Contemporary Slavery, Women's Oral Histories, and the Case of Conjugal Slavery in War

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 with Professor Annie Bunting (York University)

Prof. Annie Bunting
Recent reports from human rights monitoring organizations and journalists describe cases of rebel forces abducting women and girls for forced sexual and other labour, including forced ‘marriages’, in the ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (FTS 2013), northern Nigeria (Guardian 2013), Mali (Diakité 2013), and Somalia (HRW 2012). Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird spoke at the United Nations in September 2013 on the urgency to address child and forced marriage as well as rape in war. The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution to "strengthen efforts to prevent child, early and forced marriage" (25 Sept. 2013) and included in its Preamble reference to the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Servile marriage and domestic servitude have been neglected dimensions of slavery studies. Only recently have scholars and anti-slavery activists begun to document and discuss servile or ‘forced’ marriage as slavery (Allain 2009; Sarich and Bales, 2009). This paper will explore the relationship between "conjugal slavery" in war (Taylor 2012, Special Court for Sierra Leone) and servile marriage in times of relative peace; in other words, what are the consequences of categories of contemporary slavery for understanding exploitation in marriage? This paper will argue that contemporary forms of exploitation ought to be understood with attention to historical patterns, avoiding either a bifurcation of 'old' and 'modern' slavery or simplistic comparative equivalence. Based on collaborative research in four countries, the paper will share tentative findings based on oral histories of women in Sierra Leone, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. 

Anne Bunting is an Associate Professor in the Law & Society program at York University, and the Interim Director of the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples. Professor Bunting is currently directing an international research collaboration on forced marriage in conflict situations with historians of slavery and women’s human rights scholars (2010-14). Her research remains on questions of women’s human rights, culture and religion, with a particular focus on West Africa.


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