Bodies for Sale in Barcelona

While in Spain, I made a trip to Barcelona.

Barcelona is a beautiful city in the daytime. It’s full of life. Very easy to navigate, you turn one corner and you run into the Sagrada Familia. Hop on the metro, walk a few minutes and you find yourself in the famous Parque Guell a magnificent park known for its sculpture and panoramic view of the city. A little bit longer and you can walk along la playa of La Barceloneta, enjoying a sunny day on the beach.

However at night, it is a different story. I was staying in Las Ramblas. The difference between day and night life of Las Ramblas was very noticeable. In the day time it is full of tourists, families, couples, students, all eager to get a taste of the Spanish lifestyle by means of Barca. At night however it transformed, the students and couples were still there, the smell of drunkenness and lust permeates the air, the lights of night clubs glow as promoters attempt to fill their clubs and their pockets. The vendors selling little trinkets on the street are now replaced. In their stead, are women. The streets of Las Ramblas are lined with women at night. I noticed immediately the fact the majority if not all the women that I was seeing were African, many of them I recognized to be Nigerian.

They intermingled with the drunken crowd of vacationers, sometimes approaching groups of young men, striking up a conversation. It hurt to watch how they were offering themselves up to men. I noticed the drunk tourists and the way they treated these women. I cringed as I watched blond boy, who appeared to be in his early 20s and clearly American, scream at a women who approached him. He told her to go away, if he felt like it, he would call her later.

Later I saw a man who was clearly drunk being followed by one of the women. She chased after him and latched onto his arm, stumbling with him as they walked to a patch of bushes nearby that would hide the act that was about to be committed.

I looked into the eyes of some of the people I was surrounded with, but especially the men. I saw in there eyes how little respect they had for these women, calculating and accessing these women and equating them with the lowest of the low. Ironic because to me, these men were the lowest of the low. When the gaze turned upon me, I noticed something akin to lust and disdain in their eyes. They didn’t know how to categorize me, biologically and physically I was just like these women, but by an accident of birth I was on the other side.

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Trafficking of Women from Nigeria to Europe

There’s human trafficking and human smuggling. While smuggling is usually consensual, trafficking is not. Smuggling can be defined as a situation in which a migrant purchases services that get them around the immigration restrictions to enter into a country. Trafficking usually involves deception or exploitation of the victim, often in the form of forced labor or prostitution (Carling 2005).

An estimated $26.5 billion is spent on prostitution in Spain alone, giving the second highest prostitution expenditure in the world, coming second to Japan. Spain also has the second-highest number of victims of human trafficking in the European Union, coming only after Italy (Benitez 2013).  Women come from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa to be sex workers, but the one of the largest groups of prostitutes comes from Nigeria, where there is widespread trafficking of women and children in the country as well as out (Carling 2005).

Nigeria is a country that has unfortunately been exploited and colonizers leaving in the wake of their destruction, high levels of peacetime violence, corruption and organized crime, pushing many of its citizens to seek asylum in Europe. In 2014, Nigerians were the eighth largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, with 19,970 asylum seekers but very few were granted protection (Eurostat 2015).

Unfortunately, discrimination against, and oppression of women in Nigerian culture along with exotification of black women in the sex industry has lead to high levels of trafficking of Nigerian women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The majority of women trafficked from Nigeria, come from Edo State, in areas with high levels of poverty. Statistics show that one in three young women receive offers to be taken to Europe (Carling 2005). These offers come in the promise of good jobs but often, once the women reach their destination they are forced into prostitution to pay for the debt they incurred to make the journey. Victims of this form of human trafficking are sponsored by madams to make the journey, which can cost up to $14,000 but their debts are often triple that.

The women don’t have an exact idea of what they will do for work once they get to their destination, or just how much debt they will incur. But the prospect of getting out of Nigeria and being able to help one’s family rise from poverty is enough temptation to motivate women to take the risk and make the journey under these circumstances.

Juju rituals, which is a form of voodoo, often playing a role in victim’s obligation to complete their contract. The women make a pact with their sponsor, promising to repay their debt. The pacts are blessed and sealed by a traditional priest of the indigenous religions. Sometimes families are brought into the agreement, and their houses and property are used as insurance to assure that the victim will repay their debt, or their family will suffer the consequences. Other times a part of the pact involves elements of magic, where hair, or bodily substances will be blessed by the indigenous priest to support the execution of the pact. The victims hold the pact to high regard and promise to fulfill it due to fear of the consequences of not repaying their debt. They can be threatened by the juju with the possibility of falling ill, going mad or harm befalling their family if they do not complete their end of the bargain.

