The global AIDS war on young women … and especially girls

A global war is being waged against girls and young women. From 2005 to 2012, public policy and popular determination resulted in a global dip of 30% in AIDS-related deaths. In that same period, 10- to 19-year-olds suffered a 50% increase in AIDS-related deaths. The epicenter of this is sub-Saharan Africa, and the heart of that epicenter is comprised of girls and young women. How did this happen?

From global agencies (and their donors) to national governments to local practitioners, everyone refused to respect the arc of peoples’ lives. They refused to think of the number of children born HIV+.  Many of those children never received antiretroviral treatment, or ART. Of those who did, few received adequate, or any kind, of follow-up or support. Everyone refused to plan child- and adolescent-friendly services. Children were left to fend for themselves, often without the knowledge or information of their status.

And so the children have died in increasing numbers… especially girls: “Adolescents and young people remain extremely vulnerable to acquiring HIV infection, especially girls who live in settings with a generalized HIV epidemic or who are members of populations at high risk for HIV acquisition or transmission.”

Especially girls. Consider some numbers:

92% of the world’s pregnant women with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. 59% of those women received ART or prophylaxis during pregnancy and delivery.

A recent survey indicates that only 15% of young women in sub-Saharan Africa know their status. Put more directly, 85% have no idea.

Young women are three times more likely than young men to become infected.

The situation is actually worse, because there are well-known successful youth-centered programs and projects. They’re out there, and there not difficult to find, from South Africa to Botswana to Mozambique to Jamaica and beyond, successful programs begin with respect for the individual and collective autonomies of children, adolescents, and youth, and they work to better understand the particular operations of genders in their communities.

One study released this week indicates, “Child support grant keeps sugar daddies away.” Or, as the researchers put it, “Our findings provide evidence that government-administered cash transfers are associated with reduced incidence in the past year and lower prevalence of risky sexual behaviours in adolescent girls, but no consistent associations for boys… Child-focused cash transfers target specific—rather than all—risky sexual behaviours, and that a possible mechanism of change might be interruption of risks driven by economic necessity. This finding is especially important because transactional and age-disparate relationships are linked and major vectors of HIV infection, via power inequalities and higher infection rates in older male partners and male partners who provide financial support.”

Do you need a study to tell you that most young girls engaging in sex with older, and wealthier, men are acting “transactionally”? Common sense or conversations with those young girls would suggest as much.

National governments and their international partners have steadfastly refused to have those conversations. They refused to look at girls and young women with anything like a gender lens, with anything like respect. And so the death tolls mount, and the piles of corpses are overwhelmingly women and girls. Girls and young women are not “falling through gaps in HIV services”. They were not forgotten or overlooked. They have been positioned, targeted, by agencies and nation-States that give lip service to women’s rights while colluding in the mass deaths of young women … and especially girls.

Haunts: In criminalizing HIV transmission, the US and Canada lead a global war on women

The United States leads the world in prosecuting people for HIV transmission and exposure. Canada comes in second. All but two of Mexico’s 30 states criminalize HIV-status nondisclosure. North America leads the way … in a global war on women.

Globally, women bear the brunt of the HIV pandemic. In the United States, that’s particularly true for women of color. In the US, HIV-positive women of color face extraordinarily high rates of morbidity and mortality. They also report high rates of intimate partner violence. This doubles the risk of death for HIV-positive women. The house is a war zone, and then the State jumps in and intensifies it … through laws that universally and without distinction criminalize `everyone’ for nondisclosure of their status.

Women in abusive, toxic relationships are supposed to `share’ with their partners? It’s that simple? Cicely Bolden shared with her partner. He killed her. He justified his murder by claiming the disclosure drove him mad.

In October, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down two decisions concerning so-called criminal transmission. The Court claimed its decisions were meant to clarify some vagueness in a 1998 decision, R. v. Cuerrier. In that decision, the Court said people living with HIV and AIDS had to disclose their status before engaging in sex. To not do so constituted `fraud’. The two recent cases, R. v. Mabior and R. v. D.C., dismally clarified the Court’s understanding of what’s at stake here: risk.

