Thursday, March 09, 2006

Geobodies Panel: Global Women: Taking Action

Mei Mei Ellerman and Louise Lopman (Photograph: Courtesy Carolyn Chyu) In the last week of January 2006, the event organized at WSRC premises on global women taking action had presenters such as Louise Lopman and Mei Mei Ellermen. Pam Allara from Fine Arts, Brandeis University hosted the event. Louise Lopman who is also a Resident Scholar at WSRC presented her talk on "Standing in the Face of Corporate Globalization: Women Maquila (Sweatshop) Workers in El Salvador." As a qualitative feminist sociologist, Louise Levesque Lopman's research explores the subjective lived-experience from the perspective of women who work in the maquilas (sweatshops) in the Free Trade Zones in El Salvador. Her talk was based on her interviews and observations in El Salvador and extensive library research on how women’s experiences are impacted by the demands and power relations of (corporate) neoliberal globalization (trade liberalization, investment, privatization and “free” trade agreements), the multinational financial institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund) and the trade rules of the World Trade Organization. She also addressed the Salvadoran women’s organized resistance to the neoliberal global economic model and the creation of an “alternative for the Americas” that values human rights over corporate profits. Presented below is a striking note from Louise on “Voices” from the Maquilas At age 23, Marta Diaz, like most women who work in the Maquilas, is not married and must work to support her family. Marta was forced to leave the countryside because of the demise of the family farm. She completed the first grade. She has worked for four year trimming the final lace stitching on Bali bras. She lives with another worker in a small room, five days a week. Marta: The room is small, dark and crowded. There is no electricity. We share an outdoor sink and an outdoor toilet with many other workers. I work 9 to 11 hours a day. On the weekends that I do not work overtime, I go home to be with my sob, my parents, a cousin and two sisters. But most of the time I have to work overtime on Saturdays, for overtime or to try to meet the quota which I hardly ever make because it always changes-higher and higher. Lidia Santos is a 21-year-old single mother who completed the fifth grade. She helps support her two children and her parents by sewing Liz Clairborne jackets. Lidia: Workers are allowed to enter and leave the maquilas only when the guards unlock the gate – at the beginning of the work shift, at lunch, and when our shift ends. Once I was late returning from lunch and the gate was locked. I pleaded with the guard to let me in. he just laughed, and I lost a whole day’s pay. Maria Suarez had difficulties adjusting to the routines and rules of the supervisors and managers. She is 15 and has only worked for six months, and is afraid she will not last in this job. If she loses her job, she will not be able to help support her mother and younger sister. Maria: I get very nervous and cry when the supervisor yells and hits me because I make so many mistakes. I get sick to my stomach and vomit into my hands so they will not see me and fire me. I don’t know what I will do if I get fired. There is no other work in my area. Anita Quitero used to a slow worker but she responded to “incentives” and each day comes very close to meeting the quota. Anita: When I first started working in the maquila the supervisors used to scream at me: “You stupid turtle! I will see you out in the street before you know it.” He hit me, and kicked me, and called me other very bad names. I started off as the last worker on line 3, a “turtle”, and I have worked my way up to the first worker on line 1, a “rabbit.” But there is a lot of pressure and I have severe headaches and difficulty sleeping. Mei Mei Ellerman, Resident Scholar at WSRC presented her paper ,"An Introduction to the World of Sex Trafficking." She gave an overview of the world ‘s third largest and fastest growing criminal industry, human trafficking, for the purposes of labor and commercial sexual exploitation. She emphasized that globalization and the relentless demand of today’s worldwide consumers victimize women and children to an alarming degree. Despite stringent national and international protocols to prevent and punish human trafficking, especially of women and children, Ellerman stated that today, 27 million people live in slavery-like conditions across the globe. She gave detailed definitions of what constitutes modern-day slavery, who the traffickers are and how they lure, coerce and hold their victims prisoners: through threats, extreme physical and psychological violence, debt bondage and varying forms of addiction. Ellerman offered some hope by describing the work of grassroots anti-trafficking organizations such as Polaris Project, an NGO founded in 2002 by two Brown graduates, one of them being her son. Recipient of numerous awards, including the Ashoka and Do Something Brick award, Polaris has become a leading force in the battle to cripple the trafficking industry. Its comprehensive top/down-bottom/up model, based on direct outreach and intervention, client services, policy advocacy, and movement building, has already produced impressive results, affecting hundreds of lives of US-born citizens and foreign nationals, both in our country and abroad.
Encouraging each and every member of the audience to hold the images and stories of the victims and survivors recounted in their own words, Ellerman urged the audience to take action and join in the fight against the scourge of human trafficking.