Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

When Tragedy Hits: A Concise Socio-Cultural Analysis of Sex Trafficking of Young Iranian Women

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

When Tragedy Hits: A Concise Socio-Cultural Analysis of Sex Trafficking of Young Iranian Women

Article excerpt


In this paper, I focus predominantly on the cultural context of sex trafficking of young Iranian women into the underground markets of the Persian Gulf region. Neither human trafficking nor sex trade is a modern trait. While these age-old practices have been the subject of protest by the moralists and the liberal feminists alike, the discourse of eradication of human trafficking and the restoration of the abject bodies rarely includes a remedy to revise the local and common gendered belief that allows these informal economies to proliferate.

New trends of sex-trade in the Gulf region have emerged out of a cluster of cultural and social matters, with their roots in political history of the people in the area. A few of the contributing factors that make up the social and political constellation resulting to the thriving market in human and sex trafficking are an accelerating poor economy that results in impoverished living situations for the majority of people in Iran and a failure to educate the public about the potentials and the rights of women..

Although economic misfortune often determines the fate of young women, gender double standards cut across social classes in Iran. Young girls from different regions in the country experience a variety of limitations according to local practices and hegemonic beliefs. Similarly, with respect to treatment of women by men, Iranian oral and textual history is frequently used to legitimize male dominance in contemporary life. Throughout the ages, despite warfare and social unrest, cultural continuity is preserved in the region by keeping stringent rules of conduct. Moreover, much of the popular values are learned through proverbs and legendary stories that get passed on through continuous oral reiterations. Unfortunately, included in the oral culture of the country are stories about women as being lesser to the men. The descriptive teachings of our literary past on how to train a woman into her proper obedient place is neither scarce nor trivial. In short, this article aims to pay closer attention to how a young girl comes to perceive herself and is perceived by others before she is swept up and transported into the underground sex markets abroad.

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How does one write about a problem among a people halfway around the world, when the world is sharply divided into camps of opposites where the political atmosphere is highly polarized and the military rhetoric of "belonging to one or the other" seems infinite?1 "Imagined" or not (Anderson, 1989), national identities and community affiliations run deep in the current discourses about all that relates to life in Iran. As I write the final addendums to this article on human trafficking in Iran, I am surrounded by the language of nationalism and political significance, both in terms of the energy confrontations in the world, and at a historically significant moment when an overachieving multi-millionaire affords to tour the outer space. Anoushe Ansari, a successful business-woman, a resident of the U.S. and a citizen of the world, unequivocally speaks of her Iranian nationality at a moment of maximum visibility in the public eye-on her travel to space. Subsequently, the possibility (or lack) of wearing the three-color Iranian flag-that powerful icon of political and national affiliation since the ancient times-becomes the topic of endless discussions. While a careful investigation of the political implications and cultural significance of Ansari's actions deserve consideration beyond the scope of this paper, I have directed my attention to a more relevant problem. Thus, how does one formulate a thoughtful script about human-trafficking practices and attitudes toward sexuality in Iran, avoiding the ambush of a language of anti-nationalism?

Questions such as these have been central in my thought process both during fieldwork in Tehran and with respect to subsequent reflection and writing. …

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