Here’s the story of the D.C. case:

A woman living with HIV, D.C., had a partner for four years. The partner claims the first time they had sex together, she had not disclosed her status to him. When she did reveal her status, he said it was fine. They stayed together for four years. At some point, he became abusive and violent. Finally, he was convicted for beating D.C. and her son. That’s when he accused her of not disclosing her HIV+ status. Although she claimed that they used a condom the first time they had sex, the trial judge did not believe her and found that their first sexual encounter was unprotected. D.C. was convicted of sexual assault and aggravated assault for not disclosing her HIV status to her partner. The partner is HIV negative, by the way. On appeal, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned D.C.’s convictions on the basis that, even if no condom had been used for that first sexual encounter, her viral load was undetectable at the time. Based on her viral load, there was no “significant risk” of transmission. Non-disclosure, thus, was not a crime. That’s the case Supreme Court of Canada heard.

The Court decided against D.C. and, in so doing, declared that the risk of AIDS is so great that those living with AIDS must disclose, use condoms, and have low viral loads if they are to avoid criminal prosecution.

According to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, with this decision “the Supreme Court of Canada made the law even harsher for PHAs: people must now disclose their status before having sexual relations that pose a `realistic possibility’ of HIV transmission. But in the Court’s view, a `realistic possibility’ encompasses almost any risk, no matter how small.”

For the Court, the risk of disclosure, especially for women, means less than nothing. In its decision, the Court further codified the absolute lack of value of a woman’s life. It ignored study after study and legal argument after legal argument, some local and others international, which demonstrate that criminalization of HIV-positive status does not impede the spread of AIDS. The Court ignored as well innumerable studies and legal arguments that clarify the impossible position HIV-positive women in dependent as well as abusive relationships face when forced to disclose.

None of that mattered. All that mattered was `risk aversion.’

You know what has actually spread over the last decade? Criminalization of HIV disclosure. And you know who has pushed that spread? The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, which first funded and then `encouraged’ nations to adopt a so-called Model HIV/AIDS Law. Over 60 countries now criminalize HIV transmission or exposure. These laws do not protect women. These laws attack women and do them harm. It’s an active front in a global war on women, lead by the United States and Canada.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

In Namibia, the women say, “Non negotiable: my body, my womb, my rights”

 

 

In 2009, three Namibian women sued the State. They claimed they had been forcibly sterilized and that they had been sterilized because they were HIV positive, and so were victims of discrimination. This week, the High Court of Namibia decided the case. Judge Elton Hoff ruled in the plaintiff’s favor in the first claim and dismissed the second, due to insufficient evidence. The case is widely viewed as a landmark case.

Three separate women, ranging in age from 20s to 40s, at the height of labor, were presented with the sterilization `option’. In one case, the woman had been in labor for over four days and was in severe pain. She was led to believe that her caesarean could only take place if she signed the form. In such circumstances, what is the gender of informed consent?

In a decision that took Judge Hoff two hours to read, the Judge said there was no informed consent. He further noted that the women were Oshiwambo-speaking and that none of the health staff spoke Oshiwambo. He also noted that the forms the women signed were filled with acronyms no one, other than a specialist, could be expected to understand. Finally, in all three cases, the women only discovered the meaning of “BTL”, bilateral tubal ligation, long after they had undergone the surgery.

As the judge said: “There could not have been counselling in those circumstances.” When Judge Hoff looked up from his papers, he saw a courtroom, packed with women in black t-shirts that read, “Non negotiable: my body, my womb, my rights”.

This is a story, on one side, about how women at their most vulnerable are treated. Violently. It’s equally a story about how women organize and turn men’s swords into women’s ploughshares.

