Taking a stand against Human Trafficking

For SaleAwareness to slavery has been part of my consciousness since a child. With half my family from the Caribbean I knew it was highly likely that my ancestry was among the millions of Africans forcibly taken to faraway lands to provide labor for the social and economic benefit of others.

What I was less aware of until I started working on the issue of Human Trafficking is that slavery is not just a dark part of history but something operating today with an estimated 40 million people living as slaves around the world.

Wednesday 18th October marks EU Anti-human trafficking day, a day to reflect on our response to human trafficking. Human Trafficking is a form of modern day slavery, it’s a crime and a violation of human rights. A situation can be regarded as trafficking when all of these three elements take place 1) The ACT – a person is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received. 2) MEANS – a person is threatened, forced or coerced in some way, through abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or through the giving or receiving of payments. 3) EXPLOITATION – a person is exploited.

There’s also a gender disparity in its victims, EU reports highlight that over 71% of victims are women and girls, in other regions it’s reported to be up to 80%, while in Ireland stats from 2015 show its over 66%.

Taking a stand against Human Trafficking

At Nvo Astra in Belgrade, Serbia with Katarina Ivanović and Jovana Krotić Čelikić, Danielle Bonner from Equality Aware and Ana Brtka from Dea Dia.

This summer I developed new insight into human trafficking when I travelled to Serbia and visited the organisation Nvo Astra in Belgrade, who work to support victims and raise awareness through training and policy work. I spent the afternoon talking with staff who explained that originally it started out as a project developed by a feminist group during the 2000s because the majority of trafficking victims were women, today its developed into a leading anti-human trafficking NGO in Serbia with working connections across Europe.

They highlighted since the expansion of the EU and neighbouring country’s joining they’ve seen a change in victims, Serbian nationals now are the majority of victims, when before they saw high levels of non-nationals being transported through Serbia to reach European countries.

Poverty is interlinked too, in Serbia there’s often a blurring of lines in the area of trafficking for labor exploitation due to the strong black-market economy, work exploitation has become part of a work culture in the country. It’s the most vulnerable of people who find themselves victims and poverty feeds this vulnerability.  People can feel powerless to challenge exploitation when they are in survival mode and there’s are no other economic opportunities open to them.

The organisation has developed a Hotline which offers support for victims and also acts as a service for Serbians offered jobs abroad to check if they are legitimate, through using the network of contacts the organisation can help people confirm if job offers are legitimacy.

Seeing the efforts of this small NGO made me think, everyday we have the potential to come into contact with a victim and not even realise it. Our communities are key resources in the fight against human trafficking and developing a grassroots community response is therefore vital in the fight against this crime, from helping to reduce the risk of a person being a victim to providing support to a person who finds themselves in a situation.

I’ve heard people say but what can I do? and I understand this response, human trafficking is a massive issue and it’s a dark and dangerous criminal activity. But what we have to remind ourselves is that it’s a crime that happens for a reason and we could be unwittingly supporting it. Supply and demand drives human trafficking, research shows victims are forced to work in diverse areas such as, the sex trade, construction, restaurant and hotel work, domestic work, agriculture and clothing manufacturing.  We can have connections to these, from the food and cloths we buy to the services we engage, as such we’ve a moral responsibility to ensure that these are not using labor sourced from human trafficking.

Community efforts can start from the smallest of things like making yourself aware to what human trafficking is, creating awareness, supporting charities working with people impacted, lobbying the government to make sure they are implementing anti-human trafficking policies and supporting victims. At a personal level making an effort to buy Fairtrade and other ethically sourced products helps ensure the people you’ve farmed or made such product have been treated fairly, work in safe conditions and received a fair wage. These are all small actions that can help reduce and prevent human trafficking.

Preventing human trafficking requires collective action, from the government, judicial and law enforcement, civil society and members of the community we all have a role to play in ending and preventing this crime.

15541036_1275764139149134_5581462412662426012_oUnderstanding what human trafficking is, is a first step in developing a community response and over the past year I’ve delivered a number of awareness workshops for the Donegal Changemakers project delivering workshops to community groups and libraries across Donegal and now in schools and youth groups through the NCCWN Donegal women’s network. The response to the workshops has been very positive and people have been keen to learn and support prevention.

