Story by : S.C. Gillett
Recently, a heart-wrenching story in The New York Times (March 31, 2013) told of a father being forced to give his six-year-old daughter in marriage, as payment for a loan to cover medical bills that he was unable to repay. “She does not know what is going to happen,” he said sadly. The “happy ending” came about when an anonymous donor paid the debt, which allowed the daughter to escape this fate.
But why did a council of men decide that a six-year-old girl could be given as payment for a debt? They knew what awaited her – rape, agonizing pain, terror. How could they justify the forced marriage of a little girl for a debt that was not even hers? The answer is frighteningly simple. Solely because she was biologically female, she was devalued, considered little different than any other piece of property belonging to a male, in this case her father, who was expected to use her as collateral to repay his debt by handing her over to another man in place of the money he could not repay, as he might have given a car, or jewellery or furniture if he had possessed them. The price for a life-long slave? $2,500.
And yet, according to Rita Banerji founder of “50 Million Missing,” that little girl is lucky to even be alive. The devaluation of girls and the concomitant patriarchal preference for sons is costing women their education, their freedom, their health, their sanity, and their right to marry who they choose at an age when they are old enough to make that choice. It is also costing them their lives.
Women are so devalued that increasing numbers of girl children are being aborted before they even have a chance at life. For those who are born, “a female child is disadvantaged from birth; it may determine the quality and quantity of parental care and the extent of investment in her development; and it may lead to acute discrimination, particularly in settings where resources are scarce…. In many societies, the family lineage is carried on by male children. The preservation of the family name is guaranteed through the son(s). Except in a few countries (e.g. Ethiopia), a girl takes her husband’s family name, dropping that of her own parents. The fear of losing a name prompts families to wish to have a son.
“Son preference is a transcultural phenomenon,… historically rooted in the patriarchal system…. Son preference is stronger in countries where patriarchy and patriliny are more firmly rooted. The psychological effect of son preference on women and the girl child is the internalization of the low value accorded them by society…. abnormal sex ratios in infant and young child mortality rates, in nutritional status indicators and even in population figures show that discriminatory practices are widespread and have serious repercussions. Geographically, there is often a close correspondence between the areas of strong son preference and of health disadvantage for females.”
“From birth to 6 years, girls in India are killed at a rate that is 75% higher than boys the same age. A decade ago, this rate was 40% higher. This means that the rate at which girls are being killed after birth to the age of 6 years has almost doubled in the last decade!
Secondly, poverty is not the reason for which little girls are being killed! India’s census data shows that the sex ratio (0-6 years) for girls is normal only in the poorest 20%. As wealth increases the rate of girls killed also increases. It is worst for the top most 20%”
John Onuoha of the Broken Bride Project in Nigeria (see cover story in our March newsletter) has written a story called “Disposable Daughters.” It describes how the devaluation of women and girls leads to them being treated as property, to be controlled and forced into early marriages that ruin their health and cut short their education. This happened to his sister and he is determined to change the future for other Nigerian women and girls. Valuing girls and women is central to creating change.
Because of this preference for sons and the accompanying devaluation of females, bride trafficking, a pernicious form of forced marriage, has become far too common in many parts of the world. Shafiq. R. Khan, the Founder of EMPOWER PEOPLE, an NGO working to protect female victims of violence, describes bride trafficking as: “When girls are deceived in the name of marriage and then sold to others, such girls come under the definition of bride trafficking. The whole thing gives an impression of a normal marriage; but such girls are re-trafficked and sold in the name of marriage again and again.” While most of the girls are trafficked domestically, about 10% are trafficked internationally to countries like Canada, Australia, the US and the UK.
Youth Ki Awaaz, Interview With Shafiq. R. Khan Of EMPOWER PEOPLE, On Bride Trafficking, April 7, 2012
If you think this is just a third-world problem, think again. Increasingly, women and girls in first world countries are learning to value themselves as commodities at an alarming rate. Even very young girls are beginning to see their outward appearance and their attractiveness to men as the most important aspect of their lives, sometimes putting their lives in danger to achieve outward beauty. Only a society that deeply devalues the human rights and dignity of women could promote such a skewed set of values.
Another sign of the devaluation of women, integral to patriarchal societies, is the sexual double standard. It not only punishes women for the same behaviours it glorifies in men, but it maintains and promotes a rape culture by keeping women silent about attacks against them, by blaming them for those attacks, and excusing the men who attack them.
The devaluation of women leads to double standards throughout society and is the root cause of all violence against women, including rape, wife abuse, and forced marriage. It leads to a double standard for deciding who is deserving of food, education, and other resources when those resources are scarce or expensive. It treats women and girls primarily as objects, mainly existing for the pleasure or use of men. Until this devaluation is eradicated, women will remain “disposable daughters,” raped and then silenced so that their rapists can go free; trafficked as “brides” to multiple men; married off and treated as any other piece of property to pay other people’s debts or to make money for their sellers.
This is a global problem, existing in all patriarchal cultures and communities. If it is not dealt with in its entirety by eradicating its roots then it will continue to grow, taking on new forms and destroying more lives. If we want to create a truly happy ending, we will have to start with a new beginning, valuing women and girls as human beings with full and non-negotiable rights and freedoms.
Forced and servile marriage in the context
of human trafficking
Webinar – Breaking the Cycle of Gender Violence
Abstract | Servile marriage involves a person being sold, transferred or inherited into marriage.
These offences apply to marriages that occur in Australia, as well as to marriages that occur in another country that involve Australian citizens.
Click HERE to read entire Report.
|Liv: Breaking the Cycle of Gender Violence from Sikh Research Institute on Vimeo.|
Place: Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex
25 British Columbia Road
Date: Friday April 19, 2013
Time: 6:30pm – 11:00pm
For more information or to purchase tickets: HERE (Deadline for tickets: April 12th, 5pm)
A South Asian Perspective
Place: Sheridan College Brampton Campus
7899 McLaughlin Road
Date: May 1 & 2, 2013
Time: 8am – 4:30pm
For more information or to register to attend: HERE (Early bird registration deadline: March 31)
Sex Work and Stigma: A Forum on Sex Work Realities – Register Today!
Place: Peterborough Public Library Auditorium
345 Aylmer Street
Date: Wednesday May 15, 2013
Time: 9:00am – 4:30pm
All inquiries and to register, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org (Registration Deadline: April 15th)