Sex Trafficking of Women: They are so syndicated
by Gina Mission

Teatrong Walang Bakod: The power of popular theater

"hy are there a lot of trees in this metropolis of Germany?"

___This was the question Arlene Bansan, Marife Dolindo, and Nida Vibar asked themselves when their plane landed in their destination. The answer was revealed to them later, when their recruiter told them that they were not in Germany, where they thought they were going, but in Nigeria. Two days later, they were forced to work as prostitutes in that country’s brothels.

___A year later, the question was: "What’s the difference between a woman and a chicken?" when the three women’s stories and a book inspired Soki Ballesteros to write the play, "We Are So Syndicated, Ma’am."

___"We Are So Syndicated, Ma’am", a 30-minute play by Teatrong Walang Bakod (Theater Without Borders) on sex trafficking, is based on the testimonies of these three women victims of sex trafficking in Nigeria. Inspired by Chris de Sloop’s book "They’re Se Sweet, Sir: The Cruel World of Trafficking of Filipinas and Other Women," the play tackles the issue of sex trafficking of women as well as the multi-million dollar syndicates that perpetrate the practice.

___Presented by the International Organization on Migration, in cooperation with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), the play is written by Soki Ballesteros of IOM and is directed by Lakan Bunyi of PETA. Both writer and director star in this play which, in the words of its writer, "goes beyond the traditional concept of a play or theater in general."

___"I was so overwhelmed by Sloop’s book that right after reading it, I wrote the script of the play," says Soki. So far, the play has been performed 59 times in such non-traditional settings as urban poor areas, barangay halls in the rural areas, labor union headquarters in Metro Manila, as well as different schools nationwide. Originally written in Filipino, the play is currently being dubbed in the different dialects of the country. An English version has been performed in Bangladesh, Belgium, India, and Indonesia.

___"The play is primarily aimed at raising awareness of the sex trafficking issue," says Soki, adding that they have even performed before audiences who are "consumers" of the flesh trade. "We want to reach out to people who are in touch of sex trafficking victims all over the world. We want to touch their hearts," she adds.

___Sex trafficking is defined by IOM as "any illicit transporting of migrant women and/or trading them for economic or personal gain." It includes the elements such as: facilitating the illegal movement of migrant women to other countries with or without their consent or knowledge; deceiving migrant women about the purpose of migration - legal or illegal; physically or sexually abusing migrant women for the purpose of trafficking them; selling women into or trading them for the purpose of employment, marriage, prostitution, or other forms of profit-making and abuse.

___Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, according to IOM, is only one part of the wider trade in women and in human beings in general. It includes both situations where the women are conscious of the fact that they are being recruited by traffickers for prostitution, and situations where the women are being deceived.

___IOM estimates that some four million people worldwide are forced to work in different forms of servitude, resulting in profits to criminal syndicates of up to $7 billion per year. Around 60 to 70 million women and children in Southeast Asia, according to the organization, have been in sexual slavery during the past 10 years. Every year, around 500,000 women are trafficked into Western Europe alone. The Philippines has an estimated 400,000 prostituted women, excluding unregistered victims of sex trafficking both within and outside the country.

___The first of its kind in the country, the play uses recycled toys as "props" and can be performed in very small venues. "Our minimal movements are designed to make it possible for us to perform even in one’s living room. We want each performance to be intimate with the audience," says Soki. Because of the harshness of the flesh trade, the play uses "adult" terms. It is not suitable for viewing by children.

___The play opens with a "musical" rendition of King Solomon’s story: "King Solomon has a pet chicken whose chest is so plump, and legs so round; poor chicken is raped by a dog, Solomon gave a big laugh, and suddenly went into business." Soki and Lakan then proceed with comparing each other’s business: Soki with her "chicken business" and Lakan, with his "woman business." As the two compare each part of the two "wares" (Soki: my chicken has wings, Lakan: my woman has hands; my chicken has a chest, my woman has breasts; etc.), they come to the realization: "Are chicken and woman alike?"

___Such comparison, while scandalously degrading, has a humorous effect. It sent the audience laughing wildly during the play’s 57th performance held recently in Bakud Bayan, Cabanatuan City.

___The play goes on with both characters trying to outsmart each other on how to prepare both chicken and woman into highly profitable business ventures, culminating with Soki giving up her chicken business and being recruited for overseas work. Thus begins the saga of the sex trafficking victim - lured by her recruiter’s promise of a better life abroad, and pushed by the victim’s dream of finally being able to help her own family financially. The play then proceeds to portray all that could happen to a sexually-trafficked woman - from drug dependency to abortion to sexually-transmitted disease and being literally imprisoned - while she writes letters to her family telling them how good life is abroad.

___At this time, the Bakud Bayan audience has become silent, some of them are in tears. "I could not bear to think that this could happen to my daughter," states Gregoria Abad, 68, who is crying. Her daughter is in Hong Kong working as a domestic helper.

___The denouement of the play came with Soki crying out "Impiyerno!" (Hell!) loudly to describe the life of a sex trafficking victim. As the characters, Soki and Lakan, discuss what causes sex trafficking and how women are forced to experience such human rights violation, Abad and the other women in the audience are heard mumbling: "Hinding-hindi ko papayagang mangyari ito sa anak ko." (I will never allow this to happen to my own daughter.)

Photo by Gina Mission

CyberDyaryo | 1999.02.25