Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Study Links Female Genital Mutilation to Higher Rates of Mental Disorders

Female genital mutilation is defined by the WHO as the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. The practice causes severe pain and interferes with the normal functioning of girls’ and women’s bodies and has long-term consequences for women’s physical health. It is estimated that between 100-140 million girls are currently living with the effects of these procedures. A recent study on data out of Iraq shows what many psychologists suspected but little research had confirmed. Researcher Jan Ilhan Kizilhan found “alarmingly high rates” of PTSD (44%), depression (34%), anxiey (46%), and somatic disturbances (37%) among a group of 79 circumcised girls in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, aged 8-14, who did not otherwise suffer any traumatic events. These rates were seven times higher than among noncircumcised girls from the same region and were comparable to rates among people who suffered early childhood abuse. The results are published in the European Journal of Psychiatry. Last year, shortly after hearing results of the research, the Kurdish parliament in northern Iraq banned FGM. I find it amazing that it has taken this long for scientists to investigate the mental health effects of FGM but it is heartening that after seeing the data, officials took action. I just hope that this ban has enforcement behind it and it not a token gesture.


Congolese women graduate from rape survival class

Eastern Congo residents, including men and boys as, well as women, have faced violent rapes for many years by armed rebels who roam the hills and sometimes force chunks of wood and guns into their victims.

In Bukavu,  gender violence survivors can enter into a program called the City of Joy for six months which includes: group therapy, dance classes, theater, self-defense, and sex education in order to help them recover from years of violence and abuse that Eastern Congo residents face on a daily basis by armed rebels. The program is run by V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls and was founded by Eve Ensler, the playwright and author of “The Vagina Monologues.” The program was created and developed by women on the ground, and their motivation is to turn these women’s pain into power.

It is an amazing movement by these women and if you would like to learn more, visit their site at:


Struggling to Understand the Motivations behind the Cambodian Sex Trade

Our class is discussing the book, The Road of Lost Innocence, by Somaly Mam. She was sold into sexual slavery as a child and for decades was shuttled through the brothels that make up the huge sex trade of Southeast Asia. At the heart of the book is a chronicle of the brutality faced by girls all over the country, and it raises the question of how men and other women can exploit children without any seeming remorse? As we discussed this issue, I remembered an article I had read years before attempting to account for the Cambodian genocide and wondered if it might be useful for thinking through the psychological aspects of sexual slavery.

In 1996, the anthropologist Alex Hinton explained the Cambodian genocide in terms of psychosocial dissonance. He contrasted two historic models or schemas that were important in Cambodian life—the “gentle” ethic, which required people to be respectful and harmonious in community life, to obey elders, and to always save face by displaying appropriate polite behavior in public and the “warrior” ethic, which motivated a history of violent behavior toward enemies of Cambodia. People were encouraged to act in accordance with their station in life. Warriors gained virtue by distinguishing themselves through bravery, fulfilling their duty and heroically fighting the enemy. Those who dared to kill an enemy gained face while those who did not were shamed. Incorporated into the warrior ethic was also the notion of “revenge killing.” If someone caused you to lose face, you should take revenge against him of you would lose face.

Psychosocial dissonance, Hinton, argued, occurs when people hold two conflicting cognitions. In this case, one emotionally salient view of the self comes into conflict with another emotionally salient model that motivates conflicting sets of behaviors (the gentle and the violent). He applies this to the enduring question of outsiders: how could a peaceful people like Cambodians who were known to be kind and harmonious in daily interactions turn around and commit extreme acts of violence leading to genocide against their own people as occurred during the Pol Pot rule of terror? Years ago, the psychologist Festinger (1957) found that people experiencing cognitive dissonance were in psychic distress which motivated them to take action. They tended to do one of four things: change one model so the conflict was avoided; change the behavior entailed by one model to avoid conflict; add new beliefs to integrate the two opposing models; or alter the context so that the models didn’t come into conflict (the latter being the hardest to achieve).

