Saturday, March 03, 2007

Are Girls Worth Fighting For Or Not?

From the AP: Girls at U.N. meeting urge global action

A 16-year-old Nepalese girl burst into tears describing her work in a match factory to help support her mother. A Jordanian teen spoke out about violence against girls in rural areas. A former child soldier from Congo cried when she recalled her suffering as a sex slave.

The three are among more than 200 young people attending a high-level meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which this year is focusing on discrimination and violence against girls. They spoke at a panel and a news conference about issues that concern them, ranging from rape, trafficking and prostitution to education, child labor and AIDS.

"The most important message is that governments should ensure that every working child gets a free education," said Sunita Tamang, lamenting that in her community in Nepal "people think that if you educate a girl child, it will only embarrass you."

There was a time, she said tearfully, when she couldn't go to school because she had to work to help her mother, a single parent. But now, through a program supported by the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, she attends classes in the morning and works in the factory making boxes for matches in the afternoon.

In her spare time, Tamang started a club with other working children to campaign for education for youngsters who have to work and for an end to violence against children.

"What is unachievable if given an opportunity?" she asked at the crowded panel session. "Look at me — I work in a match factory and today I have been able to come here and share my feelings and experiences with you all."

Golfidan Khader Al Abassy, 18, of Jordan, described the discrimination against girls in families, schools and in the workplace in her country and the shortage of programs that focus on girls' participation.

"I hope it will be in the near future that we will have the same opportunities as boys," she said. "The most important message which I want to send for all over the world ... (is) that the girls have a lot of power ... so if we give them the chance to prove themselves, they will be great persons. ... We have to believe in them."

Madeleine — whose last name was withheld for security reasons — was recruited at age 11 into the Mai-Mai militia, a ragtag group of impoverished fighters with varying loyalties who operate across huge swaths of eastern Congo. She spent two years with the militia, fighting on the front lines, and was demobilized in 2004.

At Friday's panel, she urged the international community to bring those responsible for crimes against girl soldiers in Congo to justice.

"We regret we were forgotten by those who should help us in doing justice to us, especially regarding the unusual sexual exploitation that we endured, which was merely sexual slavery," the 15-year-old said.

"We regret the International Criminal Court has not so far taken into account this aspect which would help ease our pain," she said.

So far only one Congolese warlord has been ordered to stand trial before the war crimes tribunal on a charge of sending children into battle.

Chinyanta Chimba, 17, raised by a single mother in Zambia who was determined that she go to school even if it meant no food on the table, is president of the Student Alliance for Female Education, a school club that seeks to change negative cultural and traditional practices and educate girls about HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and child rights.

"The main thing I would say to all the girls out there is that they should know that they have their own rights and it is time that we all stand up as young girls and speak out," she said.

Chimba said there has been "great encouragement" for the girls from the older participants at the two-week conference, which has brought 6,000 men and women to U.N. headquarters from around the globe.

She said she had believed women would never stand up for their rights, "but looking at what is happening today, it really gives me courage."

"I've got two ambitions," Chimba told the news conference. "The first one is to be a doctor ... and the second ambition is I want to become the first-ever female secretary-general of the U.N."

Journalists, diplomats and U.N. staffers in the room burst into applause.


We can applaud them in New York. That is all well and good. These girls deserve more than that. I wonder, however, just how much we in the West believe in universal rights anymore. Without that belief, I'm not sure we have anything more to offfer them than sympathy.

The sad truth is it amounts to saying, "It sucks being you."

Put this down as reason #3299 why cultural relativism is a bad idea.

8 comments:

Lucia said...

I think the needs of rights and the definition of what kind of rights, how to realize and protect them should be done by the local people, not the outsiders. Certainly, Actually, as we've already seen, many rights, such as what these girls and many other vulnerable people from the South want are not that different from what people believe in the North. What these girls said proved the existence of collectively appreciated values, shared among different groups in the West and the East.



