Happy Women’s Equality Day! Over the past hundred years, the Women’s Rights Movement has made some pretty major strides, but we are not there yet. On Women’s Equality Day, we ask the important questions, “what mindsets still exist that allow trafficking to occur,” and “why is there still a desire by some men to have power and control over women?“ Women and girls are sold every day, their bodies used as a commercial commodity, and their humanity ignored for the purpose of power, control, and exploitation. While we recognize that men and boys are trafficked, the majority of those trafficked are still women and girls. The human rights organization, Equality Now, places the number of women trafficked for sexual exploitation at 98 percent (with the other two percent of those trafficked being male).
The rate at which women and girls are trafficked is a direct example of the disparity between men and women when it comes to equality. Women may have earned the right to vote in 1971, but the inequality of the sexes is still glaring, as long as we live in a world where sex trafficking is allowed and in a culture that supports it. Are you scratching your head to correlate sex trafficking and equality? These facts may help you understand the correlation:
Men are the main purchasers of commercial sex, fueling the demand for trafficked women. Demanding Justice produced a study where 100% of purchasers were male and the United Nations notes that women are disproportionately being purchased.
- Women’s bodies are seen as something to be purchased and not as humans to be respected. We see this on the covers of magazines and with young girls being sexualized in advertising. We see this in the way women are treated in pornography. And we see it in the roles women play in mainstream television. Across all media channels, we see women’s bodies being exploited.
- Trafficked women do not have control over the money they earn, with their exploiter demanding their money, and often subjecting the trafficked person to additional abuse should they not turn over their money. The lack of financial stability prevents a person from being able to break free from their trafficker.
- Trafficked women do not have control of their own bodies. Breaking Free reports that 83% of those trafficked have been assaulted with a deadly weapon. The following are some of the other ways a trafficker controls a woman’s body:
- Sexual violence
- Physical violence
- Forced abortions, should the woman become pregnant
- Being forced to take drugs or drink alcohol
- Women who are trafficked experience threats should they try to leave. These threats may be against them or the ones they love. Living under threat from a trafficker, they are not free.
- In some states, Johns are let off the hook for buying women, while women are imprisoned for being forced into prostitution.
In order to achieve equality, we need to eliminate the demand for commercial sex, creating a world where no woman is held under the power of a trafficker. If we teach boys and youth the value of respecting others, and that purchase of commercial sex is not respectful, future generations will have the tools to fight sex trafficking. Men As Peacemakers has launched the Don’t Buy It Project to help spread the word and end the demand for commercial sex. The campaign challenges men to stop thinking of people as products and of women's bodies as a commodity. If programs like these continue to make a positive impact, we will move the dial even closer toward equality.
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, “We Should All Be Feminists,” she said, “but by far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.” If we stopped teaching men and boys they had to be tough, if they could just feel however they feel, they may stop being conditioned to search for that power and control that society pressures them to have, and with that, the power and control they feel the pressure to assert over women. Men are not born to control women, they are conditioned to, and this conditioning needs to end.
Traffickers have physical, economic, and emotional power over the women they are exploiting, proving the necessity for advancement of equality. In the current political climate, it is important to recognize and celebrate how far women have come since August 26, 1920. We celebrate the suffragettes who fought for and earned the right to vote. However, it was not until 1965, when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, that all groups were guaranteed the right to vote.
Time continues to show us the holes in the story of liberation but also give us hope for a future with true equality. We will continue to shift the perception of those around us, challenging the status quo that considers women’s bodies as products available for purchase. We will take today and every day after as opportunities to challenge others and fight for equality by ending sex trafficking.