Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls: New Delhi

Violence against women comes in many forms, existing in varying degrees across all cultures and countries. Among other ways, violence against women happens through intimate partner violence, rape and sexual coercion, human trafficking, and infanticide (for a broad review, see Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). In this post, David Mayeda begins a 3-part series examining cases of violence against women from 2012 that happened in India, Pakistan, and the United States. First off, the tragic case of the 23-year-old female physiotherapy student who was recently sexually assaulted and killed by six male suspects in India’s Capital City, New Delhi.

Protests in Bangalore

On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student from New Delhi, India was riding home with her fiance after seeing The Life of Pi when she was sexually assaulted on a bus by six male suspects. The assailants beat her and her fiancée, leaving them for dead. Reports vary, but some suggest the police wasted valuable time arguing over jurisdictional responsibility before helping the young woman. Roughly a week after the assault occurred, the young woman was flown to Singapore to receive further medical care. Unfortunately, the assault was so brutal and her organs so damaged, she passed away in late December. The suspects now face murder charges and the streets of India are alive with fervent protests:

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Contemporary Slavery: Thailand’s Matrix of Domination

As has been covered numerous times here in SIF, gender is a social construct ascribed to both males and females. Patricia Hill Collins (1990) argues further that gender operates along side multiple social constructs (race, class, nationality, sexuality) that are enmeshed in a “matrix of domination.” Within this matrix, uneven opportunity structures emerge for individuals who fall into these socially constructed groups. In this post, David Mayeda closes out his series on contemporary slavery by applying Collins’s matrix of domination to a type of work in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where adolescent males and young men are manipulated into commercial sexual exploitation.

Under what circumstances, if any, should a person be bought?

On the third night of our anti-slavery tour in Thailand, our group was being led through one of Bangkok’s red light districts. In this environment, sex was not the only thing being sold on the cheap. Tourists could cheaply purchase all kind of things – clothes, weapons, luggage, electronics. Though this was a work trip, the one leisure item I wanted to purchase was a pair of focus mitts for kickboxing. Some popped into my vision and I checked them out. Within a minute, the salesperson dropped his price from 2500 to 1000 baht (about $32 USD).

At that moment, the situation’s realness hit me, and I had a rather uninsightful but powerful reminder of why I was on this trip – to problematize the commodification of human life. We are all commodified to some degree. If you’ve held a job, you and your work skills were commodified as labor. But what if you were the object being commodified, if your body was being sold and your choice to be sold for someone else’s pleasure was minimized, even erased? This is the reality that characterizes sex workers’ lives across the world.

Getting a foot massage (or anything else) on the cheap is made possible by global inequality.

Similar to other countries, Thailand’s commercial sex industry preys on the young and vulnerable. Most of those exploited are young women who might exert elements of choice when working in this environment, though “choice” is minimized by poverty, familial and cultural expectations tied to gender and birth order, and limited employment options. Within this matrix of domination, other women are fully controlled as sex slaves, given literally no choice. This industry also victimizes young men and adolescent boys whose choices are manipulated.

Illustrating that males and females can both be feminized (or masculinized), “boy bars” exist catering to wealthier men from predominantly western countries. The males who work in these bars are typically heterosexual but play a more effeminate role to improve their chances of attracting foreign men who pay for their sexual services. In this context, the Asian males, like their female counterparts in the commercial sex industry, are a commodified form of erotica for the privileged western male consumers (see hooks, 1992)….

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DRC Death Toll Exceeds 5 Million & Almost No News Coverage?

In the past few weeks, conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza has received extensive attention in western media, and understandably so. The death toll among Israelis stands at 6 and Palestinians a staggering 160, not to mention the number of injuries and damage of infrastructure. In a bit of a surprise, left-leaning western media has also given a smidgen of attention to ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a colossal conflict that has been happening since 1998. In this post, David Mayeda reviews Virgil Hawkins’s concept of “stealth conflicts,” which refers to those conflicts happening across the globe that are massive in scope but receive virtually no attention from mainstream media, academia, government, or the general public.

If someone were to ask you what has been the biggest global conflict of the past decade, what would you say? The war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the civil war in Syria? None of those responses would be surprising given the amount of attention those conflicts receive from mainstream media. In fact, those are and have been serious conflicts. But what about any conflicts in parts of Africa? Could you even name one?

The reality is, the biggest conflict that our world has seen since World War II revolves around a country in central Africa called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The conflict is an offshoot of sorts from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, though the violence raging across and around the DRC has festered into its own world war involving a total of nine African countries. Just how big is the conflict in and around the DRC? Since 1998, over FIVE MILLION people have died, many directly at the hands of soldiers and the use of small arms (i.e., guns, machetes). However, far more have died from being rendered internally displaced persons, meaning they have been forced to flee their homes and thus are heavily susceptible to death via disease and malnutrition….

