"The role and rights of women, their freedom and equality and dignity, is the unfinished business of the twenty first century," says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On November 6, 2012, American women will raise their collective voices and exercise their right to vote. They have a clear choice to either elect a president who will protect their rights or allow themselves to be trampled on, and shot backwards, leaving the burden on the next generation of American women to fight the battles for equality and justice all over again. American women are in an enviable position, unlike women in many parts of the world where they have no rights at all. Held against their wills by men preying on their vulnerability, these females are forced to endure their established fate. Motivated by greed, young girls are lured with promises, or simply carried off to be sold as sex slaves. Born in poverty, they are condemned to live a sad and hopeless life. The cries of these throwaway girls have been largely ignored until recent years.
In Cambodia, men with guns; soldiers, peace keepers, and other foreign and local men, roamed the war-torn region for sex services and found it easily. Abject poverty, which gave rise to the lucrative sex slave industry, still flourishes today. The sex trade is particularly brutal to children, because many brothels offer up girls as young as ten. Sadly, some mothers sell their daughters to men who come looking for a fresh supply. These "disposable girls" of Cambodia are repeatedly raped and regularly beaten by brothel owners and forced to service as many as thirty men a day. Should a girl become pregnant, the brothel owners quickly arrange a back room abortion. Since condoms are rarely used, they contract AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and many die. No one mourns their death, and they are quickly replaced with fresh stock.
Many brothels in Thailand cater to the demented perversion of their selected white clientele who travel from America and other European countries on "sex tours," to prey on the tender flesh of underage girls without consequences. Imprisoned and subjugated, these unfortunate girls are the nameless faces of the oppressive slavery of modern times.
The haunting documentary by American journalist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky, Turning Oppression into Opportunity,which recently aired on PBS, reports that children as young as three-years-old are raped in Sierra Leone, and one reported rape victim is a two-and-a-half month-old baby. The International Rescue Committee and their partners provide counseling to thousands of rape survivors. But young girls are hesitant to report rape because it brings shame upon the family and authorities are generally dismissive and fail to prosecute these criminals. Since accountability for this horrific crime is rare, rape has become an acceptable reality. The victim who is brave enough to report the crime ends up paying a heavy price. Shunned by society, the family isolates the girl, takes her out of school and she ends up with no education and no prospects for the future.
Each year, thousands of baby girls disappear without a trace in China and vastly staggering numbers share the same fate in India. These crimes against baby girls are highlighted in the documentary; It's a Girl! (www.itsagirlmovie.com), where a woman in Tamil Nadu, India, calmly admits to suffocating eight of her infant girls and burying them in the fields. The family only wanted sons. My novel, Shadows in the Sun, tackles female infanticide through one mother's incredible journey, who finds the courage to take a stand in order to give her daughter a fighting chance in life.
The oppression, rape and sexual slavery of girls and women motivated by greed speaks to the basic disregard for the value of females as mothers and daughters. There is no difference between those who shackled men, women and children and herded them to market to be sold like cattle, and those who imprison girls today to be ravaged by men. The slavery of our times must be acknowledged by the world. Whether a human being is put in chains to toil in the sugarcane fields in Haiti, or the cotton fields in America or in dark rooms till their bodies are used up, slavery is slavery.
Throughout history many activists have fought against oppression and discrimination. William Wilberforce became the power for social change by challenging and eventually overthrowing the British slave trade. Abraham Lincoln saw the immorality and inhumanity of putting people in chains. Mahatma Gandhi led his non-violent movement against British oppression and also challenged the Hindu Caste System by championing the cause of the Untouchables. Nelson Mandela worked tirelessly for his people and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought against racial discrimination in America. Rosa Parks had the courage to take a stand which began an entire movement for the fight for human dignity.
Sex slavery warrants world attention and a full scale war to combat it. New breeds of activists, like Somaly Mam, a sex trafficking survivor, are rising to the challenge. Even though she does not know her real name, she and her Somaly Mam Foundation have become an important voice for change in Cambodia. They conduct surprise raids on brothels and attempt to rescue young girls, heal their physical and emotional wounds, and help them become self-reliant.
The attitude of diminishing and degrading females exists in every society. In America, Republican congressman Todd Akin diminished women with his "legitimate rape," comments. Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousefzai was shot by Pakistan's Taliban because she wanted to get an education. This mentality, of viewing woman as less, must be challenged and changed and the world must fight to preserve all human dignity.