The diversity of cultures and contexts is the soul of universal rights, otherwise it is meaningless to talk about 'universal'. Therefore, instead of to UNIVERSALIZE certain rights believed in some groups, the kind of bottom-up self-motivated movements towards the protection of these appreciated values is the real essence of universal rights.

The 'forced universal rights' is no better than 'cultural relativism' in term of the real benefits of the local. And to enforce the so-called universal rights through military intervention, such as wars to bring democracy, and economical/political pressures, such as conditionalities attached to World Bank loans, is actually a misuse of power. Such actions usually, in stead of empowerment of the local, only impose new kinds of imperialism.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

HI Lucia,

I agree with you to a point. There is much that can be done short of enforcing or promoting rights by the barrel of a gun.

And celebrating a "diversity of cultures and context" is great but it doesn't mean you have to "celebrate" people who wish to keep girls pig ignorant or who wish to trade them back and forth like so much sexual cattle.

And, like it or not, the drive to have women enjoy equal economic, legal and political rights in this world is a "Western" one. For example, the rural banking programs which empower so many poor women all over the world are very openly modeled on Western economic principles, that have profound economic and social affects. They are liberalizing.

I'll gladly admit I'm an absolutist in such matters. I just don't believe there is a place, for example, where rape isn't wrong. Therefore, I don't care if Pakistan has a different "cultural vision" on such matters. The handing down of a "punishment" of rape is wrong. It is wrong everywhere, at all times.

The right of men and women to not be violated by rape is an absolute. For me it is non-negiotable.

Lucia said...

Hi, again,

I agree that crimes hurting children should be punished, not only because it's to liberate women and girls is a western ideology (which I don't agree), but also because the victims to this kind of crime is more vulnerable, and need more protection from the adult.

I think before we even think about whether we have the right to enforce 'universal rights' onto another group of people, we need to first ask ourselves, and actually, ask people in the South who are also involved in the issue concerned, about what they think the reasons are to such crimes existing in their lives, and if they think these crimes should be tolerated, and how they can achieve the goal to prevent similar crimes happen again. So many times people from different culture and different part of the world take the 'difference in culture' as granted, without questioning whether these 'facts' are true or still valid. People change, so are societies and cultures.

All we talk about here is that the situation of child and women abusing in some places should change, but how. As I understand, you think the situation can only be changed through 'foreign interventions'. Do correct my if I understand you wrong. While I think we should leave the right to the locals to carry on the change, because solutions based contextualized experiences are more effective and can minimize further harm. Hence,my point is before we ask the question, we need to add 'why' before 'how'.

I understand your reasons to enforce such right-based movement are first, liberation of women and children is basically a western idea,hence the Westerns know better what it is and how to achieve it. Second, ironic cultures in the South celebrate the culture of raping children and women.

You said 'the drive to have women enjoy equal economic, legal and political rights in this world is a "Western" one.' I don't agree. In fact, for decades, women play more significant roles then men do, in family and social lives. It was then the colonialism since the beginning of last century (ironically, which was also carried on under the name of 'to liberate, and to civilize' the continent) dramatically changed the economical patterns. The civil wars and dictatorships in many African countries since their independences in the 1950s (many still last till nowadays) were a direct-result of colonialism. However, I don't deny that the women empowerment movements in the West are the most reported ones in the media.



The new Nobel Peace Price winner 2006, Muhammad Yunus, as well as the Winner in 2004, Wangari Muta Maathai , their stories are excellent examples telling us that some ideas are not exclusively 'western'-invented.

You said 'I don't care if Pakistan has a different "cultural vision" on such matters.' I wish you can give it a second thought.There are many different cultures and religions in Pakistan, hence not all Pakistanis think crimes such as 'rape' is tolerable. Actually, in some religions practiced in Pakistan, rape is one the most severely punished crime and most intolerable. However, many mainstream western media consider these as non-news-valuable.