If you’ve interested in understanding the issue of human trafficking, awareness workshops are available and can be delivered to groups across Donegal for Free, please get in touch at equalityaware@gmail.com for further details.

And if you suspect someone is a victim of trafficking, please contact Crimestoppers on 1800 25 00 25 or email blueblindfold@garda.ie

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Pedal for Peace

What do you get when you mix biking, peace education, a dog and 50 women? A lot of creativity, inspiration, fun and laughter.

When world leaders talk of peace it’s often in the sense of ending a war or conflict. But peace is so much more than the absence of violence, rather it’s an environment that allows us and our societies to function and develop non-violently within a framework of human rights and equality.

Every community has people engaged in supporting this work, and if we take the time to observe just who carries out the majority of this work you’ll likely see that it is women. Globally when it comes to ending violence, research also shows including local women in a peace process increases the chance of violence ending by 24%. Yet despite this research women find it challenging to gain a seat or have their voices heard in peace negotiations.

Many women don’t even recognise their work as contributing to peace, viewing it just as part of what they do. It’s for these reasons why I’ve come to view women as the silent backbone of peace, who need to be recognised, valued and supported for the work they do.

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In August I joined the ‘Pedal for Peace’ project, an initiative which brought together women from 15 countries including Colombia, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, Portugal, France, UK, Ireland, Georgia, Armenia, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Estonia and Finland, to circle around the demilitarised Åland Islands in the Baltic sea and discuss peace issues.

I’d previously been asked if I’d be interested in joining, to which my first thought was are women even interested in biking and how on earth are you logistically or feasibility going to get 50 women on bikes across islands and run workshops. Followed by a jokingly response of ‘biking is for losers’, how incorrect would this turn out to be!

Over 6 days, I watched a group of culturally and globally diverse women proudly don their safety helmets and purple/pink hi-vis vests, to take on this project challenge. An experience which displayed women’s determination, leadership, friendship, empathy, compassion, courage and vision. Leadership qualities our world is deeply crying out for right now.

Solidarity and self-care is a vital aspect of peace work and over the days’ participants shared their experiences of life and work in some of the most challenging of environments. Like Sara a lawyer from Columbia who shared the methods she uses to support reconciliation in her country, highlighting the impact of the 50-long year conflict on women. And Kety from Georgia who spoke about the importance of personal development as a means of achieving peace.

Riikka Jalonen the director of the Finnish peace organisation ‘Rauhankasvatus instituutti’  who organized,  pedal for peace said,  “I believe in the power of women, I wanted to create an inspiring and safe space for women to reconnect with themselves and with other women working on topics in this world that tells us that peace is not possible and we are naive.” But we are not, we are the best chance this world has to change for the better. I knew it would be challenging to bike and catch all the ferries in time and so on, but I also had faith that overcoming the logistical challenges and breathing the fresh air and seeing the blue sea and green fields together would make us stronger and remind us why we do what we do in our communities.

This sentiment was shared by fellow participant Hadid Razan, from Jordan, who said ‘what we can learn from this experience, is that ‘despite all differences between us, from language, culture, faith, sexual orientation, interests, we all managed to collaborate with harmony and overcome all these. not only that, we didn’t even acknowledge them.

We were united for one purpose; peace. we were there alone together, we laughed, cried, cooked, cleaned, napped, cycled, and we explored our differences. That’s the power of women, the power of simplicity, the power of understanding, the power to make good things great.’

Pedal for Peace offered a great learning and motivation space, as Oichi Ora, from Romania reflected “Go, see, learn, act” remains for me the quote of my experience. We all face hard times, but united the power grows and we overcome obstacles easier. Knowing that there are other strong, powerful woman having the same aim as you do is an amazing feeling.

And Nutsa Goguadze, from Georgia who said “One thing I learned is that we all face more or less the same problems in terms of peacebuilding, all over the world. And the main thing to tackle them is to act, to move, in any possible way. Each move, each act, each pedal matters.”

I’ve such admiration for all the women who took part in the pedal for peace project especially considering some women took on the challenge with limited riding experience. For me this group is now a new network of women changemakers, who show others that they are not alone and that there are women all around the world leading actions to create meaningful change.