The three women are members of the Namibian Women’s Health Network. During a routine inspection of post-treatment papers, Network members started noticing BTL on members’ treatment cards. When the women were asked about it, no one knew what BTL was, and absolutely no one knew that this had happened to them. The women then hooked up with the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and in particular with Priti Patel, deputy director and HIV program manager, who managed the case.

Though mixed, the decision is a step forward, and it’s a step that women Namibian women took, as they are doing in South Africa, in Kenya, in Swaziland, in Zambia. In South Africa, for example, Promise Mthembu went through a similar torture. At 22, she discovered she was HIV positive. She went to hospital and was told she had to sign a paper and undergo sterilization if she wanted treatment. And so she signed. Now, 16 years later, she says she is `haunted’ by having signed that form.

In response, Promise Mthembu has organized, among other groups, Her Rights Initiative, HRI: “Her Rights Initiative (HRI) was formed in 2009 by a group of feminist South African women. The Initiative is building from the knowledge and experience of its founding members who all identified the gap between HIV/AIDS policies and HIV positive women’s experiences and the potential HIV positive women represent in improving existing policies or recommending new ones to ensure women living with HIV/AIDS are able to access their sexual and reproductive rights in South Africa with a potential for improvement for all women.”

Last year, HRI researchers, feminist researchers, produced `I Feel Like Half a Woman All the Time. The researchers interviewed HIV positive women in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. They found cases, and not just a few, of explicitly coerced sterilization and other cases of sterilization performed without informed consent. More to the point, they listened closely and intently to what the women were saying. It’s what feminist researchers and activists do.

Feminist South African women, feminist Namibian women, feminist African women are moving the State and the continent.  It’s non negotiable.

(Photo Credit: socialgoodmatters.tumblr.com)

Nascent Collectivities 2

In my previous posting, I looked at testimony of Everlyn Masha Koya, a twenty two year old sex worker-turned-peer educator from Isiolo, Kenya. Ms Koya’s failure to persuade women who have children to leave the sex trade led me to reflect upon contradiction between women’s economic contributions to nation-state and the nation-state’s desire to control women’s behavior and women’s sexuality. Yet it is also a story about state efforts to provide women with different economic opportunities and about women’s efforts to negotiate better lives for themselves and for other women. What else could Ms Koya’s story tell us?

Ms Koya’s grant from the state suggests that it, or its agents, have an interest in expanding women’s economic opportunities. As Rajeswari Sunder Rajan points out, the state isn’t a monolithic structure. It is made up of different institutions and individuals who do different, sometimes competing, things. While one arm of the state might be securing its sovereignty by making it possible for sex workers to have access to military bases, another arm of the state might be securing grants to give women training so they have a wider range of economic opportunities. As Sunder Rajan argues, “any understanding of state-citizen relations requires…attention to the microlevel workings of state regimes” (6).

Ms Koya’s testimony suggests that the state might participate in the exploitation and oppression of women’s bodies and lives. But if we look at different branches of the state, and different individuals who work for it, the state also can be used to improve women’s lives. As Ms Koya reports, “Then in July [2009], officials from the [government’s] Arid Lands Office held a meeting for sex workers at the Isiolo stadium. We were asked to quit. They asked us to identify what kind of business we wanted to start, trained us in how to conduct business, budgeting, keep a record of our sales, savings and also asked us to go for HIV testing. I was lucky to test negative.”

What else can we learn from this story?  Within the situations that she has inherited, Ms Koya’s efforts to transform her own life and the lives of other women, to work for freedom from violence tells us about what women are doing within, and against, epistemic violence. In some locations, because of their economic contributions and their perceived social role of servicing male sexual need, sex workers have been able to emerge as a collective and make demands on the state. As Cynthia Enloe points out, there have been efforts by women in Kenya and in the Philippines to create networks of women in countries that host American military bases. This is a step towards addressing and dismantling the global gender structures on which military bases depend. There are other transnational and local efforts, including daily work of survival by growing gardens and recycling waste, organizing gender forum; occupying leftist organizations which don’t address gender and gendered labor; fighting back through state institutions and on the streets; union organizing; reporting which reframes issues as women’s issues; reporting which reframes issues as more than just women’s issues; story telling; women, and people around them, saying “enough,” and many other activities for dignity and well-being.

