African women need your bras?

05/08/2012 § Leave a comment

I have recently (like 20 minutes ago) learned about several different charities working to send bras to African women. Bras are, apparently, sought-after luxury items in the second-hand clothing market in Africa. Charities donate them for women to sell (in the case of Free the Girls, they establish operations with victims of sex trafficking, in order for them to make money and keep them out of the sex trade).

I find this pretty problematic, for a number of reasons, but first let me say that in general, I have no problem with programs that help (especially) women (but also men) to find sustainable work that will help them avoid doing work that is harmful (I qualify sex trafficking as harmful, although not prostitution in general). For example, I do really enjoy organizations like Kiva, that fund microloans to people across the globe (including in the United States).

I find the bra trade problematic because it assumes 1) that the cast-offs of our (western) consumerism are an adequate solution for people in developing countries 2) that there is nothing at all curious about western undergarments as exotic/luxuries 3) that there is nothing curious about class relationships in all this, given that (some) people suggest that the wearing of western-style undergarments will prevent rape because women wearing western-style undergarments are perceived of as being from a certain class background (are the bras visible?) 4) the selling of (ostensibly) exotic(izing) undergarments highlight specific ideas about women and sex.

Props because we’ve all got to start somewhere.

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