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Contemporary Slavery: Connections to Thailand’s War on Drugs

Slavery and other exploitive systems do not exist in a social vacuum. Rather, they are deeply connected with other institutions in society, materialising in ways that intensify existing social disparities. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, based on an August trip that examined the issue in Thailand. Specifically, this post discusses the Thai government’s 2003 war on drugs and its influences on minority group members.

rice patties in Thailand
Laboring in the rice patties - one of the few alternatives to excessive labor exploitation in northern Thailand.

As noted in this series’ first post, the two social groups most severely impacted by Thailand’s policies surrounding statehood are (1) an ethnically diverse range of rural hill tribe Thai, and (2) Burmese migrants, many of whom are refugees. Given these groups’ exclusion from formal citizenry rights and in turn from mainstreamed education and health care systems, they are all the more vulnerable to being exploited as labor, even ensnared in slave-based settings. However, worker exploitation is not the only way in which these groups are systemically mistreated. Broad-based governmental policies directed towards other social issues often have unintended deleterious consequences. Given the extreme power imbalances existing in Thailand, it is unsurprising that minority groups feel the brunt of these wayward policies.

In the 1970s and 80s, the United States and United Nations funded efforts leading to the widespread eradication of opium in Thailand and other countries. As is the common pattern in society, when governmental forces eliminate the production and distribution of one drug without altering the root causes of demand, another drug simply replaces the old one. Thus, the basic drug trafficking system stays in place, only with a different product permeating the market, which is what happened in Thailand. While opium production, distribution, and use still occurs in and around Thailand, between 1993 and 2001, various forms of methamphetamine replaced opium, becoming the more popular drug across Thailand (Wong & Wongtongson, 2006, p. 131)….

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Contemporary Slavery: How’s That Shrimp You’re Eating?

One of the frustrating things about studying contemporary slavery is that our consumption is so deeply connected to it. Even if one has an awareness of this connection, it is difficult to escape purchasing items that may have been made in part by slave labour. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, recounting some of the stories he heard from abolitionists regarding the deplorable conditions enslaved workers experienced in Thailand.

Ever wondered how much you unintentionally support modern day slavery? You can test your estimated “slavery footprint” by clicking on the link, below:

Slavery Footprint

I don’t purchase too many electronic gadgets anymore, but I did in the past. I suppose I have a fair number of clothes, virtually no bling, and little in the way of cosmetics. The thing is, I eat a lot, which probably drives my slavery footprint. Unfortunately, my consumption contributes to the enslavement of about 42 people per year, not something I am proud of.

The thing is, my personal connection to slavery is hardly unique. The type of slavery that receives the most media attention is commercial sexual exploitation, but actually, the largest number of people enslaved globally are forced to work in agriculture; this makes sense considering the global market existing for different food types. In Thailand, however, the largest number of enslaved workers are entrapped in the fishing and shrimping industries….

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Contemporary Slavery: Developing and Preying on Vulnerability

It is becoming increasingly known among those interested in social inequality and human rights that slavery is a significant part of our global economy. Existing in a variety of forms, slavery has been defined as “the complete control of a person for economic exploitation by violence or threat of violence” (Bales, 2000, p. 462). Differing from slavery in the 19th century, today’s slavery operates in clandestine fashion, hidden from the common consumer’s consciousness behind corrupted bureaucracy, law enforcement, and massive social distance. In this post, David Mayeda begins a 4-part series on modern day slavery, based on a recent trip he took to Thailand through Global Exchange and Not For Sale.

Thailand-Myanmar border

This past August, I took part in a 7-day reality tour through Global Exchange and Not For Sale, examining modern day slavery in Thailand. Our group was comprised of 16 individuals, primarily from the United States, with additional representation from Australia, Japan, and myself coming from Aotearoa New Zealand. We worked in a variety of industries (government, social work, retail, academia), but bottom line, we were all concerned citizens hoping to learn more about this social ill that continues to plague our society.

During our 3 days in Bangkok and 4 days in Chaing Rai and Chaing Mai, we met with activists, teachers, and social workers who were doing what they could with the limited resources they had to combat overwhelming, broad structural forces that maintain today’s slavery systems. In terms of broad sociological causes, contemporary slavery stems from extensive overpopulation, poverty, and corruption between business and law enforcement agencies. As explained in Kevin Bales’s book, Disposable People, those countries that have seen the fastest population growth since World War II (e.g., India, Bangladesh, Nepal) tend to have the most poverty-stricken vulnerable people, who are the most susceptible targets for exploitation.

Before delving into examples of slavery itself, it is critical to understand how the state can be complicit in creating mass vulnerability. In Thailand, those most vulnerable to becoming victims of slavery or worker exploitation in general come from two groups: (1) individuals from rural hill tribes in the northern part of the country, and (2) Burmese refugees seeking work in Thailand and/or fleeing from political instability in neighboring Myanmar….

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Nationalism and the Olympics: Meddling with Medal Counts

The Olympic Games is one of the key markers for nationalism in contemporary society. Supposedly, if a country wins a large number of medals, this becomes an international indicator of the country’s overall superiority. The United States typically does very well in the summer Games, leading the way in both gold medals won and total medal count, though China has been a close second in the past two summer Games. Bear in mind, however, the United States has a population of about 310 million, and China 1.34 billion. In this post, David Mayeda breaks down which countries are the true Olympic standouts, considering each country’s population size, and questions the Games as an indicator of nationalism.