If we look closely, we see women actively participating in public life. Women are at the forefront of resistance movements in places like Honduras and South Africa. Women protest the failure of the state to investigate the systematic murder of women in Vancouver and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Women challenge the meaning of public space and public mourning in Argentina and Iran. Women organize feminist media in Costa Rica. And there is the more quiet, everyday work of women to improve the daily conditions and work to enable themselves and their families to survive in the face of everyday poverty or ‘natural’ disasters. This happens just about everywhere and has different contexts but let’s point to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as one place where women struggle to survive.

Paying attention to gendered violence and power, all forms and mixes of it, that work through the family, the community, the state and its institutions, and through economic structures and arrangements is important work. But so is paying attention to women’s individual and collective efforts, in the context of gendered power, all forms and mixes of it, to “transform the conditions of their lives” (Kabeer, 54). Women are not just victims of material forces, state power and cultural patriarchy. Women actively seek to work for the health and well being of their families, their children, other women, and their communities. In the context of structural constraints, we see women like Ms Koya struggling, negotiating, working, and, even, organizing. It’s important to pay attention to what women are doing, their activities and obstacles to their activities, in relation to the gender-structured conditions that they’ve inherited.

Rachel Riedner rach@gwu.edu

Brunt: somewhere between rights and reconciliation, women

Yesterday was 16 December 2009. In South Africa, it’s the Day of Reconciliation. President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma spoke, in Tshwane, about reconciliation. The President spoke at length about the military, about veterans and about serving members of the South African National Defence Force. Reconciliation.

Seven days earlier, 10 December, was Human Rights Day. President of the United States Barack Obama spoke in Oslo, Norway, as this year’s Nobel Peace Laureate. He spoke of just war. Peace.

Both presidents spoke of responsibility. For one, it was the responsibility of nation building, for the other the responsibility of peace. This was a week then that began with war as peace and ended with the military as agent of reconciliation.

Women know better. Women `bear the brunt’ of these speeches.

Women often bear the brunt of poverty and human rights abuses; but as activists they use these roles to trigger positive social change”. Women bear the brunt of poverty because they are the target of discrimination, oppression, exploitation, violence. Here’s how Amnesty describes the world of women: “Over 70 per cent of the world’s poor are women. Women earn only 10 per cent of the world’s income but do two thirds of the world’s work. Three quarters of the world’s illiterate are women. Women produce up to 80 per cent of the food in developing countries but own only one per cent of the land.”

Treated as objects, women refuse to be abject. Around the world women are mobilizing, gathering, celebrating, organizing. Women like Ugandan human rights activists Jacqueline Kasha, Solome Kimbugwe Nakawesi, Sylvia Tamale, speaking out and organizing against the homophobic bill in Uganda’s parliament; or Val Kalende, an out lesbian in Uganda who has the courage to speak truth to power, and the truth is she simply wants to live a full and joyful life.

Women like Terra K, Joan S, Michelle M, pregnant women prisoners in the U.S. struggling for decent health care and for decency and dignity. Women like Nepalese widows Bhagwati Adhikari, Lily Thapa, Rekha Subedi, Nisha Swar, members of Women for Human Rights who reject the oppression of widows and of all women.

Women like Annise Parker, new mayor of Houston and first elected out gay mayor of a major U.S. city, or Elizabeth Simbiwa Sogbo-Tortu, campaigning to become the first paramount chieftain in the country.

Women like Zimbabwean activist Kuda Chitsike, women who dare to organize, women who dare to win.

These are a few women who were reported on during the week that began with a peace speech justifying war and ended with a reconciliation speech focusing on military well being.