Western people may know more about the liberty movements of women and children, but it does not mean that they know more than the locals on HOW to achieve liberty in their contexts. I wish the West have learned the lessons from the failed development models enforced in the South since the 70s. In addition , we need to recognize that the liberation of women is a long process. We cannot expect it happen overnight. Even the feminism movement in the Europe, say in U.K, which has started since late 19 century, still has not achieved the real liberation of all women in their own country. If we can give time to and tolerate the gradual development of the protection of the same right in Europe and America, how can we blindly say some cultures in the South are so primitive and ironic that they celebrate the violation of women and children, especially when we know the victims Do suffer the crime (they don't celebrate being raped) and there do exist local actionists working on empowering women and children.

Also, I wish our concern and hence the ongoing of this discussion is based on the understanding that we want to PREVENT similar crimes happen again, PREVENT more children and women becoming victims. Our purpose is not to find a reason so we can punish people. Punish is only the means, not the end, isn't it? Maybe the real way to help the children is to shift the attention from the crime itself, to the real people.

That's also interesting that you brought up the issue of child-trafficking for purposes such as sex-exploitation. I can only say that I know a bit of this issue, because it's the topic of my Master thesis. It's sad to see that child-trafficking have actually increased since 2003, however, it's even more scary when you find out more than 90% of the children trafficked ended up in industrial countries in the North, usually the U.S, Canada, and west Europe. Why? there's a demand. If you ask who are the biggest benefiters of cross-country, even cross-continent, child-trafficking, I'd say it's people like you and I living in the North. Who control those brothels? who consume these 'human-business'? what do most industrial countries when some of the victims were found out and rescued? they treat them as illegal immigrants, and send them back. You see, Who are the one sending these children back and forth?

When we talk about some countries in the South are underdeveloped, we ignore the issue that some countries in the North are overdeveloped. Over-consumptions and the desires for hedonistic pleasure become major drives of the suffer and inequalities to people in the South.

You said, 'The right of men and women to not be violated by rape is an absolute. For me it is non-negiotable.' I agree, and respect it. But how can we make these people really enjoy these rights without further impoverishing their other rights. If I tell you, one possible method is too tell Western sex-tourists stop going to Thailand or South Africa or Middle East countries to buy sex, or to not to consume internet and digital products of child-pornography, will you work on it? Or it's a violation of non-negotiable individual freedom of choice?!

Well, realities have proved that local people are actually more creative in solving their problems and their methods are not only more indigenous, but also effective. Because these methods tackle the core of the problems, which are usually poverty, extreme poverty, to be honest. Many people think that 'primitive' religion and culture are the reasons causing so many 'inequalities' in the South, which is not absolute wrong, but it's definitely not the core reason . As Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen said in his book 'Development as freedom', poverty is the core reason of vulnerability and psychological trauma. The 'western' models of development (such as 'technology shift in the 70s, free-market in the 80s and good-governance in the 90s,) which the West has been promoted to the south has been proved inefficient than expected, and many of these models actually made the poor poorer. What we need now is to offer support to human developments required, designed, and carried on by the locals, because only they know the best what they want and how to get it realized through the most effective means. And what kind of aids the local need should be defined by themselves also.

We two, and people in the West, are not the only ones recognizing right and wrong. We are not the only ones believe wrong-doings should be punished. We cannot risk others' future based on what believe is the best for them. I don't think many things in Middle East, or same as any other place in the world, is ironic. I do not think there are ironic culture, believe, nation or country, only ironic reasons that individual people use to cover their wrong doings or to 'legitimize' what they want to do.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Hi Lucia,

Thanks again for your comments.

I am aware of the difficulties that are involved in what might be loosely termed the "cross cultural pollination of ideas", and in many ways my ideas are not too different from your own (see my piece on Promoting Democracy as a good example of that.

I have other thoughts I will have to get to later.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Ok I've got a bit more time.

