So much happens all at once at the UN, it’s impossible to keep up, let alone tell you all about things as they occur. So, periodically I will “unpack” something from an earlier time. During the two-week Commission on the Status of Women, I was struck by the title of a side event, and went just to see what it was about. “Men Are Human, Women Are Buffalo” was the title of a short documentary film on abused and / or trafficked women in Thailand. The name came from an actual law (now defunct) describing the legal status of people there…men having the status of human beings, and women considered property, to be bought and sold like water buffalo.

We know the law can change (this one did) but unconscious societal attitudes and customs change slowly. Think how long it is taking in our country for us not to classify someone with a different skin color as inferior. And if women were indeed only property, then domestic abuse, trafficking, and using rape as a weapon of war might make “sense.” We may not have called them “buffalo,” but as originally written, our own U.S. Constitution did not recognize women and slaves as “persons” with a full set of rights.

In almost every U.N. discussion on the eradication of poverty, one of the delegates says “The best way to alleviate poverty is to educate women” or at least improve their status. In some countries, women farmers grow 70% of the food, yet they cannot own land or buy seeds (all that has to be done in the name of the husband). Laws that would let a woman own her own land, or even take classes in farming, would work toward easing food shortages in some parts of Africa. Even delegates from countries that don’t practice this are (on the floor of the U.N.) paying lip service to the idea, even if only because they are succumbing to peer pressure! And if they say it often enough–maybe they will start believing it.

As I examine my own unconscious attitudes about people who are “different,” maybe if I could be honest enough to see I am calling them “buffalo,” then I would have taken the first step toward healing my little part of the world.


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