Hinton documents that the Pol Pot regime acted to deliberately subvert the “gentle” ethic by destroying the family and the community as the relevant unit of society and by breaking down age relations removing children from the home for education and by making people responsible only to the state. At the same time, they actively worked to legitimate the “warrior” or violent ethic at every level of society. People in communes were urged to embrace the spirit of combative struggle. They were organized into squads, platoons and battalions on the military model. People were told it was their national duty to report “enemies” of the state—former friends, neighbors or family members who spoke ill of the government. These “enemies” were compared to foreigners and to “microbes” or “diseases” that had to be “cut out” for the good of the state.

He found that the “genocidial self” emerged in settings where formerly gentle Cambodians, beset by internal distress over these conflicting models, were able to 1) dehumanize the victims as traitors, enemies and microbes; 2) were able to employ euphemisms to mask the true nature of their actions with expressions that made killing seem benign or even respectable—i.e., cleansing or purification; 3) experienced a moral restructuring where a category of individuals could be constructed who legitimately “deserved” violence; 4) became acclimated to killing through desensitization by indoctrination, repeated exposure to violence, and the inculcation of obedience to authority; and 5) where individuals were able to deny responsibility for their actions—i.e., this was the government’s rule, not mine or everyone does it, or inform or be informed upon; they deserved it, etc.

            After re-reading this article, I was struck by how similar these themes were to those used by the men and women running the sex trade industry in Cambodia. They were able to dehumanize the victims (young women) as being “savages,” “like animals,” etc. The girls must have been “worthless” because their own families bound them over to pay off debts. They constructed the category of “whore” as a group who deserved what they got. And clearly the individuals involved also denied responsibility—everyone does it; do it or someone will do it to you, etc. Today, thousands of young girls are being sold into sexual slavery, some by their own families, and widespread violence abounds in this segment of society while daily life appears to continue on as normal. Given the widespread nature of the problem in Cambodia and these types of prevailing attitudes, how would you attempt to institute a change? Obviously, passage of a law making sex trafficking illegal is not going to be enough by itself. I would like to know what others think on this issue.

NY Mets Pitcher Climbs Mountain to Help Female Victims of Sex Trafficking

NY Met’s pitcher,R. A. Dickey, is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for the Bombay Teen Challenge. Since 1990, Bombay Teen Challenge has worked to rescue and rehabilitate destitute and desperate people living on the streets and in the red light district of Mumbai. These include women trapped in prostitution through sex trafficking, their at-risk daughters andother girls vulnerable to the sex industry. As the father of two daughters, ages 9 and 8, Dickey said that when he learned of the conditions in Mumbai he immediately thought of how he would feel if his own daughters had to endure them. So he is partnering to help raise funds and awareness for this organization. Many times when we read about the horrors of sex trafficking, we feel helpless to make a difference. Dickey’s efforts show that there are many ways to contribute to the cause. Everyone can’t work directly with the women affected but helping to bring attention to a problem and funding to an organization that is effective can be very important.


Women Making a Difference in Haiti’s Recovery

Two years ago, a monumental earthquake struck Haiti and killed 220,000 people, injured 300,000 and left a million people homeless. A recent CNN article documents how Haitian women at the local level are leading the way to recovery. Oxfam, for example, has trained 1600 women in literacy and budgeting skills so that they can obtain grants to start businesses to aid their families. Another Haitian woman implemented a new technique for rice cultivation that saves on fertilizer and water. These are positive signs that empowering women at the local level does make a positive difference in the welfare of a nation. To read more, go to:


Response to Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?

I noticed that one of my worthy colleagues posted a NY Times article that discusses the lack of female contributors to Wikipedia in a sidebar.  While I cannot address this directly, I can say that my friend and colleague at Georgetown University, Rochelle Davis uses the update of Wikipedia as a tool in her teaching.  She has used it in a wide variety of courses, particularly with the students in the Master of Arts in Arab Studies.  When I attended Georgetown, the MAAS students were at least 50/50 male/female, if not majority female; however, with the growing interest in the Middle East, there may also be demographic change in interests.

See .

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