The women reach Europe and are often contracted into prostitution for one to three years to repay their debts, as lack of education and a skill set leaves them unable to find legal work. Often times at the end of their contract, they continue to work in the prostitution business, as they do not have the skills or documentation to pursue an education or a career. Some women choose to work for madams, or become madams themselves, perpetuating a cycle of a woman exploiting her own gender out of what she feels is necessity.

Benitez, I., (2013, December 26) Spain Grapples with Human Trafficking. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/12/spain-grapples-with-human-trafficking-201312258242633394.html

Carling, J., (2005, July 1). Trafficking in Women from Nigeria to Europe. Retrieved http://migrationpolicy.org/article/trafficking-women-nigeria-europe

Eurostat (2015, May 21). Asylum statistics. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Asylum_statistics

The Pecking Order in Spain, According to African Migrants

Pecking order is the colloquial term for a hierarchal system of social organization (Merriam-Webster).

As I sat in warehouse substituting for a worship center I spoke to a Nigerian literary scholar turned pastor about the hierarchy of race in Madrid and what it meant for those who come from Africa in search of work.

Pastor Richard* allowed me to speak to women from his congregation before talking to me himself about his own experience. I spoke to four women, all who were in their early to late thirties and all of who were unemployed. I asked them about their experience. What they found difficult, adversities they had face, how they overcame these adversities and what kept them going.

The common issue that I came away with from all four women was that of unemployment. However, considering that unemployment is not uncommon in Spain, so you might ask, what makes their cases any different?

One story that I heard in particular demarcated the difference between the stories of these women and others who found it difficult to secure work in Spain.

One of the women, name Angela shared a story which struck me as sad.

She came to Spain six years ago. Angela was not formally educated, she had never attended school passed secondary school in Nigeria and had no degree. However, she had a desire to learn and an even greater wish to survive. While in Nigeria she learned how to sew and could repair clothing. When she arrived in Spain, she used this skill set to sustain herself. She would repair clothing for members of the Nigerian community in exchange for money, and through this she was able to provide for herself and send a little money each month back home to her family. Like anyone with ambition she wanted more though. She looked for work and was able to find an apprenticeship with a local clothing boutique. She learned and worked for 2 years and it was promised that at the end of the two years, she would receive a contract for full time work.

The end of her apprenticeship came after two years and Angela expected to be rewarded for her dedication with permanent work, however this was not the case. While everyone else was kept, she was let go without pay or contract. The only difference between her and her coworkers was the fact that she was African, and everyone else was Spanish. Without an explanation or any compensation. Angela was left jobless and penniless, and very much where she started.

She attributed this to discrimination in the work force in Spain. According to Angela and others the social hierarchy in terms of job discrimination goes as follows:

Spanish nationals are the first to be hired when a job is available, second would be Eastern and Western Europeans, third Latin American immigrants and at the bottom of the pyramid are black people, specifically black Africans.

I definitely noticed that in various stores that I visited in Spain, there were rarely any African employees working in grocery stores or clothing stores. I knew of one Malian women who was working for a Spanish company, El Cortes Ingles. But she was working behind the scenes in the kitchen as an assistant.

It might be ironic or intentional that the hierarchy coordinates with the spectrum of skin tones, from lighter to darker. But it is no doubt that black bodies are just not visible as a part of Spanish society. Even in my research it was difficult to find literature relating to the black African population of Spain, as there is very little information available on the topic. There is obviously a disinterest and unwillingness to acknowledge this part of the Spanish community, for what reason, I can not imagine other than it may be believed that they are insignificant.

I do not want to speculate or draw conclusions as to why there is discrimination against Africans in Spanish society, but it is quite obvious that it is present.

Merriam-Webster. Pecking Order definition http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pecking%20order

Prevention of Upward Mobility for African Migrants Then and Now: A look in the past

From the 1970s to the 1980s, Spain saw rises in the numbers of African migrants living in the country. The majority arrived to Spain in search of work and found their places in the agricultural sector. Now at this time, Spain also saw significant number of their citizens leaving the country for abroad in search of work. You might ask why a country who previously was sending its citizens outside of the country in search of work, was accepting migrants from abroad for just the same reason. The answer is though to be because most of these migrants were entering the country from Africa to work in agriculture and farming.

According to a study (Zapatto-Barrero 2008) agricultural work provided the first Spanish job for almost half of the African workers interviews. An indication that farming is a major employer of Afro descendants here in Spain. Even despite the high levels of unemployment it was still Africans that held many of the open agricultural positions, few farmers even citing that they hired limited numbers of Spaniards because it was proven that African were harder workers.In interviews, farm owners stated that “Africans are good workers, and are used to the hard working conditions of farming. Africans have a good physical endurance so they put up with hard agricultural tasks”.

However it can be assumed that the hiring of Africans meant there were fewer legal obligations toward their workers, as unfortunately the Africans were not informed of their workers rights and were more often worried about keeping the job they had than whether they were treated justly or not.

