Human Rights

Fighting for Their Lives

Last April, 10 civil society organizations across Kenya, under the banner “Gender 10,” initiated a rather unusual mass action: a sex strike. In the wake of the post-election violence that rocked the country in early 2008 and produced a coalition government with two chief executives, the government was mired in inertia and public bickering, while vigilante groups still roamed the countryside.

Fed up, Gender 10—which encompassed women’s policy and advocacy groups, children’s rights organizations, and the Federation of Kenyan Women Lawyers—urged all women in Kenya to abstain from sex with their husbands and partners for an entire week until the politicians got their act together. A special appeal went out to both first ladies, Lucy Kibaki and Ida Odinga. “An extraordinary situation calls for an extraordinary measure,” the Gender 10 press statement read.

The result was that Parliament was convened one week after the boycott, while the cabinet met the second week. A government task force was set up to address the insecurity caused by the vigilantes.

And there were other benefits, according to Ann Njogu, executive director of the Centre for Rights, Education, and Awareness in Nairobi. “What the boycott did was to create a debate in this country. People actually talked about sex in public for the first time.” Apart from breaking the political impasse, the boycott “brought out openly the prejudices that exist in our society: that women have no right to say no, that women can be raped in marriage, and that divorced women are less of a citizen.”

These are just a few of the issues that Kenyan women’s groups are facing in a country where only 10 percent of Parliament is female; where rape victims seeking justice have faced daunting legal as well as societal hurdles; where widows and other vulnerable people are often deprived of their legal inheritances; and where women in HIV-affected families are too often stigmatized and marginalized.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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The Trafficker Next Door

In Playground: The Child Sex Trade in America, filmmaker Libby Spears traces the United States’ role in global sex trafficking, while also documenting how prevalent the problem is in the U.S. Becky Garrison, author of The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, spoke with Spears earlier this year at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, where the film debuted.

What compelled you to create this documentary?

I was in the Philippines in 2001 doing another documentary when I came across the story of the “comfort women” who were trafficked during World War II to service the Japanese Army. It was the first time I had heard the term “sex trafficking,” which is so appalling and horrific to me. I became obsessed with that topic and began shooting stories about the women who are being trafficked around military bases in Southeast Asia. I realized quickly I was in over my head and there was a lot of personal risk I couldn’t take. When I came back [to the U.S.], I realized this was happening here, which is where the documentary ended up.

How do U.S. citizens influence the global demand and growth of the sex trafficking industry?

It all goes back to U.S. capitalism. Statistically, everyone thinks this is an overseas problem—from the backdoor brothel to the child pornography bit. But the majority of this is happening in the U.S. in terms of where the money is being funneled from ultimately. Most of the victims of child pornography are American.

How does our society’s hypersexualized culture contribute to this problem?

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Audio Interview with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Promoting gender equality is crucial to combating global poverty, a point Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn make in their new book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Millions of women and girls in developing countries die, are killed, or suffer brutality-because they are female. The authors, who share a marriage and a Pulitzer for their reporting for The New York Times, relate stories of horrific abuse-sex trafficking, honor killings, mass rape, maternal mortality-but also of terrific courage and resilience. Sojourners associate editor Molly Marsh spoke with them about their work.

 

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Extended Interview with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Promoting gender equality is crucial to combating global poverty, a point Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn make in their new book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Millions of women and girls in developing countries die, are killed, or suffer brutality—because they are female. The authors, who share a marriage and a Pulitzer for their reporting for The New York Times, relate stories of horrific abuse—sex trafficking, honor killings, mass rape, maternal mortality—but also of terrific courage and resilience. Sojourners associate editor Molly Marsh spoke with them about their work.

 

 

Molly Marsh: I was struck by the story of Nick at the India/Nepal border, where guards were assigned to stop the smuggling of goods such as pirated DVDs, yet no one is stopping the stream of Nepali girls being trafficked into India. The guard you spoke to essentially said, “Well, this is the way it is. Plus, young men need a sexual outlet until they get married.” That story captured what I think underlies all of the issues you talk about—that females are somehow less important, less human.

 

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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Segregated Schools

Schools in the United States are becoming increasingly segregated based on students’ race and economic status, according to a study released by Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project. While some of these developments are due to population shifts caused by immigration trends, segregation is a historic, continual problem in the U.S. education system.

Within the next decade, white student enrollment will be less than 50 percent, while Latino enrollment will soar to more than 9.9 million students nationwide, an increase of 9 percent since 1988. Today, 44 percent of U.S. students are people of color.

31.5%
Percentage of students from low-income households among all white students enrolled in the U.S. public school system in 2006-07.

58.8%
Percentage of students from low-income households among all African-American students enrolled in the U.S. public school system in 2006-07.

0.4 million
Number of white students who attend schools where nine-tenths or more of the students are poor—just 1.5 percent.

15%
Percentage of people of color among teachers currently working in U.S. public schools.

Source: “Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge” (The Civil Rights Project, January 2009).

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Aid without Demands

While diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea seem to be at a standstill, aid organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse continue creating deeper ties with the “hermit kingdom” through charitable donations and development work. In October, Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and son of evangelist Billy Graham, made his third trip to North Korea to deliver $190,000 in equipment and supplies for a new dental center. Since 1997, Samaritan’s Purse has provided North Korea with more than $10 million in assistance.

Though millions of North Koreans have died and suffered extensive human rights violations—including torture, concentration camps, and secret executions—Samaritan’s Purse neither chastises the North Korean government for its abuses nor advocates that the U.S. government improve diplomatic relations between the two nations. “Samaritan’s Purse is not involved in advocating with the U.S. government on foreign policy issues for North Korea or other countries,” Ken Isaacs, international projects director for Samaritan’s Purse, told Sojourners. “We pray more doors will open for us in North Korea to build relationships, gain access, and meet humanitarian needs.”

Recently, Graham has come under scrutiny for earning more in 2008—$1.2 million—than any other leader of a U.S.-based international relief agency, according to nonprofit watchdog GuideStar.

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