Tag Archives: global health

Avoiding the White Savior Industrial Complex

26 Feb

The premise of the “White Savior Complex” is derived from the scenario in which individuals who exercise certain privileges–race, class, education, etc.–invade the spaces of certain groups or communities that are culturally different from their own with the intention of uplifting or “saving” members belonging to the groups they are invading. (“White” is really semantics to describe “saviors” from high-income/developed communities).

Those with privilege often wrongly deem the communities they approach as “oppressed”, or otherwise lacking access to certain rights or liberties , and in desperate “need” of help. From desiring to “rescue” sex workers to wanting to “liberate” oppressed women in the Middle-East, the White Savior Complex is a flawed mentality, and the intrusion of those with privilege into perceived “oppressed” or “disempowered” communities is often coupled with a desire for self-promotion that is justified with misguided altruism and harmful ally-ship.

Savior complexes, while perhaps partially fueled by a desire to do good in society, are callous displays of privilege that reinforce social hierarchies. “Saving” implies that certain communities are above others, and only groups with access to certain privileges embody the efficacy to empower those who are labeled disadvantaged or in “need” of help. Broadcasting the perceived struggles of another group in a showcase of pictures from mission trips and research projects can be both insensitive and exploitive to many communities.  “Look at these oppressed and impoverished brown/black women and children from the global south that I helped save”.

Saviorship of those who voluntarily enter the sex industry is a current topic of public spectacle that has generated a community-wide response. The hashtag #NotYourRescueProject was started by twitter activists to express discontent over sex work-related savior mentalities and reject the jarring notion that all sex workers are unhappy in their profession and do not wish to participate.

In 2012, Teju Cole,  a writer for the Atlantic, published a series of tweets on the White Savior Industrial Complex 

Yesterday, I published a series of my own tweets on “Being a Good Ally & Avoiding the White Savior Complex” . I’ve embedded the full composition of tweets into my post below:

You can absolutely have the best intentions and still hurt groups that you wish to advocate on behalf of. How CAN you be a good ally to the groups you are advocating on behalf of?

Your mentality matters. The premise of all savior complexes lie in self-promotion or seeking public approval and praise rather than true social justice advocacy.

Be mindful of the fact that if you are in a position where you feel like you have the ability to “save” or “empower” oppressed/minority/disempowered groups, you are demonstrating your position of privilege and, in fact, reinforcing social hierarchies.

One great way to know how you can help is by listening and asking groups you are allied with how they would like for you to become involved. By listening and taking into account the words of others, you demonstrate a genuine interest, and you will likely be called upon when your support is needed.

Email me: rachel.safeek@duke.edu

Twitter: @RachSafeek

 

HIV as a Human Rights Issue: Intersection of Gender, Race, and Violence

10 Nov


 

I Care about HIV/AIDS because...

I Care about HIV/AIDS because…

Why should people care about HIV if they are not personally affected by the disease, or if they do not know of anyone who is personally affected? I’ll tell you why: HIV is a human rights issue. 
One of the things that I love about my job is that when I’m discussing HIV prevention, I’m never just restricting my conversations to talking about HIV. I talk about STD concerns, general sexual and reproductive health, issues of consent for sexual activity, and finally issues related to power dynamics within relationships.
Here is one thing many people don’t realize, at least not consciously: condom use is all about negotiation. Okay, logically, to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV (and other STD’s), one should engage in all sexual or intimate encounters using condoms. That makes sense.
What if no condom is available at the moment? Or how about if your partner doesn’t want to use condoms? Okay, let’s focus for a second on the latter: Your partner is pressuring you into not using condoms.

There’s that classic line:

“You’re on birth control, and I don’t have anything (read: Sexually Transmitted Disease)….and neither do you. Why do we need to use condoms?”

If your partner doesn’t want to use condoms when you do, then logic tells us to just kick him/her to the curb. But unfortunately, logic cannot always be applied to instances of sex or intimacy. Beyond the emotional attachment which may cause someone to abandon his or her preferences “out of love” for their significant other, there are a few other matters to consider: What if you are in a long-term relationship and your partner is upset or offended by your request to continue using condoms? What if he/she threatens to leave you if you go against his/her wishes. Or…..

What if your partner threatens to (or does) hit you for resisting his/her demands? Ultimately: HIV transmission is not as simple as someone forgetting to wear a condom or not having any condoms available. It’s not even JUST an issue of a lack of education around HIV or sexual health. It comes down to negotiation. It’s and issues of power dynamics: who has the power (or IS empowered) to demand that condoms are (or are NOT) used.

