Friday, March 21, 2008

Prostitution among Iraqi Refugees

On the five-year anniversary of the start of this stupid, immoral war, Alternet reported that an estimated 50,000 Iraqi women and girls in Syria have been forced into prostitution because as refugees they had no other means of sustenance. As the shock and snickers fade from the Spitzer affair, this comes as a harsh reminder that many, if not most, prostitutes either have no meaningful choice in entering sex work or "choose" it under tightly constrained circumstances.

According to Alternet's source on this, The Independent, many of the clients are Saudis seeking pleasures they can't find at home. A prostitute can earn $60 per evening - equivalent to a month's pay in a factory. As a refugee, she'd be barred from working legally in a factory anyway. Family members not uncommonly pressure or force women and girls - some as young as 13 - to sell their bodies:
Bassam al-Kadi of Syrian Women Observatory says: "Some have been sexually abused in Iraq, but others are being prostituted by fathers and uncles who bring them here under the pretext of protecting them. They are virgins, and they are brought here like an investment and exploited in a very ugly way."
(Source: The Independent)
The girls enter the clubs where they work fully covered, as modest as any other devout Muslim, and tart themselves up once inside, sometimes aping Girls Gone Wild moves to entice potential customers.

But the majority of prostituted Iraqis are forced into it not by family but by the threat of starvation, according to a New York Times report published last year. Part of the problem is that a sizable fraction of the 1.2 million Iraqi refuges in Syria have no man in the household; women with no work permit and no work experience thus have no other choice.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security requires all branches of the UN to considered the gendered impacts of war. Prostitution and human trafficking are among the biggest of these (along with rape as a weapon of war). But precisely because the scope of the problem is so huge, the UN's resources are vastly inadequate to addressing the problem. To make things worse, in a number of other war zones UN peacekeepers have themselves become involved in the prostitution trade, as Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf found in the their 2002 UNIFEM report, "Women, War, Peace."

Of course, one could also demand accountability from the entity that created the Iraqi refugee crisis in the first place. But that'd first require ... regime change.

Photo of Damascus Old Town by Flickr user Richard Messenger, used under a Creative Commons license.


Smirking Cat said...

I would consider safe to say Bush and his gang of idiots not only never considered the impact of the war on women in Iraq, but truly don't care. Nothing he has done indicates he is terribly concerned with the lives of women here.

Sungold said...

But he said we were doing it for the women! In Iraq and Afghanistan, too!

Just one more brazen lie.

SunflowerP said...

That's where I get really uncomfortable with the "just get rid of sex work" ideology - I don't see enough attention paid to ensuring there are alternatives besides prostitution and starvation.


Sungold said...

Hi Sunflower! Yeah, I don't think prohibition works. I mean, so far it's been a rip-roaring failure. As awful as I think the situation is for these Iraqi women, starving would be worse. (It's somewhat analogous to the idea that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. No, it's not; being dead is worse.)

SunflowerP said...

Seems to me the idea that rape is a fate worse than death stems from the patriarchal notion that a woman's "virtue" is more valuable than her life.

(I usually avoid talking about "the patriarchy" because I think that the concept, in all its myriad aspects, isn't all that well described by the term. But in this instance it seems apt.)


Sungold said...

Yes, and this idea that your life is worth nothing without your virtue is what feeds the practice of honor killings.

I think the term "patriarchal" - as an adjective - is often useful and accurate. "Patriarchy" and especially "the patriarchy" tend to flatten out all historial and cultural differences and imply there's no chance for change over time. Lucky for us, the historical facts bely this. Maybe sometime I'll write a post on "patriarchy." I'm amazed at how it seems to have made a comeback through the feminist blogs, at a point when I thought it was moribund.

SunflowerP said...

I'd really love to read that post!

I struggle with that terminology; there's a real thing that folks are attempting to point to, but it's a problematic way to do it. I haven't yet figured out another way to do it, but making a distinction between adjectival (and perhaps occasionally adverbal) "patriarchal" and the noun form will help.

Also, yes, the flattening effects (in all sorts of ways) are my biggest issue with it, but I hadn't yet framed it that way - so with just a few lines, you've advanced my ability to talk about this quite a lot. Thank you!

I suspect the resurgence of "Teh Ev0l Patriarchy!!" is because the 'Net, the Web, and the blogosphere provide a way for anyone to present their ideas, whatever point in feminism's history those views came out of. All in all I think the multiplicity of fora is very positive, but it means many debates we thought were over, will have to be re-debated.


Sungold said...

Sunflower, I think we're very much on the same wavelength, up to and including the apparent need to reinvent the (patriarchal?) wheel.

I'll keep giving this some thought and see if I can cook up a proper post in response to some of your ideas. Thanks!