"I think before we even think about whether we have the right to enforce 'universal rights' onto another group of people, we need to first ask ourselves, and actually, ask people in the South who are also involved in the issue concerned, about what they think the reasons are to such crimes existing in their lives, and if they think these crimes should be tolerated, and how they can achieve the goal to prevent similar crimes happen again. So many times people from different culture and different part of the world take the 'difference in culture' as granted, without questioning whether these 'facts' are true or still valid. People change, so are societies and cultures."

Such an approach would work well in largely democratioc societies. But what of the others? Are we to remain agnostic about them?

"I understand your reasons to enforce such right-based movement are first, liberation of women and children is basically a western idea,hence the Westerns know better what it is and how to achieve it. Second, ironic cultures in the South celebrate the culture of raping children and women.

You said 'the drive to have women enjoy equal economic, legal and political rights in this world is a "Western" one.' I don't agree. In fact, for decades, women play more significant roles then men do, in family and social lives. It was then the colonialism since the beginning of last century"

I purposely left out the "social" aspect in my appraisal. I am not claiming that the people in these coutnires dont love and care for their girl children, or that they are not an important part of the social fabric of society. However, the lack of formal legal standing is a problem. It will not affect those women and girls who are lucky enough to live in a stable and loving family. But what of the unlucky? Once again, are we supposed to be agnostic about them?

The US State Department report on Human Trafficking is illustrative on this point. If you look at the countries that are defined as Tier 3 (having basically no legal protection for the victims of Human Trafficking, largely women and children) or Tier 2 Watch List (Making some effort at offering protection, but still very poor in general) you can see it is the nations that offer little in the way of legal, economic and political rights to women that head the list.

See the Tiers here


This doesn't mean everything is perfect in Western societies, but at least all of those places offer legal standing for women. For those who do basially nothing the US can impose sanctions. I think it is a very measured statute. How do you read it?

From the 2006 report:

"Potential Penalties for Tier 3 Countries

"Governments of countries in Tier 3 may be subject to certain sanctions. The U.S. Government may withhold non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance. Countries that receive no such assistance would be subject to withholding of funding for participation in educational and cultural exchange programs.

"Consistent with the TVPA, such governments would also face U.S. opposition to assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance) from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These potential consequences will take effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year, October 1, 2006. All or part of the TVPA’s sanctions can be waived upon a determination by the President that the provision of such assistance to the government would promote the purposes of the statute or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States. The TVPA also provides that sanctions can be waived if necessary to avoid significant adverse effects on vulnerable populations, including women and children. Sanctions would not apply if the President finds that, after this Report is issued but before the imposition of sanctions, a government has come into compliance with the minimum standards or is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance.

"Regardless of tier placement, every country can do more, including the United States. No country placement is permanent. All countries must maintain and increase efforts to combat trafficking."

You state:

"Western people may know more about the liberty movements of women and children, but it does not mean that they know more than the locals on HOW to achieve liberty in their contexts. I wish the West have learned the lessons from the failed development models enforced in the South since the 70s. In addition , we need to recognize that the liberation of women is a long process. We cannot expect it happen overnight. Even the feminism movement in the Europe, say in U.K, which has started since late 19 century, still has not achieved the real liberation of all women in their own country. If we can give time to and tolerate the gradual development of the protection of the same right in Europe and America, how can we blindly say some cultures in the South are so primitive and ironic that they celebrate the violation of women and children, especially when we know the victims Do suffer the crime (they don't celebrate being raped) and there do exist local actionists working on empowering women and children."

I do not disagree with you, but I do not think this require the West to do nothing. In this day and age no region of this planet lives in a bubble without contact with other peoples. In most circumstances the West can simply encourage these countries to offer the bare minimum of political and legal protections, but in extreme cases we should, I blieve, do more. The Taliban regime was not just "a different but equally valid viewpoint." It was a vicious tyranny, that no government, East, West, North or South should tolerate.

