Human trafficking laws and the façade of protecting womxn

Welcome to the Clandestine’s column, Children of the Patriarchy! Every other Wednesday we will post a column on anything and everything patriarchy related. Whilst most of us are already painfully aware of the patriarchal structure surrounding us, we often do not realise how deeply rooted its effects are. That’s why we are here! Every week we will be calling out the patriarchy left and right, whether that is at KCL, in the UK or in the wider world. Because whether we want to or not, we are all Children of the Patriarchy and the responsibility of cleaning this mess up, falls upon us.

Trigger warning: mention of human trafficking

A new proposal by the department of immigration requires any Nepali womxn under the age of 40 to meet specific requirements to be allowed to travel. Under this new law, a Nepali womxn under the age of 40 would need permission of her family and her local government office, among other requirements, before she will be allowed to travel alone to another country.

Many womxn are outraged by these rules, and understandably call for the proposed law not to become reality. Not only are regulations like these completely ineffective in achieving the goals they claim to be aiming for, but they are also an insult to the dignity of Nepali womxn. Their freedom is being heavily restricted, and their rights are being violated, all under the guise of protecting them.

After the National Human Right’s Commission report on human trafficking in 2019 exposed the lack of attention the Government was paying to human trafficking, the Nepali Government has been under pressure to invest in truly combatting human trafficking. Their efforts, however, seem to be meaningless, futile and most importantly, doing more harm than good.

Laws like this are quite clearly simply thinly veiled attempts at restricting the already limited rights these womxn have. To attempt to uphold a status quo of female oppression in itself is already inexcusable, but to do so under the guise of protecting them, is even more disgraceful.

The abuse of Nepali womxn who work abroad is a very real and serious problem warranting serious attention. In 2018 alone, the National Human Rights Commission believed there to be around 35.000 people to have fallen victim to human trafficking, of which around 20.000 were womxn. These policies, however, do nothing but worsen the situation. Instead of denying womxn their basic rights and implicitly blaming them for human trafficking – how else are we to understand such policies, if these policies seek to restrict womxn’s basic rights in order to combat human trafficking? – the Nepali Government should be spending its time and effort into policies that will actually help fight modern slavery, not shifting the blame onto its victims.

The proposed rules in Nepal, though current, are not the only example of governments and politicians using womxn’s protection as an excuse to further their agenda. George W. Bush, a raging feminist himself of course, justified the occupation of Afghanistan through a similar lens. A complete façade of course, covering up the actual reasons behind the US invasion.

The disgracefulness of painting womxn as helpless victims in order to advance different political goals, reiterates the idea that we live in a man’s world. Men are seen as just warriors, and womxn as needing protection. While I am not arguing at all that victims of human trafficking do not need to be protected, I am arguing that this is a false narrative. I highly doubt these new human trafficking laws in Nepal are motivated by a true and sincere desire to protect womxn, in a similar way George Bush’s reasoning behind the invasion of Afghanistan was not to protect womxn either.

The co-option of rhetoric around saving womxn and protecting human rights to further political agendas and to pass weak legislation is ultimately extremely harmful for womxn. They encourage dangerous stereotypes which perpetuate a harmful gender division, in which womxn are helpless and in need of saving by, most often, white and western men. This narrative of liberating women, while spending little to no attention on womxn’s rights at home has existed for centuries, and strongly reminds us of colonial times. It is high time we recognize and retire these heinous practices.

The highlighting of womxn’s rights should not be a strategy in legitimizing weak legislation or even worse, military intervention. We need to be clear on the fact that this sudden solidarity with womxn is nothing more than exploitation. In and of themselves, womxn’s rights are worthy of widespread attention and the co-opting of these pressing issues is inexcusable.

There is little actual attention to womxn’s rights, unless they can be utilised to further a different political agenda. It is high time issues like human trafficking of Nepali citizens get the attention and resources they need to be actually combatted, instead of these meaningless and actively harmful tactics. Because at the very least, it is painfully clear that womxn’s rights are nowhere near the minds of these politicians.


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