We found out this week that, in KwaZulu Natal, urban women `bear the brunt’ of AIDS: “The face of HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu-Natal is a woman in her thirties living in eThekwini, according to a study released this week. Urban women in the province are far more likely to be HIV positive than their rural sisters, while over half (54%) of all pregnant women in their thirties were HIV positive….Despite levels of poverty being higher in the rural districts, social scientists believe that there is more social cohesion in rural communities that protects against women against HIV.…People living in informal settlements have the highest HIV prevalence.” How do you reconcile the urban and rural sisters? Call in the military?

We found out this week that, in Honduras, women `bear the brunt’ of human rights abuses at the hands of the coup regime, and the Obama regime is doing little to stop that: “Repercussions from this summer’s coup in Honduras are far from over….The brunt of …abuses is borne by the women….Women make up the majority of the vast resistance movement in Honduras, playing a critical leadership role in civil disobedience and citizen protection. For their tireless and courageous support of democracy, they have received death threats and been attacked with nail-studded police batons, tear gas, and bullets. Detained by police or military for hours and even days without charges or access to legal counsel, women have been deprived of medicine, food, and water. At least two cases have resulted in death. Lawless violence against women has pervaded Honduras since the coup.” When war is peace, violence against women is national security.

This is the logic of the brunt, of the sharp blow, the assault, the violence, the shock, the force. Women `bear the brunt’ because men understand peace and reconciliation as military engagements, from the bedroom to the boardroom and beyond. Women are meant to inhabit the space between hollow rights and empty reconciliation, And beyond? As one necessarily anonymous writer opined recently, looking at the current situation in Uganda, “You want gay rights? Get more women elected.” You want real peace, real reconciliation? Look to women’s organizing histories, stories, lives.

Today is 17 December. A new week begins.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Iowa: Gay man gets 25 years for one-time non-disclosure to a single complainant

[Edwin J. Bernard’s blog, Criminal HIV Transmission, “focuses on prosecutions for sexual exposure to, or transmission of, HIV around the world”. HIV crimes. And where there’s crime, there’s prison. We thought the links might be interesting. Thanks to Edwin for his work, and for sharing it here: http://criminalhivtransmission.blogspot.com/2009/05/iowa-gay-man-gets-25-years-for-one-time.html}

Given the things I write about on this blog, I thought I was inured to outrage.

However, the 25 year jail sentence for a gay man in Iowa earlier this week for not disclosing his HIV status prior to one-time sex with a man he met online, reaches new lows in the history of criminalisation. This is a potential human rights violation almost on par with Willie Campbell’s 35 year prison sentence for spitting. (I’m thinking about the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, a discussion of which can be found here.)

The Waterloo and Cedar Falls Courier reports that Judge Bradley Harris sentenced 34 year-old Nick Clayton Rhoades to 25 years in prison, the maximum punishment under Iowa’s draconian (and mistitled) “criminal HIV transmission” laws, following a guilty plea. There was no tranmission: the male complainant has not tested HIV-positive, and it is now almost a year since the encounter. (The subtlety seems lost on the headline writer, who erroneously states:‘Plainfield man gets 25 years for transmitting HIV’ )

Not only was there no sentence reduction due to Mr Rhoades’ plea (after all, he saved the court a lot of time and money; and let’s face it, it was one person’s word against the other, which could have gone either way with a jury), but Judge Harris additionally placed Mr Rhoades on lifetime parole and ordered him to pay court costs and restitution. 

In addition, he ordered that must Mr Rhoades must:

  • not contact the complainant for five years
  • register as a sex offender
  • and undergo a sex offender treatment programme.

“Simply because it happens regularly that people don’t disclose, doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Harris said. Despite improved treatments, he told Rhoades, contracting human immunodeficiency virus” does change your life, and you more than anyone else should know that.”

[…]

“One thing that makes this case difficult is that you don’t look dangerous; you don’t look like most of our criminals that sit here,” said Harris. “But the risk is still there, just like if you would have shot a gun.”