"That's also interesting that you brought up the issue of child-trafficking for purposes such as sex-exploitation. I can only say that I know a bit of this issue, because it's the topic of my Master thesis. It's sad to see that child-trafficking have actually increased since 2003, however, it's even more scary when you find out more than 90% of the children trafficked ended up in industrial countries in the North, usually the U.S, Canada, and west Europe. Why? there's a demand. If you ask who are the biggest benefiters of cross-country, even cross-continent, child-trafficking, I'd say it's people like you and I living in the North. Who control those brothels? who consume these 'human-business'? what do most industrial countries when some of the victims were found out and rescued? they treat them as illegal immigrants, and send them back. You see, Who are the one sending these children back and forth?"

Where are you getting your statistic from here? I've looked around but cannot find any such stats. When you consider worldwise how much of the trafficking is INTRA-national as opposed to INTER-national, I'm not sure your numbers are right. In any event, it does not alter the fact that victim in the United States or Canada or West Europe DO have legal status to bring their violators to justice. The fact is you do have folks in North America and Europe who wish to prey upon children. They often leave the Western nations to prey upon them overseas exactly because the Western nations attempt to protect them in a way that simply doesnt happen in a lot of other places.

" When we talk about some countries in the South are underdeveloped, we ignore the issue that some countries in the North are overdeveloped. Over-consumptions and the desires for hedonistic pleasure become major drives of the suffer and inequalities to people in the South."

This seems to assume that wealth is some sort of zero-sum game. This is simply not the case. The US does not require Belize, for example, to be poor in order for the US to be wealthy.

I would also suggest that the connection between wealth and women's rights is not as highly correlated as you are suggesting. New Zealand afforded equal political rights to women at a time they were a relatively poor agricultural society. Granted they were the beneficiaries of the political and legal traditions of Great Britain, but that doesn't alter the fact that change occured in the absence of fantastic wealth.

I agree with you that the "packaging" of this change will be different to make it easier to integrate into the native culture...but that doesn't mean we cannot make a stand against injustice.

Lucia said...

Hi, thank you for the feedback. I also don't have time to write a complete reply now. Just one thing first, wealth is much broader than economic zero-sum game, same as economic growth does not mean development.By using over-development and over-consumption as examples, I wanna illustrate that behind the regional issues/problems, there usually embed global reasons on a deeper level. Also, I don't see over-consumption or overdevelopment simply as economic phenomena. They are actually social issues. In Bourdieu's word, what we consume today is not the use value commodities, however the sign-value, or the symbolic value of lifestyles and social statues.


I agree with you that globalization is something unstoppable nowadays. It has its advantages and drawbacks. As we look back at the very beginning of globalization started in the late 80s and early 90s, we'd find, unfortunately, the drive of globalization is purely economical, or the globalization of capital and market. Because of the economical-driven globalization, almost major activities in the world we have today, let it be political, cultural, humanity, religious, or environment-oriented, are functioned according to economic mechanisms. Hence we experience what Arjun Appadurai called 'the fetishism of consumer' and consume the commodities that are no longer merely 'an alienation of labor', but also 'the alienation of agency'. In this sense, the way we prioritizing economy globally is a very unsustainable way of development. Consciouses of right/wrong and justice are forced to compromise to a piece of bread.

In this sense, the whole world is an economic machine. Africa and some Asian countries are resource, labor bases, manufacturing and assembling workshops, with domination of technologies and patented knowledges, some even on resources, it becomes simply true that 'The US does not require Belize, for example, to be poor in order for the US to be wealthy.', The way Americans consume and the globally promoted 'ideal way of living' (usually carried on through major conglomerations and TNCs, and worshiped by some local elites in the South), leave little chance for Belize to be wealthy.

My point is there won't be real justice anywhere as long as we live in a globally unjust world. And many regional issues we have today, including child-trafficking or broken legislation system in local regions are caused by the globally unequal distribution of wealth.What cause these global inequalities in development? Look back in history, I think we can agree that the reasons are not merely regional.

