Bioethics Blogs

Treated like Animals, Guest Post by Christine Korsgaard

Guest Post: Christine Korsgaard, Harvard University

On November 5, 2014, RT reported that Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia claimed that they were being “treated like animals.” On November 14, The Independent reported that the members of Pussy Riot complained that while in prison in Russia they were “treated like animals.” On November 17, the BBC reported that Nepalese migrant workers building the infrastructure for the World Cup meeting in Qatar complained of being “treated like cattle.” On November 25, The Indian Express reported that Indian tennis star Sania Merza complained that women in India are “treated like animals.”

What does it mean to be “treated like an animal”? The Filipino workers gave as an example that their “feet were chained.” Members of Pussy Riot complained that in Russian prisons, the wardens “very casually beat people up. They don’t have a sense that they [inmates] are human.” Earlier they claimed that prison administrations “just treat prisoners as they want with impunity.” By being “treated like cattle” the Nepalese migrant workers meant “working up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, including during Qatar’s hot summer months.” On December 24, Time reported that the Nepalese migrant workers are dying at the rate of one every two days. Sania Merza said that women in India face discrimination and violence. She also said, “I hope one day everyone will say that we are equal and women are not treated as objects.”

Merza’s last remark raises a question. As these examples suggest, people whose rights are violated, people whose interests are ignored or overridden, people who are abused, harmed, neglected, and unjustly imprisoned, standardly protest that they are being treated “like animals.” Why do we so often formulate our protest that way, rather than saying, as Merza also said, and as people sometimes do, that we are being treated “like objects”?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.