Wednesday 13 October 2010

Piracy's impact on women

Any discussion that explores the gender relations round piracy is welcome. And google alerts have just brought to my attention Shukria Dini’s very interesting article: The Implications of Piracy for Modern Women:

The piece grew from findings when she was researching another subject in Somalia in 2005-6. There she came to understand piracy as a third world activity develop mainly in response to the poverty caused by aggressive and unpoliced foreign fishing in depleted Somali waters.

In summary, I see her main arguments as being about extremely wealthy men - as pirates briefly become – and what that means:
• men have great power to exploit vulnerable women and create conditions that breed prostitution
• men may spend the money on themselves (including on the drug qat) and not on the family
• they may take new wives and so divert resources from their main families
• they may lure young impoverished women into chatteldom, the sex industry or unwise marriages – which may socially mark them forever and blamed for their connection to piracy
• wealth is only temporary and will not bring bliss and secure futures
• poor, non-pirate young men cannot compete for wives
• when tensions rise between warring factions, women can be hindered from going to the market where they win the family bread
• pirate wealth increase the price of local goods and services, making life still more economically difficult for the lower-waged

Having studied piracy and gender for 15 years now, I think the article could go further, so that is specifically about piracy rather than the problem of men suddenly having wealth from any sort of work, say fishing or working away on oil rigs. The particular features of piracy work anywhere, as I see it, are that:
1. it is violent
2. it necessities itinerant temporary labour
3. it is done in all-male teams with a culture that valorises macho ruthlessness.
4. it’s criminal, meaning such workers live outside the law and can neither be constructive members of society not constructively resistant challengers of it.

So, for example, let’s look at the implications of violence, for women. Shukria only points that in a marriage where the man takes up arms the wife can be left husbandless (killed doing his work), meaning that she becomes economically deprived.

But a really important problem is surely the damage that is done to everyone, including mentally, by living in a family/society where violence has become normal in one member’s working life. And violence produces ripples, and brutalisation. All pirates are not psychopaths. Many are just impoverished young men caught up in struggle to survive. But surely living by the gun cannot make for harmonious personal lives.

It would be good to some comparative analyses how piracy impacts on women. There are bigger questions too: How can piracy be stopped, but what happens to women in less developed economies if it is halted? And if women were involved in pirate action (not just in support work) what difference, if any, would that make?

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