Monday, March 08, 2010

International Women's Day

Today marks International Women's Day. According to the International Women's Day website, "International Women's Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. . . Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements." This year, the UN's theme for International Women's Day is Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All. International Women's Day is an opportunity to reflect on the ways that gender inequalities and gender-based violence facilitate human trafficking.

Though it is impossible, due to the covert nature of trafficking, to obtain exact statistics on victims, FAIR Fund estimates that 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls. In her book, The Road of Lost Innocence, Somaly Mam, a survivor of child sex trafficking in Cambodia, points out that the devaluation and dehumanization of women and girls has created a climate of gender-based violence that allows trafficking to continue and creates situations where women are extremely vulnerable to abuse. Cambodia is not unique in this respect by any means.

Martina Vandenberg
, a lawyer who represents trafficking victims and survivors, argues that efforts to prevent human trafficking must include efforts to end gender-based discrimination that makes women vulnerable. Such efforts must also include addressing forms of gender-based violence and exploitation, such as domestic violence, since whenever someone is trapped in a situation of abuse they are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

In his book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, Siddharth Kara identifies gender discrimination - along with ethnic and racial discrimination - as one of the main factors that drives the supply of trafficking victims globally (201). He points out that when women lack rights, economic opportunities, educational opportunities, and when violence against women goes unpunished and implicitly sanctioned, women are easy targets for traffickers and are likely to be re-trafficked if they do manage to leave a trafficking situation (129-33).

Women and girls are certainly not the only victims of trafficking, and gender violence and inequalities are not the only factors that shape modern slavery. Nevertheless, efforts to end slavery and prevent trafficking must include efforts to promote women's rights and end gender-based violence. Today as we celebrate women's achievements and progress that has been made towards equality, let us also remember how far we have to go and how much is at stake.

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