“U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.” You could hear the national pride in the chants coming from the American fans. The United States won more medals at this summer’s olympic games than any other country with 104 total medals and 46 gold. The People’s Republic of China earned 88 medals with 38 gold. More than any other symbol of the Olympics, a nation’s medal count is supposed to be a measure of a nation’s global superiority. While it’s true that the Olympics are idealized as a two week international love, peace, and unity extravaganza, this sentiment is at best quaint.

If anything, the Olympics promote a fleeting nationalism within countries – a sense of solidarity, shared values, and cultural pride within a nation’s borders that revolve around athletes’ international success. For instance, all Americans can supposedly take pride in Michael Phelps’s ongoing success across three Olympic Games. It is apparently behind Phelps that all American citizens can rally together, assimilated as one, for about a week.

And in turn, as the USA wins the most gold’s and medals as a whole, Americans in general can assert their collective global superiority. With their Olympic dominance, we can safely assume that the United States must hold greater levels of technological advancement, athletic training innovation, work ethic, physical superiority, mental acumen, and well, just must be the best, period. Right?

Not so fast….

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Educational Fee Hikes, Student Protests, and Police Response

It is an interesting time to be a student of higher education, or perhaps an individual wanting to be a student of higher education. Across the world, universities are aligning themselves with conservative political entities as they raise student tuition and cut student support. In this post, David Mayeda reports on a recent student protest in Aotearoa/New Zealand, illustrating how state police continue to act in violent ways when faced with peaceful protests, and asks further, what future lies ahead for those who will not be able to afford a university education.

In Chile, hundreds of thousands of students and concerned citizens have been protesting for nearly a year, upset with the country’s highly privatized education system. As in many other regions, in Chile, if one lives in economic stress, securing a university education is highly unlikely. Likewise, the past few weeks in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, hundreds of thousands of protestors have been speaking out against proposed tuition hikes and newly imposed laws that restrict fundamental freedoms of assembly.

And as covered here in SociologyInFocus last year, University of California students were pepper sprayed by an officer while sitting peacefully in protest of tuition hikes at the system’s Davis campus, while a week before, Berkeley students were struck by police with batons. Below is some of the more benign footage I took on Friday 1 June at a University of Auckland student protest before being told to put away my iPad by police, or be arrested myself. With all these student protests and conflicts with police happening across the globe, what is going on?

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Pirates & Social Stratification

In this post, David Mayeda, takes look at an example of global stratification, where fishing companies from higher-income countries strip resources from poor, local fishermen off the coast of Sierra Leone. It is a classic example of how gaps between the rich and the poor still widen, on a global scale.

One of the most widely used concepts in sociology is “social stratification.” Taken literally, stratification refers to a kind of layering. By adding the term “social,” sociologists argue there exist different levels of social layering across all societies, demarcated by measures of inequality. Systemically, social stratification can be measured in three ways: (1) by access to resources/wealth (e.g., money, social networks, weapons, computer technology); (2) power (the ability to influence others, often against their will); and (3) prestige (the status one commands within a society).

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. If you don’t know where Sierra Leone is, well, that may be one indicator of its lack of status in the global economy. Speaking of the global economy, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries with regard to overall quality of life based on three major criteria: whether those in the country’s population (1) live a long and healthy life; (2) have access to knowledge; and (3) hold a decent standard of living. According to the 2011 HDI, Sierra Leone ranks 180 out of 187 countries globally, as it still recovers from a brutal civil war that lasted throughout most of the 1990s and up until 2002.

In contrast, the top five ranking countries in the 2011 HDI are, in order, Norway, Australia, Netherlands, United States, and New Zealand. This index is one way of saying on a global scale, these countries stand very high in a socially stratified world, whereas Sierra Leone stands quite low in comparison….

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#KONY2012: An Ethnocentric Social Movement?

The last few weeks, an organization called “Invisible Children” made waves across the internet, attempting to raise global consciousness of the long-term and horrific violence that has plagued Uganda for decades. Specifically, the organization encourages citizens from high-income countries to take a global responsibility in capturing Lord’s Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony. However, critics have argued the effort lacks a true Ugandan viewpoint. In this post, David Mayeda asks if Invisible Children’s efforts reflect privileged ethnocentrism.

At the time of writing, Invisible Children’s slick 30-minute YouTube video, “KONY 2012,” has been watched over 100 million times, taking only 6 days to reach that threshold. In this video gone viral, the charity’s leader, Jason Russell, helps to expose the conflict that ravaged Ugandan communities for decades, while privileged citizens from high-income countries went about their daily lives with little awareness of the extreme violence. In fact, the conflicts that cut across Uganda are indicative of a much broader and complex web of collective violence that has long ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and adjacent countries, termed by scholar Virgil Hawkins as stealth conflicts:

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