According to the report, Mr Rhoades met the male complainant, “in an Internet chat room” on June 26th 2008, and then went to his home to have sex.

Although the contact was consensual, the victim, who has since tested negative for HIV, said Rhoades denied he had any sexually transmitted infections. “I should have had the right to choose whether to be intimate with someone who was HIV positive,” the victim read in statement to the court. “Instead, Nick was manipulative and denied me that right. … He lied online, and he also lied to me in person when I asked him directly if he was ‘clean.’”

Rhoades said he doesn’t remember discussing his HIV status with the victim. He drank heavily and took prescription pills before having sex, a combination that he said clouded his judgement. In addition to HIV, the defendant also was being treated for herpes and genital human papillomavirus at the time of the incident, said assistant county attorney Linda Fangman.

Rhoades, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1998, was arrested in September. Living with the virus is like “carrying a concealed weapon,” he told the court, saying he felt guilty for exposing an unknowing individual to the disease.

“I always wanted to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem,” said Rhoades, who had previously participated in AIDS education efforts. “Clearly, I’ve fallen short in this case.”

Mr Rhoades sounds like a genuinely remorseful man. He believes that he should have disclosed his status, and didn’t. Even if you agree with HIV disclosure laws in general – notwithstanding arguments supporting the concept of shared responsibility of both parties under these circumstances, or the unreliability of disclosure as a way of protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections – there really is absolutely no justification for this outrageously long prison sentence.

To put this into perspective. A year ago I reported on a 12 year HIV exposure sentence in Arkansas (where the maximum penalty is 30 years) for a man who did not disclose to his girlfriend. At the time, it was the longest sentence I’d heard of for a single complainant. This is a single act!

Notwithstanding Johnson Aziga’s likely life sentence after recently being found guilty of murder, the previous longest-ever sentence in Canada was 18 years, and that was for Carl Leone, with 15 complainants, including five who tested positive.

The longest sentence that I’m aware of in Europe has been for Christer Aggett, sentenced to 14 years in prison in Sweden, with a dozen complainants, two of whom tested positive, and half of whom were under 15.

In 2006, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the law after Adam Musser, 25, appealed his four convictions – and 25-year-prison sentences – for having unprotected sex with four different women in 2002 and not telling them he was HIV-positive.

And yet, in 2007, a woman who also pleaded guilty after not disclosing her status to a single complainant during a three month relationship, had her 25 year prison sentence suspended and received four years probation.

Since Judge Harris has also ruled that he can adjust the sentence any time within the next 12 months (and there is already a precedent to suspend sentencing), I suggest that anyone who feels as outraged as I do, contact either Judge Harris, or Mary Stegmeir (mary.stegmeir@wcfcourier.com), the journalist who reported the case at the Waterloo and Cedar Falls Courier.

About Judge Harris, from the Iowa Judicial Branch website:

District Court Judge, Bradley J. Harris: District 1B Judge Harris, Grundy Center, was appointed to the bench in 2007. He received his undergraduate degree from Loras College in 1976, and his law degree from the University of Iowa in 1980. Judge Harris is a member of the Iowa Bar Association, the Grundy County Bar Association, as well as the Iowa County Attorney Association. Prior to his appointment to the bench, he was a partner at the law firm of Kliebenstein, Heronimus, Schmidt, and Harris, and also served as the Assistant Grundy County Attorney from 1995 to 2003, and the Grundy County Attorney from 2003 to 2007. Judge Harris is married and has two children.

Edwin J. Bernard, edwin@edwinjbernard.com 

The Security of Sex: The (South) Africa Problem

On April 22nd, South Africa will hold its latest round of elections and for the first time in the last 15 years, the African National Congress (ANC) has serious competition.  The upstart Congress of the People, headed by former ANC leader Thabo Mbeki, was created in December to address concerns over corruption in and the direction of the ANC. 