Exploitation of African migrants was not uncommon and often prevented them from upward mobility. Spanish law stipulated that a worker had to be contracted on a permanent basis after working for the same employer for three years (Zapatto-Barrero 2008). But in order to avoid paying social security for workers, Spanish landowners found ways to get around this clause. They would fire their migrant workers and then offer them a new work contract after a period of time, as to be able to claim that their workers had not been employed with them for three years.

Unfortunately for African workers, it was stipulated in Spanish law that, yes, workers could come to Spain with a one year work permit but they had to renew it at the end of the one year. With successful renewal of a work permit, they could maneuver throughout the country more fluidly because this now meant they could hold a permanent residence as well. But in order to renew they had to have held a contract of employment and fully-paid social security contributions from their employer. However, with the system of firing and rehiring, it was hard for immigrants to prove that they had consecutive and consistent work for the time period required by the Spanish government to obtain legality. Hence it became very easy for migrants to cross the very thin line between legality and illegality, restricting their mobility and their opportunities.

According to Zapatto-Barrero, the work left for African migrants is described as low-skilled work where little formal education is necessary to perform it. But it also yielded poor pay and was made available in fields which were of little to no interest from the local (or in-migrant) Spanish population. This being said, the work is the lowest of the low in Spanish society and not even Latino immigrants, no matter how desperate for work they are, would willingly stoop to do it. The probability of Africans being able to rise from this type of work was very small. And if they were unable to move freely within Spain, how could they gain access to bigger cities where their were more opportunities for not only them but their children as well in terms of work and education?

In a survey it was recorded that 41.9 percent of Africans with more formal education (secondary or higher education) wished to leave Spain dour to lack of access to professional work in country. A observation that was affirmed during my investigations in Spain. It is almost as if their is a glass ceiling preventing African nationals from upward occupational mobility.

From Girl to Woman at Seven

Imagine yourself to be a seven year old girl if you will.

At seven years old, the only thing on your mind is how to get Papa to give you a biscuit even though your mom has already said no, and who your next playmate is going to be. It is hardly an age where one should have to think about anything related to their sexuality nor endure physical pain and emotional pain that will last them a lifetime

Imagine that, you live in a rural village. You have been outside playing and are growing bored. You walk into your kitchen and see Mama and Grandmama discussing in the corner, all you want is to see if Mama will give you a sweet even though it is two hours before dinner. She smiles at you and tells you to come here that she has an errand for you to run.

You skip happily to her side curiously. She asks you to run to the neighbors house and get a knife for her..

You think maybe she’s cooking something for dinner and needs a special knife. Maybe it’ll be something delicious! You agree happily to go to the neighbors, the whole time on your way there you can only thing of the delicious things that might be for dinner.

The neighbor hands you a knife wrapped in a bloody, white cloth. She gives you a funny look, at seven you can barely discern what look means what, but later on you will remember her eyes filled with pity looking down upon your small, seven year old frame.

You make off for home, eager to show Mama that you were able to do what she asked of you without fail.

Upon entering into the kitchen you notice that it is no longer Grandmama and Mama, but that they have been joined by a third woman. You greet the visitor as you have been taught to and hand Mama the knife with a big smile. As you prepare to run outside again, Mama asks you to stay. You are interested to know why and stay where she asks you. You are approached by Grandmama and in an instant both her and Mama are by your side.

You are laid down on a pallet and the next moments are a blur. You remember a wad of cloth being put in your mouth and your pants being pulled down. The next thing you feel is the cold steel blade of the knife you’ve just given your Mama on your skin and the strange woman above you. Next thing you remember is pain. And blood, a lot of blood.

In that moment, at the young age of seven, you have become a victim of tradition, you have become a victim of Female Genital Mutilation.

The sad thing is that thousands of girls all over the globe are forced to go through this traumatic experience at such young, crucial and formative years of their lives. And it shapes who they will be for the rest of their lives.

Fast forward twenty years.

You have managed to go to school despite the odds against you, and have been fortunate and hard working enough to make it out of the village and are now living in a developed nation where basic healthcare is a right. As a twenty seven year old woman, you are having your first visit to the gynecologist, and are terrified. You are terrified and ashamed of what the doctors will think when they examine you. But of course they must have experience with FGM and hopefully they can counsel you in an appropriate manner and point you toward some resources that might be able to help you. I mean, it’s the 21st century and you are living in a developed country, of course they should know how to relate to victims accordingly, right?

