Putting Together Pieces Of Sex Work, Gender Inequality, Deadly Consequences

By Jane Roberts

I look at the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and cringe. I don’t give a damn about those protruding heads, those slightly wavy indentations, those straight edges, those subtle color nuances. Who cares what it will all look like in the end? No thanks.

But in my head, I have put together all the pieces of an enormous jigsaw puzzle. I have had my aha! moment. My brain has made a whole out of a million pieces. All the pieces fit into a puzzle where the picture of gender inequality shouts out to me. Everything fits.

Sex trafficking and prostitution are two pieces of the puzzle. The root causes are gender inequality, poverty and illiteracy. Seventy percent of the world’s poor and illiterate are women and girls. Not many prostitutes are the bored housewives of the 1968 Luis Buñuel’s film, Belle de Jour. No, she is not after afternoon eroticism. She is after something to eat, her children’s school tuition, a transistor radio to hear a little music, to stay a little in touch. And really she has too many children, six maybe. She had never heard of family planning or abstinence-only. And her man is off in the city, drinking away his meager salary, taking his pleasure with, yeah right, another prostitute wanting to feed her children. See how it all fits?

And then of course she tests positive for HIV or doesn’t test at all for fear of knowing what she already knows. Or there is no “testing” place anywhere close. And then her 15- year-old daughter, to help her mother, sells herself a few times, just to ease the burden, just to help the family.

And then she is pregnant, and oh my god HIV-positive and selling herself has really been no solution at all. But she is an ever growing statistic of the young women who are leading the HIV- positive demographic because of the poverty piece of the puzzle.

There are 210 million pregnancies worldwide every year. Forty-two million end in induced abortion. Half of these abortions are risky, unsafe, illegal. Seventy thousand women die and millions more suffer temporary or permanent disability. In the 21st century this is a crime against humanity. Family planning exists. It is a very low world priority.

Thoraya Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, laments that in the last ten years the “family planning” component of the world’s reproductive health budget has fallen from 55 percent to nine percent mainly because of increased funding for HIV/AIDS. I would say mainly because of gender inequality. Resources exist for both. Women’s health is peripheral.

Stephen Lewis, of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and a crusader for the orphans and grannies of victims of AIDS said these words at the 16th International AIDS conference in August 2006: “I challenge you to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honorable or productive calling. There is nothing of great import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change.”

As I write this, we are raising the money to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a major motion picture documentary to be called The Stories Women Tell. In 90 minutes we will put all the pieces of the puzzle together. As Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change, our film will do for gender inequality. The world will have its aha! moment.

When the world takes care of women, women take care of the world. We are going to put gender inequality on the world’s agenda.

Jane Roberts is the cofounder of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund, a grassroots effort to raise $34 million from 34 million Americans because of the Bush administration’s refusal to release $34 million to United National Population Fund (UNFPA). She is the is the author of 34 Million Friends of the Women of the World, Ladybug Press


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