The Three-Way Shift

In the early 1980s, when HIV was first observed in the United States, it was considered a “gay disease” because it was primarily observed among young, Caucasian, homosexual men in the Los Angeles area. Almost thirty years later in 2013, there has been a three-way shift in the race, gender, and sexual orientation of the demographic group with the highest incidence rate of HIV: from Caucasian, homosexual, men in the 1980’s to African American, heterosexual women in present day.

That’s a pretty remarkable shift to consider. In just thirty years, a virus has completely changed its course to disproportionately affect an entirely different demographic. This was what initially drew me toward researching HIV and its relationship to women.

Reasons cited by scholars for this shift in HIV to targeting women, particularly African Americans, include the power dynamic between men and women engaging in heterosexual intimate/sexual relationships, particularly in relationships in which:

  1. Gender-based violence (GBV)/Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), including domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault, are involved
  2. Women are financially unstable/”economically vulnerable”
  3. Men in heterosexual relationships bear attitudes of dominance or patriarchy

Because condom use is a direct product of negotiation, the individual with more power has the greater efficacy to control whether or not condoms are used in a relationship. Below I discuss the three situations listed above and describe their relationship to power dynamics within heterosexual relationships, condom use negotiation, human rights issues, and HIV transmission.

Gender-Based Violence (GBV)/Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in Heterosexual Relationships

Julia Kim (2008) describes the most visible “manifestation of the unequal power balance between men and women is violence against women”, specifically, violence against an intimate partner. If violence or sexual assault is an impending threat for a woman while she is in a relationship, she may not feel empowered to demand condom use from her partner out of fear of physical or sexual abuse. GBV and IPV constrain of individual agency and consequently lead to issues with women’s health. Women are physically at risk of being hurt from being hit or sexually abused by their partner. Additionally, they are left scared and in a disempowered state, in which they are unable to defend their human rights and protect themselves from STI’s and HIV.

Currently, the intersection of gender-based violence, intimate partner violence and HIV prevention among women is an initiative that is being undertaken by the White House (see link below).

Financial Disempowerment/Economic Vulnerability of Women Engaging in Heterosexual Relationships

Demonstrated lack of financial security among  women characterizes another social factor that contributes to female disempowerment, and subsequent transmission of HIV. Oftentimes, women who are struggling financially may turn to men for financial support.  In many of these situations, financial dependence upon men, the “sole bread-winners” of the household, places women in vulnerable positions. Women who are poor, many of whom are minorities, may rely on their partners for housing, food, or other forms of financial support. As a result they may be pressured to submit to the sexual needs of their partner. Women are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as unprotected sex, because they believe they owe their partners in exchange for money, food, and resources. These type of sexual transactions in exchange for money or other material goods, including housing, clothing, food, or even drugs predispose women to HIV and other STD’s.

Patriarchy/Structural Violence

A woman who engages in sexual relationships with a man who bears attitudes of superiority toward women may be pressured to submit to the needs of her partner, including forgoing condom use if her partner demands it . If a man asserts his dominance, as the male “head of the household”, a woman may have limited control over protecting her body during intimacy, leaving her in a position of little control. Women may unwillingly submit to the pressures of her partner out of fear that her partner will leave her or engage in affairs outside of their relationship. The “subordinate status of women”, particularly of minority women, directly influences the health-threatening decisions made by women in relationships and characterizes a violation of women’s rights (Farmer 2003).

Dr. Paul Farmer (2003) cites structural violence,  the historically adopted behaviors or attitudes, e.g. sexism, racism, or classism, “that conspire to constrain individual agency”, as a key contributor to health disparities. Sexism, racism, and classism deprive certain groups of their basic human rights, creating “inegalitarian social structures”. Sexist or patriarchal styles of thought establish a hierarchy and division of power between the sexes, in which men are afforded the power to make final decisions. As a result, women are denied their right to assert control over their bodies and their health.

References

Farmer, Paul. (2003). Pathologies of power: health, human rights, and the new war on the poor. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Farmer, Paul. (1996) Women, poverty, and AIDS : Sex, drugs, and structural violence In Simmons J. (Ed.), Monroe, Me. : Common Courage Press

Kim, Julia, Pronyk, Paul, Barnett, Tony, & Watts, Charles. (2008). Exploring the Role of Economic Empowerment in HIV prevention. AIDS Journal (2008) Volume 22. Lippincott Williams & Willkins.

As always, please feel free to email me. I limited much of my discussion for ease of reading, but I’m always open to questions/further discussion and reading.