Though the ANC is expected to win by large margins, it is clear that South Africa is changing and the extreme violence and poverty are taking their toll on the stance of the historic party.  But what is the actual difference between the parties?  And what would all of this mean for women, sex workers in particular?  With the looming 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa continues to be plagued by infrastructural issues as well as climbing rates of violent crime, particularly crime related to violence against women and children.

Over the past year, specifically, there has been a large pattern of “corrective rapes” committed against lesbians; the majority of these acts are committed by gangs of men rather than a single person.  The most notorious of these rapes was committed against one of the most famous female soccer players in South Africa, Eudy Simelane, last April.  She was gang raped and left in a ditch after being stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs.  While some focus on homophobia as an explanation for these acts, the brutality and pervasiveness of these acts implies larger underlying issues related to violence and gender. Women of all backgrounds and orientations are being affected by rising violence, which is more and more being attributed to an “increasingly macho culture, which seeks to oppress women and sees them as merely sexual beings.” Lesbians are being targeted in particular because their orientation is seen as antithetical to these gender roles in which women are expected to be more and more diminutive to men.  Attacks such as these are then not specific to sexual orientation but signify a larger social policing of women.

Likewise, trafficking has become a growing specter within South Africa.  Unlike in the U.S., the state is primarily confronted with trafficking occurring between different regions of the country itself. It involves primarily women and children from rural provinces like KwaZulu-Natal and the Transkei into urban areas primarily around Cape Town and Johannesburg.  Trafficking of different populations has risen in recent years for a variety of reasons.  In this instance, I am referring to the trafficking in persons for body parts as well as for the purpose of slavery.  Demand for human potions made from human body parts and progressively younger girls for sexual purposes has risen recently as they have become associated with ‘traditional’ cures for HIV.  Likewise, increases in refugees within South Africa and neighboring countries have made more individuals, children especially, vulnerable to slavery.  Demand for young girls for sexual slavery is expected to rise exponentially for the Cup.  However, focus on trafficking for the Cup ignores the existing gender issues embedded within South Africa itself, while also refusing to distinguish between those migrating to meet the demand and those being violently exploited.  The idea of legalizing prostitution for the duration of the Cup was floated in Parliament in an attempt to regulate sex work and protect workers.  The issue, however, was never meaningfully discussed and limiting legalization to just the Cup would ensure no meaningful change.  Without these things in mind, it is impossible to truly address the issue.

When one considers the platforms of the two major political parties in South Africa, however, it seems as if no attention is being given to violence against women at all.  The ANC mentions women only in passing within their official platform claiming only that they will “combat violence and crimes against women and children by increasing the capacity of the criminal justice system to deal with such violence.”  Does that mean building more prisons or increasing sentences and police?  While the actual meaning of the statement is unclear, the disinterest of the ruling party is quite apparent.  On the other hand, COPE gives a great deal more detail first saying that “workers have rights” and that “workers should have social protection to safeguard income,” which is promising for trafficked workers, and going on to “consider legislation that will make it difficult to withdraw charges on violent crimes and specifically crimes against women and children” and  establish specialised units to combat identified priority crimes and crime areas in each of the provinces, including crimes committed against women and children”. 

Though COPE vaguely mentions the issue more often, neither party acknowledges the growing trend of violence or prioritizes addressing it.  Jacob Zuma, head of the ANC, was even accused of rape himself and the woman was degraded in the courtroom.  Political meetings and platforms deal with women’s issues only nominally, if at all, and certainly do not address issues of violence.  Lisa Vetten, a gender rights activist within South Africa, points out that the system has even gone backwards in recent years with specialized sexual violence and family units being disbanded as well as an increasingly unfriendly court that is more focused on procedure than a victim-friendly orientation.  Likewise, sex work remains unaddressed beyond larger hyperbolic discussions of trafficking and slavery by NGOs and within the larger media.  It is then apparent that women’s safety and work remain on the margins and outside of politics.

Megan Foster, themeg@gwmail.gwu.edu