White Man to the Rescue?
I got an e-mail from Feminist Majority asking me to e-mail the
President protesting the Iraqi Governing Council's approval
of Resolution 137, which would abolish current family law and
allow Sharia to take its place. This depressing development
has not been widely reported, but I already knew about it thanks
to Madre, the women's international human rights organisation.
No sooner had I dispatched my message than up popped Amnesty
International, alerting me to the work being done to end sexual
violence around the world by V-Day, Eve Ensler's feminist activist
organisation. Then it was Madre again, with news of an Islamic
fundamentalist death threat against Iraqi feminist Yanar Mohammed.
mailbox is the same story: news and appeals from Equality Now,
which uses letter-writing campaigns and legal action to combat
injustices around the world, from female genital mutilation
and honour killings to the imprisonment of Nepalese women who've
had abortions; the Global Fund for Women, which sponsors a wide
variety of pro-woman projects in 160 countries; Network of East/West
Women, which supports women's rights activists in the former
Soviet bloc; the women's desks of Amnesty International and
Human Rights Watch; and many more.
of these good people because the New York Times's Nicholas Kristof
is once again accusing American feminists of ignoring Third
World women and girls. Last spring, he discovered obstetric
fistula in Africa the tear between the birth canal and the lower
intestine that can happen during protracted labour and that,
unless corrected, condemns a woman to a lifetime of physical
misery and social ostracism. Kristof profiled Addis Ababa Fistula
Hospital in Ethiopia and wondered why "most feminist organisations
in the West have never shown interest in these women."
Perhaps, he wrote, "the issue doesn't galvanize women's
groups because fistulas relate to a traditional child-bearing
role." Right, we all know that feminists only care about
aborting babies, not delivering them safely. The Times got a
lot of letters (and published some, including one from me) pointing
out that feminists, in fact, were behind numerous efforts to
combat fistula and other maternity-related health problems in
Africa, including the work of the UNFPA, praised by Kristof,
whose funding was eliminated by the White House to please its
right-wing Christian base.
he'd learn. But no. Now Kristof is complaining that American
women's groups such as NOW and Feminist Majority don't care
about sexual slavery and the trafficking of women and children
for commercial sex. In a series of columns, he describes his
efforts to "buy the freedom" of two Cambodian teenage
prostitutes living in a sleazy brothel in Poipet and to get
them home to their families. Evangelical Christians, he argues,
care about girls like these; feminists are too busy "saving
Title IX and electing more women to the Senate," he observed
in a Times online forum. Right, why should American women care
about equal opportunities and electing to office people who
think contraception is as important as Viagra? Never mind that
putting more feminists in the Senate not more "women"
would mean more help for the very causes Kristof supports!
you the truth, I thought those columns were a little weird--there's
such a long tradition of privileged men rescuing individual
prostitutes as a kind of whirlwind adventure. You would never
know from the five columns he wrote about young Srey Neth and
Srey Mom, that anyone in Cambodia thought selling your daughter
to a brothel was anything but wonderful. I wish he had given
us the voices of some Cambodian activists-- for starters, the
Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre and the Cambodian League for
the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) both of
which are skeptical about brothel raids and rescues, which often
dump traumatized girls on local NGOs that lack the resources
to care for them. Instead he called Donna Hughes-- a professor
at Rhode Island University who publishes in National Review,
The Weekly Standard and FrontPage Magazine, and whose opposition
to all forms of prostitution is so monolithic that she has written
against the Thai government's policy of promoting and enforcing
condom use in brothels to prevent transmission of AIDS and gave
her space to ventilate against American feminists.
fun, I called Kim Gandy, head of NOW, something Kristof forgot
to do. "We're basically a national organisation with a
domestic agenda," she told me. "I mean, that's what
our mission is. If we had more money, we could do a lot more."
Still, NOW had, along with Equality Now, Feminist Majority and
other groups, lobbied for passage of the Trafficking Victims
Protection Act, passed in 2000 under President Clinton, which
established legal rights for trafficking victims in the United
States and mandated cuts in aid to governments involved in the
sex trade. Over at Feminist Majority, Ellie Smeal was peeved
as well. They'd spent hours, she told me, informing Kristof's
assistant about their organisation's work on sex trafficking--beyond
lobbying for the trafficking bill, the Feminist Majority's Center
for Women and Policing holds regular conferences on implementation
for law-enforcement officials. "You could say that on every
issue, we could do more," she said. "But 'complacent?'
'Shamefully lackadaisical?' I don't think that's fair."
Jessica Neuwirth and Taina Bien-Aimé of Equality Now
also met with Kristof, to little avail. "It's great that
he brought the issue to greater public attention, and we hope
he'll stay with it," Neuwirth said. "But I don't think
he appreciates how stretched women's organisations are."
see the narrative in the process of creation:
Third World women are victims; American men are saviours. Right-wing
Christians care about Third World women; feminists only care
about themselves. Meanwhile, Equality Now fights the good fight
on 'spit and a nickel,' as Bien-Aimé says, and gets ignored.
As my daughter used to say when she was small, "What do
you have to do to get some attention around here?"
Pollitt is a columnist for the Nation, a New York based magazine.
The article was originally published in the Nation.)
Courtesy : Shobak News