–Rachel Safeek

HIV Prevention Among Female Sex Workers (Honors Thesis in Brasil)

15 Sep


In response to the number of requests I’ve gotten from current Duke students/study abroad students who are interested in reading about my work in Brazil with female sex workers, I’ve dedicated this post to focusing on the details of my research project.  If you are interested in my motivations for working with HIV prevention and sex workers, you can read more about my experiences in the field in one of my previous postings. And for those who are interested in the socio-cultural backdrop of the project, you can read here about why I selected Salvador (Bahia), Brazil as my site for undergraduate research and why the HIV/AIDS prevention model is so unique in Brazil.

Talking to one of the coordinators about disease prevention among Female Sex Workers

Talking to one of the coordinators about disease prevention among Female Sex Workers

I want to address the issue of culturally-competent community engagement briefly. For anyone who is working with marginalized groups, it is ALWAYS important to bear in mind that you should approach your research in the most non-intrusive way possible. You never want to come off as exploiting the persons with whom you are working for the benefit of your research and publications. Because Female Sex Workers (FSWs) are a marginalized and stigmatized group, many of the women with whom I worked were initially unwilling to participate in my project.  I was American, “over-privileged”, and it didn’t help that I had a rudimentary and “textbook” knowledge of Portuguese at the time of my first visit to the organization where I worked, O Projeto Força Feminina–The Female Force (Empowerment) Project (September 2011).

To overcome any cultural/linguistic barriers and earn the trust of the women at O Projeto Força Feminina, I dedicated the first few weeks of my project to establishing a relationship with the women. I taught basic English classes and engaged the women in belly dance and makeup classes (eyebrow threading), which they loved! It was truly a beautiful exchange of cross-cultural interests: I shared aspects of my Middle-Eastern culture. In exchange, the FSWs taught me some forms of Brazilian dance and helped me with my Portuguese. Ultimately, we established a firm sense of camaraderie that allowed them to trust me and have me interview them about their work and sexual behaviors. I also demonstrated my commitment to working with the group by returning to my project site again last summer (May-August 2012). While I will not be able to return to Salvador until next summer, I still maintain contact with many of the women at the organization.

Below is my finalized research abstract with some pictures from my time at O Projeto Força Feminina. Please email me at rachel.safeek@gmail.com with any questions.

“Who Cares about Us–We are Just Women of the Street”–Combating HIV Transmission and Gender Disempowerment among Female Sex Workers in Salvador, Brazil 
Authors: Rachel Safeek, Sherman James, Ph.D
Duke University 
ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND: While Brazil is lauded for its exemplary HIV prevention model, the majority of HIV prevention programs promote safe sex through education, ignoring the realities of gender disempowerement and inequality, which increase the susceptibility of female sex workers (FSWs) to instances of violence and disease. This paper analyzes factors associated with gender disempowerment and lack of condom use among FSWs in Salvador (Bahia), Brazil who engage in heterosexual interactions with male clients. An understanding of the sources of gender disempowerment is key to developing culturally-appropriate and effective policy interventions.

METHODS: Over a seven-month period, formal interviews were conducted with sixteen female sex workers and focus group discussions were conducted with 35 female sex workers at Projeto Força Feminina. The latter is an organization located in Pelourinho, the Historic District of Salvador, that works with FSWs to promote safe sexual practices and combat gender-based violence. Three life histories were also conducted with three of the sex workers. Additionally, Dr. Edivania Landim, the former head of the HIV/AIDS program of Bahia, was also interviewed.

RESULTS: Interviews and focus groups revealed that economic vulnerability (financial instability), drug use, and instances of gender-based violence (structural violence) and rape/sexual assault from police and clients disempower FSWs, increasing their susceptibility to the transmission of disease. In each case of disempowerment, the factors contributing to women’s decision to engage in intercourse without condoms or other types of risky or unsafe sex were influenced by their inability to defend themselves as women and as FSWs, a social group of women isolated on the bottom rung of Brazil’s social and economic ladder. The respondents were clear that their gender was a definite factor in the many difficulties they faced.

DISCUSSION: Increased emphasis should be placed upon female-specific forms of protection, e.g. female condoms, microbicides. Unionization among sex workers is necessary to gain political acknowledgement of sex worker rights through legalization of the profession.

KEY TERMS: HIV/AIDS, Female Sex Workers (Profissionais Do Sexo), Race, Economic Vulnerability, Disempowerment, Gender-Based Violence, Structural Violence, Health Disparities, Human Rights, Salvador, Brazil

–Rachel Safeek

"Empower women in the situation of prostition"

“Work in solidarity with women in the situation of prostition”

Colorful sitting room

Working on art projects

Working on art projects

Mission Statment

Mission Statment

In focus group discussion

In focus group discussion