd when discussing the sex industry. To me it only makes sense that those most abused get to have their voices be the loudest.

     

  • womononajourney

    I would also like to add that there will be a conference to talk about the sex industry, and specifically, how pornography has creeped into our everyday lives in at the University of San Diego June 16-19th. You can find out more at http://www.StopPornCulture.Org