Wrong. You lie down on the table and wait for the doctor. The doctor finally comes in after what seems like forever and begins your examination. As the doctor lifts the sheet, her eyes are filled with horror, she looks at your face and then back down again at your lower body. But she doesn’t say anything to you. She stares for what seems like forever then leaves the room. She comes back in five minutes with three other doctors. Now they are all taking a look and discussing in a language that you barely understand. All the while, you are splayed out on the table for the world to see. You are overcome with an abundance of emotions, but the one at the top of the list is humiliation. And anger, anger at your mother for making this your life, anger at your culture for taking part in a tradition that causes so much pain to women, and anger at yourself for trusting these Western doctors, you think should have known better.

No woman should ever be made to feel this way, but this is the unfortunate reality of many.

To learn more about FGM, and what you might be able to join the fight against it, click on any of the following links:

http://tostan.org/

http://orchidproject.org/

http://www.global-alliance-fgm.org/

http://www.stop-fgm-now.com/campaign

FGM: Raising awareness accross the world

I recently attended a conference called AfroMadrid. This conference focused on issues that plague those of African descent in Spain, as well as the issues on the continent which are the catalysts of transnational migration of immigrants. Issues such a race and education were discussed, as well as discrimination and racism and the mindsets necessary to combat the two. Something that stuck with me the most however was the discussion revolving around health.

During the panel on women’s health, there was a testimony by a woman who was of Somalian descent but Kenyan born, as there is a Somalian population in the North Eastern province of Kenya. She spoke of an issue that many women in about 30 countries, many of which are located in Africa, face. She talked about her experience with Female Genital Mutilation also known as FGM. FGM is defined as non-therapeutic, partial or complete removal or injury of each of the external female genitals. There are Four type of FGM, all ranging in severity, from removal of the clitoral foreskin, to complete removal of clitoris, labia minora and majora, and sewing up of the vaginal opening. The practice is deeply rooted in tradition and dates back to the fifth century BC.

It is an encouragement of the patriarchy, a method of birth control, a guarantee that women will behave morally, avoiding promiscuity and promising faithfulness to their husband. It is viewed as a symbol of femininity and beauty, often considered a right of passage from girlhood to womanhood. Unfortunately, the tradition comes with very serious physical and mental consequences, such as bleeding, wound infections, sepsis and shock. Chronic physical problems like anemia, infections of the urinary tract, infertility, pain and menstruation problems are frequent. Women also have a higher risk for HIV infections. Both mother and child suffer during pregnancy and childbirth. Examinations and vaginal application of medicine are more difficult. Women have a higher risk for a prolonged delivery, wound infections, tearing during childbirth, the need to resuscitate the baby during childbirth and an inpatient perinatal death. Mental consequences after FGM include the feelings of incompleteness, fear, inferiority and suppression. Women report chronic irritability and nightmares. They have a higher risk for psychiatric and psychosomatic diseases. FGM carried out by doctors, nurses or midwives is also called medicalisation of FGM and is definitely unacceptable. It is a practice that is done for the approval of men and older generations, but the women and children are the ones who face the consequences of this unjust practice.

FGM is unacceptable, and many international organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNESCO and UNICEF condemn its performance. It is considered an abuse of a woman’s basic human rights, as FGM refuses women the right of freedom from bodily harm. Thankfully, specific laws that ban FGM exist in many countries in Europe, Africa, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. However what about the treatment of women who have been subjected to FGM? There needs to be conversation between doctors and patients of FGM to support and inform the victims of the medical consequences and international attitude in order to avoid the future mutilation of newborn daughters in foreign countries. In addition, there needs to be an international conversation that creates awareness of how healthcare providers can support victims of FGM who live in western nations. Due to migration, an increasingly higher level of women with FGM now live in foreign countries. However, the knowledge and experience of medical staff in these countries is insufficient enough to handle cases, often leaving women unsatisfied with OBGYN healthcare. In order to prevent the exclusion of these women, it needs to be talked about and people need to be educated! The cycle needs to be ended.

Sources: Utz-Billing & H. Kentenich. Female genital mutilation: an injury, physical and mental harm. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, December 2008; 29(4): 225-229

Dozens of fathers amongst migrants being forcibly deported tonight from the UK

Feminist Philosophers

The Home Office is preparing to deport dozens of west African migrants on a specially chartered aircraft leaving Stansted tonight, bound for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gabon. Immigration officials have reportedly detained hundreds of people this month ahead of the flight.

Many of the men booked on the flight are being separated from pregnant partners and young children, according to volunteers at the Unity Centre, Glasgow, who have spoken to deportees. They say that the the men, being held in London immigration lock-ups, expressed “terror and desperation at the prospect of being separated from established lives in the UK”.

Anthony* has a wife and two-year-old child who both have the right to remain in the UK. “We lost a baby in 2008, we visit the burial site regularly. They are trying to take me away from this,” Anthony told the Unity Centre. “Every time I call my wife…

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