Sunday, May 13, 2012

Black (American) Women are Not the Only Ones Facing Socioeconomic Disadvantages

As a black feminist, I understand the tendency to discuss (whine and complain) the status of black women in the United States. I cannot deny that black women are indeed marginalized in this society. Not only do we constantly concern ourselves with racism but we also have to worry about sexism. Include the matter of ethnicity and immigrant status for some and the load gets heavier (like yours truly who is Haitian). But in the midst of our self-pity we forget that there is a whole world out there full of women who are marginalized and do not enjoy a decent socioeconomic status.

The term socioeconomic advantages, or disadvantages, includes access to, or lack of access to, education, health, employment and income as well as the geographic location one calls home. Studies show that socioeconomic status affects prenatal and childhood development, determines ones education and income, shapes health habits, determines exposure violence and abuse, determines access to health care and social services, affects savings patterns, and contributes to the rich-poor gap (Moss, 2000). Readers should be replying with a resounding “Duh!” All of those things are interconnected including political stability in any given area.

When it comes to the socioeconomic status of black women in the U.S. they are definitely at the bottom of the totem pole. A majority of black women are living at poverty level. Black women are more likely to be exposed to the violence of poor, urban neighborhoods. Black women are more likely to drop out of high school and enter low-paying jobs. Black women are more likely to head single-headed households since America is attempting to arrest every single black man in the vicinity. Black women are more likely to suffer from obesity, heart problems, and breast cancer. And black women are being incarcerated at alarming rates compared to black men, white women, and white men. Well, at least this is gloomy picture that society paints for us and black women eat it up. Not that the statistics are not true to a certain extent (especially the part about incarcerating black males and the rising incarceration rates of black women), but the black woman is being made into the poster child for poverty, violence, drugs, unintelligence, and poor health.

Realistically, black American women in general, are a very privileged group when you start comparing them with women living around the world. Actually, we can start in our own backyard with Native American/indigenous women. Native American/indigenous peoples have had their land stolen from them and have been “sentenced” to living on reservations (as if that makes up for the stolen land...that we are polluting). According to Andrea Smith (2005), rape was used as a form of genocide of Native American/indigenous people. Much like the bodies of other people of color, especially black women, their bodies were not granted any sort of integrity (Smith, 2005). If you go up to Canada, you find that socioeconomically disadvantaged women face the same issues as black women in regards to maternal and fetal health. A 2008 study conducted by Landy, Sword, and Ciliska revealed that women a lower socioeconomic status were less likely to access prenatal health services, they were more often discharged from hospitals within only 24 hours of giving birth, they were more likely to suffer from postpartum depression, and they were least likely to participate in post-partum doctor visits even though the services are paid for by public health insurance.
Make your way to Mexico and you have the city of Juarez where women working in factories are constantly being murdered while officials take a nonchalant approach to rectifying the problem. Juarez (a.k.a. “the capital of murdered women”), had 18 young women go missing in 2009 with no justice in sight (Sarria, 2009). Their dead bodies are usually found a few months later in abandoned lots with signs of sexual violence and at times mutilation said Sarria (2009). Yet, women will continue to migrate to this dangerous city to look for ($55/week) work. Similar cases have been reported in El Salvador. Much of the Salvadorian violence against women is a result of social and economic strife after the civil war (SHARE El Salvador, 2007). At times, there have been more women murdered in El Salvador than there are days in a year with the numbers of reported sexual assaults surpassing 2,000 (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2009). Then there is post-earthquake Haiti where there are vast amounts of socioeconomic disadvantages that women are currently facing. The most obvious being the vulnerability of women to rape in camp sites for earthquake survivors and the lack of access to maternal and neonatal health services and facilities as reported by Human Rights Watch (2011). Women are giving birth on muddy floors in the camp sites!

Many South American women are facing much of the same issues as women in Central America. For instance, Colombian women are victims of sexual violence and are being displaced as a result of paramilitary and guerilla groups fight over areas for profitable cocaine production (Refugees International, 2009). In Peru, domestic workers, comprised of women for the most part, are taken advantaged of because the nature of their work is outside the sphere of “normal” employment (Chauvin, 2005). In Paraguay women suffer from high rates of domestic violence with an average of seven reported cases per day in 2011 (Stokes, 2012).

Despite its beauty, culture, and array of knowledge, ongoing conflicts in African countries (caused by Western policies) places women at great socioeconomic disadvantages. The status of women varies in each country depending on culture, tradition, political stability and economic security but it is impossible to discuss each of these differences now. However, I can provide a (very) generalized status of African women. Although women in Africa are responsible for much of the continent’s agricultural production they are generally employed in low-end jobs because they are not provided adequate access to education. The fear of stigmatization from being HIV positive keeps people from getting tested and using proper protection thereby helping to spread the disease. As mentioned before ongoing conflicts, like in Sudan, Rwanda, and the Congo, places women in vulnerable positions to become victims of sexual violence, which is often used in times of war as cited by Alvy (2004) and Azikiwe (2009). And of course there is the poverty (which affects women the most as they the caretaker of their children and families) that is exacerbated by national debts to institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the global economic crisis.

