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FOCUS March 2003 Volume 31

Trafficking, Migration, and Gender Insecurity

Kinhide Mushakoji

The recent Asian Social Forum (ASF) was a gathering of representatives of social and mass movements in Asia who hold different worldviews, religions and ideologies but united by a common concern about neoliberal globalization and the War against Terrorism. ASF, held on 2-7 January 2003 in Hyderabad (India), was the Asian regional version of the World Social Forum of Porto Alegre, which was organized to gather all the social forces opposing the World Economic Forum (the so-called Davos Forum). Around 60,000 Asian activists and intellectuals participated in the ASF’s main program as well as in the seminars and workshops on myriad of subjects.

The International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) organized a seminar on “Women and Poverty: Trafficking, Migration and Gender Insecurity” on 4 January 2003 at the Birla Science Museum of Hyderabad. This seminar discussed the importance of exchanging information and developing an all-Asian strategy to combat trafficking in women and children in the different sub-regions of Asia. It was an occasion for some 80 activists and researchers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia to share their experience with their sisters and brothers from other parts of Asia, and compare the effects of the global economy on the exploitative structures and root causes of trafficking and undocumented migration. Reports presented in the seminar discussed the effects of the Asian financial crisis and of the War on Terrorism on the insecurity of women in Asia. Immigration and security policies of governments were criticized for their concern on the law and order of the state that ignore the rights and dignity of the victims of trafficking and smuggling. The discussions confirmed that trafficking is a most serious case of human insecurity caused by multiple discrimination experienced by minority women and children.

The seminar opened with Prof. Kinhide Mushakoji of IMADR explaining its objective, followed by reports from Southeast and Northeast Asia, and ended with comments from South Asia.

Ms. Aida Santos of International Stop Rape Contest (Philippines) gave the first report. She discussed the negative effects of the neo-liberal global market. She said that poverty caused by the neo-liberal global market has a female face, especially in the service industries. Women from poorer, developing countries are exploited in the sex market of rich countries. She also presented evidences on the negative effects of military base prostitution. She concluded that an integrated approach to trafficking and exploitative migration is indispensable, covering issues of globalization and militarization.

Ms. Cho Young-Sook of Korea Women’s Associations United presented the second report. She reported on the close ties between sex trade and militarization in Korea. She said that these ties begun during the Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) and continued through the United States military bases, which are there to protect but not to practice democracy. The operation of the Rest and Recreation Facilities of the United States military bases is the cause of gender exploitation and violence against Korean and non-Korean trafficked women, whose number increase as an effect of globalization.

Ms. Seiko Hanochi of IMADR/Center for International and Security Studies, York University gave the third report. She stressed the neo-colonial racist nature of the exploitation of women trafficked from poorer regions of developing countries. She discussed the case of Kabuki-cho, Tokyo’s sex district, to describe the state of insecurity of women from the Philippines, Thailand, Colombia, Korea and China who were trafficked by the yakuza and mafia. She explained that a xenophobic control by the Japanese police and immigration authorities results in further insecurity.

The three presentations from Southeast and Northeast Asia stressed the fact that trafficking of women from the poorer regions of developing countries into rich countries causes the acute insecurity of the women. Poverty, racism against minorities, and gender inequality result in multiple discrimination against trafficked women. The combined effects of economic globalization and militarization then exacerbate this condition.

The three reports were followed by comments from South Asian participants. The comments validated the reports and added other perspectives on the causes of trafficking and exploitative migration.

Ms. Renu Radjbandari of the Women’s Rehabilitation Center (Nepal) stressed that poverty in Nepal is caused by a North/South polarization within her country. Poverty and gender/caste discrimination in turn caused migration. She said that domestic and international trafficking structurally built the feminization of migration. The government’s border protection system is unable to stop transnational traffickers, and government efforts to rehabilitate trafficking survivors are insufficient to guarantee their rights. She argued that an integrated effort to overcome poverty and gender discrimination is indispensable. Like in Southeast and Northeast Asia, Ms. Renu mentioned that military base prostitution has a long history in Nepal - involving the Gurka Regiment Barracks.

Ms. Burnad Fathima Netasan of the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement (India), on the other hand, gave a powerful presentation on an aspect of trafficking that is especially serious in South Asia - the trafficking of Dalit women. She pointed out that there are situations of poverty where the women could not survive without selling their body. This reality was caused by an exclusionary ideology claiming Hindu supremacy and denying fundamental rights to the Dalits, especially the Dalit women. This situation requires everyone to be more concerned of both the international and the domestic/local trafficking. Ms. Fathima’s comments were followed by a moving testimony of a “matama” survivor, who was forced into prostitution as a Dalit woman sacrificed to the “matama” deity.

Ms. Nimalka Fernando of IMADR Asia office (Sri Lanka) gave the last comments. She pointed out that exploitative migration (different from but closely related to trafficking) is a source of serious gender insecurity. It was originally caused by the neoliberal economy that forced unskilled women to seek jobs as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. Some of these women became victims of trade in human organs. She further said that internal armed conflicts exacerbated this situation, causing displacement especially of women.

Ms. Fernando then chaired the general discussion. The participants agreed that the common structural causes of trafficking require a common strategy in both Southeast and Northeast Asia. The historically specific aspects of trafficking, however, require specific measures for each situation. Some participants expressed astonishment about the seriousness of the reported cases of trafficking they had not been aware of. All participants agreed that the gender insecurity built into the present neoliberal global economy and militarization must be combated by a common effort of everyone, whether in the poor or rich countries. They agreed that raising the awareness of the masculine customers who exploit women is a necessity.

The participants criticized the service industries that tolerate the abusive exploitation of women by the sex industries. They strongly suggested that an effective education program on the structures and mechanisms of the global trafficking economy; and the support provided by multinational corporations, the States and the transnational criminal organizations is a necessity to be able to tackle the root causes of trafficking and exploitative migration. They also pointed out that alternative means to earn a living should be developed for women and children in the poor communities from where the criminal labor recruiters obtain the workforce for the sex industries. They assert that the rich receiving countries have a moral obligation to the exploited women and children to develop special economic cooperation projects to eliminate gender insecurity caused by their (rich countries’) sex industries.

Among other outcomes of the seminar, IMADR hopes that new channels for experience-sharing and joint struggle would be established between South, Southeast and Northeast Asia. A common platform to combat the globalization of trafficking and exploitative migration would be discussed by more and more activists and intellectuals once they get to know better the plight of the victims of trafficking and exploitative migration. They would eventually share the concerns of the seminar participants. Their dialogue should include concrete demands on governments and the business sector to take legal and economic measures indispensable in combating these most violent forms of gender exploitation of the poverty of minorities. IMADR wishes to expand this network to include Africa, and welcomes any suggestions about the means to develop such a South/South network against trafficking and exploitative migration in Asia and Africa.

Prof. Kinhide Mushakoji is a member of the Board of Trustees of IMADR.

For further information, please contact: International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), 3-5-11, Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo106-0032, Japan; ph (81)3-3586-7447; fax (81)3-3586-7462; e-mail:; website: