Radical Feminism Applied to Globalisation, Gender and Development

Radical Feminists point out that Globalisation may actually be leading to new forms of exploitation of women, and that, despite globalisation generally improving the lives of women, there are still significant areas for improvement. Two examples of this include the emergence of the global sex-industry and the persistence of violence against women despite globalisation.

Globalisation and Modern Slavery

The most obvious example of globalisation opening up new forms of female exploitation is the rise of modern slavery, and especially the global sex industry.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 2.5 million trafficking victims who are living in exploitive conditions and another 1.2 million people who are trafficked across and within borders. These numbers include men, women, and children who are trafficked into forced labour or sexual exploitation, and appear to be on the rise worldwide. Women account for more than 50% percent of all trafficking victims. Globalization has provided for an easier means of exploiting those living in poverty who are seeking better lives, it also has provided for dramatic improvements in transportation and communications with which to facilitate the physical processing of persons.

Women are generally lured into slavery through promises of employment as shopkeepers, maids, nannies, or waitresses in developed countries. Upon arriving, these women are then told they have been purchased by someone and must work as a prostitute to repay the enormous debt they suddenly owe. To ensure that these women do not flee, their “owners” often subject them to beatings, take their documents upon arrival, and keep them under conditions of slavery. These women then either physically cannot go to the authorities or are fearful of being deported, especially if they do not have their documents or the documents were fraudulently obtained through their trafficker.

One of the main contributing factors to this increase in trafficking has been the widespread subjugation of women. Often ethnic minorities or lower class groups are more vulnerable to trafficking, because these women and girls have a very low social status that puts them at risk. Another contributor to the increase in trafficking is political and economic crisis in conflict or post-conflict areas. The breakdown of society and the rule of law have made these displaced populations vulnerable to the lure of a better future or an exit from their current countries.

Trafficking flourishes because it is a lucrative practice, generating from 7 to 12 billion dollars a year. In addition, the highly clandestine nature of the crime of human trafficking ensures that the great majority of human trafficking cases go unreported and culprits remain at large. There are reports that many human traffickers are associated with international criminal organizations and are, therefore, highly mobile and difficult to prosecute. Further complicating matters, sometimes members of the local law enforcement agencies are involved in trafficking. Prosecution is made difficult because victims of trafficking do not testify against traffickers out of fear for their and their family members’ lives.

South-East Asia and South Asia are considered to be home to the largest number of internationally trafficked persons, with estimates of 225,000 and 150,000 victims respectively.

The Continuing prevalence of Violence Against Women

Radical Feminists also point out that physical and sexual violence against women also poses a significant threat to women’s health and safety.

In 2013, the WHO sponsored the first widespread study of global data on violence against women, and found that it constitutes a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions.’ Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women, and 38 percent of all women who have been murdered were murdered by an intimate partner. Women who experience physical and/or sexual partner violence are also 1.5 times more likely to acquire a sexually-transmitted infection.

Some traditional cultural practices impose threats to the health of women, and may be more difficult to change through educational and preventative policies than unhealthy practices that are unrelated to culture, such as nutrition. The UN Human Rights Commission identifies the practices most threatening to women as:

  • Female circumcision, known as female genital mutilation to its opponents, which involves the excision of a woman’s external sexual organs
  • Other forms of mutilation, such as facial scarring
  • Traditional practices associated with childbirth
  • The problem of dowries in some parts of the world
  • Honour killings
  • The consequences of preference for male babies, such as parental neglect and infanticide of female babies.

Female genital mutilation is a special focus of many efforts to end violence against women, although the movement to view it as a violation of human rights meets some resistance to what some consider a violation of family and community sanctity. Amnesty International says,

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the cornerstone of the human rights system, asserts that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It protects the right to security of person and the right not to be subjected to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment — rights which are of direct relevance to the practice of female genital mutilation. The traditional interpretation of these rights has generally failed to encompass forms of violence against women such as domestic violence or female genital mutilation.

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