Cross over into the Middle East where women are treated like secondary citizens (that’s how our media portrays it to us anyway). The biggest problem is not that women who practice Islam have to wear a hijab or burqa in certain Middle East countries despite what the media might tell you. Bigger concerns would be how women have to be constantly guarded by men in their family and have them make decisions for them like in Saudi Arabia (Black, 2008). Then there are the female migrant domestic workers who unknowingly become indentured servitudes through the exploitive Saudi kafala sponsorship system (Standing, 2009). The kafala sponsorship system enables employers of migrant domestic workers to withhold the workers passport and work permit which substantially limits worker’s physical mobility. Like in Peru, the workers are overworked, underpaid (or not paid at all), abused (sexually, physically, and verbally) are unaware of the law, and face language barriers on top of it all. The same sponsorship system is used in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Move right along to Afghanistan and you will discover women have made some gains in the country with women holding positions in parliament and no longer being forced to wear a burqa since 2001, but there is still much progress to be made. In rural areas, families are still traditional causing the repression of women, especially in regards to receiving an education. In India, there is the shameful caste system which names an entire group of people as the “Untouchables” or Dalits (who tend to be darker in skin tone). The Untouchables of India are technically outside the caste system because their status is so low. They have to wear various forms of identification when they are going to be in the presence of those in higher castes, they are not permitted to study the Vedas (sacred Hindu texts) and they work the most menial and “dirty” jobs (Gogineni, 2005). Mayell (2003) reports that Untouchable women are raped/gang-raped (interesting since they are “untouchable” and yet a man would still force his penis in her) and beaten and the authorities do nothing and are sometimes the perpetrators of the crimes.

Russian women do not fare any better. In a 2003 report from the World Organization Against Torture, it was stated that young Russian women were less likely to be hired for fear of them getting pregnant and some were made to sign contracts agreeing that they would not get pregnant. In regards to domestic violence, it was also reported that “three fourths of all Russian women suffer from some type of domestic violence” (World Organization Against Torture, 2003, p. 307). We all know how China regards women what with the high rates of female infanticides (in India too).

Whew!! That was a lot of places in only several paragraphs (no passport needed).

The similarities in the socioeconomic disadvantages of women around the world reflect that of the black American women and some cases they are worse. It is important to realize that women, no matter their skin color or where they live, all face the same problems and are regarded in the same manner when they are of the same social class. I think it is time that black American women stop the pity party because we are actually much better off for the most part. It does not mean we sit back and accept our lot. It means that it is time for some serious action because we have so many opportunities to do so. The problem we have is our lack of unification as well as our dependency on men to validate our worth (but that’s an issue for women everywhere). The possibilities are endless if all black women along with our Native American/indigenous and Latina sisters were to rally together and finally say in a unified voice: “Enough is enough!” Not to turn against men, but to take care of each other.


Alvy, L. (2004). Violence against women in Sudan reveals common weapon of war. National Organization for Women. Retrieved from
Azikiwe, A. (2009 July 5). Global crisis impacts African women. Workers World. Retrieved from

Black, I. (2008 April 20). Saudi women treated like children, says human rights group. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Chauvin, L. (2005 September 14). Helping Peru’s ‘invisible’ women. BBC News. Retrieved from

Gogineni, B. (2005). Untouchability in India – An overview. International Humanist and Ethical Union. Retrieved from

Human Rights Watch. (2011, August 30). Haiti: Earthquake recovery failing women and girls. Retrieved from

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. (2009). El Salvador: Violence against women, legislation, and the protection offered to victims (2007 - June 2009) (SLV103187.FE). Retrieved from UN Refugee Agency website:

Landy, C. K., Sword, W., & Ciliska, D. (2008). Urban women’s socioeconomic status, health service needs and utilization in the four weeks afer postpartum hospital discharge: Findings of a Canadian cross-sectional survey. BMC Health Services Research, 8(203). Retrieved from

Mayell, H. (2003 June 2). India’s “untouchables” face violence, discrimination. National Geographic News. Retrieved from

Moss, N. E. (2000). Socioeconomic inequalities in women’s health. In M. B. Goldman & M. C. Hatch (Eds.), Women & health (pp. 541-552). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Refugees International. (2009). Colombia: Displaced women demand their rights. Retrieved from

Sarria, N. (2009 August 9). Femicides of Juarez: Violence against women in Mexico. Common Dreams. Retrieved from

SHARE El Salvador. (2007). Women threatened by violence. Retrieved from

Smith, A. (2005). Conquest: Sexual violent American Indian genocide. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Standing, E. (2009). The plight of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. Butterflies and Wheels. Retrieved from

Stokes, R. (2012 March 18). Paraguay this week 19.3.12. Pulsamerica. Retrieved from

World Organization Against Torture. (2003). Violence against women in Russia: A report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Retrieved from


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