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Women still being brutalised, sexually assaulted

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Recently, the international news media sent tongues a-wagging all over the world with reports of the rescue of three women in the USA who had been kidnapped for over a decade. Emotional and repulsive as their fate might have been, it pales in significance with the horrific experiences of millions of women the world over, which do not seem to move us as much as these individual stories.{{more}}

There are reasons for this skewed attention, mainly rooted in both the historical discrimination against women, non-white women in particular, and the tendency to treat events in the developed countries as worthy of wider media coverage than similar events, even if on a far more tragic scale, than those in developing and underdeveloped countries.

Kidnapping, rape, sexual abuse and crimes of such nature, are reprehensible, no matter where and under what sets of circumstances. The women in Ohio, deprived of liberty and sexually abused for such a long period, must have endured a truly horrible experience. Our strong reactions to their fate must lead us to think much further and to try to understand what is happening to so many others, not so lucky to be given such media coverage.

With the advent of the Internet, we can go beyond where the international media wants to lead us and to seek information about the misfortune of women in so many other places in the world – Sudan, the Congo and our sister CARICOM nation of Haiti, for example. The enslavement and the trafficking of women and young girls is still a reality in our world of today. Strangely, it does not appear to prick our consciences on a daily basis.

According to United Nations’ statistics, human trafficking ranks only behind the trade in illegal drugs and arms in terms of global turnover, generating some US $32 billion annually. The vast majority of persons who suffer such a fate are women, as can be seen by the fact that of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 persons trafficked across borders each year, 70 per cent are women and half of the total amount are children.

If we are talking about trafficking and kidnapping, then it cannot be lost upon us the extent of such evils during the period of slavery. Tens of millions of African women were kidnapped, enslaved, brutalised, sexually exploited, dehumanised. So if what happened to the three women in the USA is so abhorrent to us, how do we react to this aspect of our history? Does that not justify our claims for reparation?

Currently, the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) is running a series on “Caribvision”, done by TV6 in Trinidad, exposing the sexual exploitation of women from Spanish-speaking countries in the region (Santo Domingo, Venezuela, Panama etc) in brothels, bars and hotels in the twin-island republic. It is common knowledge that women are subjected to similar abuse in other Caribbean countries, tricked into believing they are getting legitimate employment, deprived of their liberty and forced to have their bodies violated for the profits of others. Are we not disgusted enough to do something about this?

It is our passive acceptance of such outrages that underpin the continuing contempt for our women folk exhibited so often, not just in the brutal murders and rapes from which we recoil, but the day-to-day battering, sexual harassment and the like, that our women must endure on a day-to-day basis. The media and the major cultural influences play their role in this.

A recent feature story in the British daily newspaper, The Independent, entitled “Women in the movies?”, reveals some of the biases against women in this influential sphere. The gist of the article is that in movies today, the old adage about being seen and not heard is still being applied. Female representation in the movies, it points out, is at its lowest level for five years. Where having a prominent voice is concerned, of the top 100 money-earning films in 2012, less than 30 percent of the speaking characters were female; just six per cent of the films had a cast where men and women shared speaking roles equally; and it seems that cartoon characters and animals have a bigger chance of getting a line than a real actress.

Significantly, The Independent article hones in on what the movies consider important about women – exposing flesh. So it points out that 31 per cent of actresses appeared on screen in “sexually revealing clothes”, the highest percentage for five years and that well over half of the teenage girls on screen wear “provocative outfits”.

With such powerful influences on our sub-conscious being, it is no wonder that the acceptance of women in such roles is so widespread. It leads to the feeling that men are entitled to have power over women, their bodies in particular, which in turn is carried to the extremes by the “sickos” in our societies, those who kidnap, rape and carry out brutal physical assault on women. The struggle to combat such violations of rights is a formidable social challenge.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com-mentator.

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