How I understand 'wealth',it's more about empowerment instead of simply enrichment, capability to self-realization. I think the human development index that UNDP adapts can basically covers the major aspects that what I think wealth should cover. To be more specific about children, I'd say my understanding of wealth is based on both the human development index and UNICEF's conventions on Children's rights. I find this report interesting, because it addresses the issue of uneven distribution and redistribution of development benefit globally.
u/research/2006-2007/2006-2007-1/wider-wdhw-launch-5-12-2006/wider-wdhw-press-release-5-12-2006.pdfI

OK. Now I must go. and I notice the comment has gone far longer than I planned -sorry-:=) About the statistics, child-trafficking in general is a under-researched topic, and due to its nature, data are sometimes inexact (based on experts estimation) and not up-to-date, even from credible sources such as UNICEF. I need to go back to my references of news and data, but you will get the sources.:=) In case you are interested, the digital libray on Childtrafficking.com, ILO, UNICEF are three sources I frequently consulted. (but I cannot recall that the date I used in previous entry were from them) I also consult the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report. I notice you use it as source as well. Do you notice that many countries' performances have been improved a lot in three years, for instance. Societies do change, you see. And the changes are best achieved when they are done spontaneously.

(I don't know if you are interested in environmental philosophy. I just notice that you also have some environmental related articles. If you are interested in Deep Ecology, Arne Næss, maybe you'd find this workgroup interesting. http://deepecology.sytes.net/ and we have a group on google as well, everyone interested is welcome. It's a self-organized study group of my fellow students at the Centre of Development and the Environment, Uni. of Oslo. )

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Hi Lucia,

You said: In this sense, the whole world is an economic machine. Africa and some Asian countries are resource, labor bases, manufacturing and assembling workshops, with domination of technologies and patented knowledges, some even on resources, it becomes simply true that 'The US does not require Belize, for example, to be poor in order for the US to be wealthy.', The way Americans consume and the globally promoted 'ideal way of living' (usually carried on through major conglomerations and TNCs, and worshiped by some local elites in the South), leave little chance for Belize to be wealthy.

Do we have a "which came first, the chicken or the egg" problem here? :-)

For me, it is the legal framework that comes first. Indeed, I feel it is by establishing women's political and economic RIGHTS that you can help ensure wealth creation. Rights are not an expediency added only after some level of wealth is attained. I fell you can see time and again societies without the needed legal/political/economic frameworks needed to prosper. (Nigeria leaps to mind as an example of a country that could do more prosperous were it not for the near total failure of the legal framework in the country and the corruption such a situation encourages.)

The fact is RIGHTS do not impose a cost on society. Keeping women from having political or economic rights does not help a society become wealthy, it fact it does exactly the opposite. It has been fashionable for quite some time to blame Western countries for the sorry state of the developing nations...and I will blame them for largely ignoring the political/economic rights of women in favor of other expedienceies. By supporting regimes that have had no concern for he rights of half of their citizens, we have helped perpetuate these cancerous political/economical systems.

Certainly the desire to develop a sound legal framework for society exists in the developing world, and YES it will largely be the work of those in those societies to bring such visions to fruition..but the US (and the western world from generally) SHOULD single out to help those working in this direction AND avoid helping those who are not. I'm open as to what form such "incentives" might take...but I feel we have to make distinctions.

BTW I've enjoyed our discussion. I'm sure you will find much to dispute here on the IMW, but through disputation much common ground can be found.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

You asked me a question i for got to address:

You said, 'The right of men and women to not be violated by rape is an absolute. For me it is non-negiotable.' I agree, and respect it. But how can we make these people really enjoy these rights without further impoverishing their other rights. If I tell you, one possible method is too tell Western sex-tourists stop going to Thailand or South Africa or Middle East countries to buy sex, or to not to consume internet and digital products of child-pornography, will you work on it? Or it's a violation of non-negotiable individual freedom of choice?!

I fully support the legislation that makes "sex tourism" (at least when the exploitation of children is involved) a crime regardless of where the offense takes place. I certainly do not believe there is a fundamental "freedom of choice" that require the protection of child pornography. Obviously the human rights of the children come before anything else.