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

Democracy should never be taken for granted

Picture vote

Much focus is placed on the importance of holding elections in societies dealing with the aftermath of conflict because it is seen as a positive step in the development of democracy, which is held as the political way to move on from conflict to peace. As a person who supports the development of peace and democracy in post/conflict societies I thought it was about time I engaged in my own local politics and observe just how elections happen in a society that is considered stable and at peace!

An edited version of this feature entitled “Tea, Laughs and Politics” was first published in the Donegal Democrat Paper on Thursday 5th June 2014.

For a number of years I’ve gained a growing interested in politics yet I’d failed to use my democratic right to vote, in 2014 however I learnt to no longer take my right for granted.

My awaking came from over 3500 miles away through enthusiastic friends in Afghanistan who were getting ready to vote in the April 5th presidential elections, the first time in 12 years that Afghan’s had the opportunity to elect a new head of state. For months friends had expressed excitement at having the opportunity to be voting as for many it would be the first time they would be voting. And when Election Day arrived my facebook newsfeed was filled with friend’s pictures showing queues of Afghan’s outside polling stations and ink dyed finger indicating that they had voted.

voting AFG pic

Afghan’s proud to show they voted

I was inspired by such scenes and compelled to think about my own civic duty, realizing I was taking my own democratic right for granted and leaving others to decide who would represent me in local government. I therefore decided no longer could I be an absent voter when many of my friends in other parts of the world were putting their lives at risk just for expressing a democratic right.

Having worked on the NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network Election Special I knew I wanted to vote for candidates that understood equality and the issues faced in Donegal. Five of the sixteen Donegal electorate area candidates had responded to the networks equality questions which first made me pose the question do candidates who already hold some level of power and influence care or even hold other people’s equality in high regard? It was sad to see equality didn’t seem to be high on the agenda of many candidates, but it did make me realise who I wouldn’t be voting for on Friday 23rd May.

On Sunday 25th May 2014 I was then given the opportunity to observe the Donegal vote count at the St. John Bosco Community Centre, a new and insightful experience. There were 37 council seats to be filled six of which were to come from the Donegal electorate area.

I wasn’t sure what to except arriving at 3.30pm I thought I‘d missed everything but the count was yet to start. The first count was read at around 4.20pm with a vote quota of 1984 however no candidate had reached the quota. Because local elections in Ireland work by Proportional Representation the candidate with the lowest votes was eliminated and their votes carried over to the second preference candidate, a process carried out until the six candidate’s seats were filled.

photo (39)

Counting Votes

NK blog

Leading Lady, Niamh Kennedy

The first elected candidate came at count 8 with Niamh Kennedy, for me her election was a positive boost to local politics, not simple because she is a woman only 1 of 3 elected in Donegal but also because she was a first time candidate elected receiving the highest votes over candidates who were sitting councillors. Her election serves as a positive example to any budding politician thinking about running for future elections. The same could be said of Candidate Tom Conaghan who had ran in the last local election and only lost by a few votes, yet he came back and received the second highest vote preferences.

What have I learnt?

Elections are challenging, exciting and every vote counts. While we also have to take the bad with the good, the fact is people won’t always 100% agree on who’s elected but the point is we must ensure that the way people are elected is fair and democratic which therefore requires the public to vote.

In Donegal the voting turnout was 58.21% representing 73,096 out of an eligible electorate of 125,830 (Irishtimes, 2014). This means 41.79% of the electorate did not vote, I ask myself what is the reason for this absence? And how can people complain about governance and the need for change if they don’t vote?

It’s common to hear complains about the lack of good governance and the need for change in our political systems yet in order to achieve this change we as the general public need to make that change happen through the ballot box. And OK while some may say “but my vote won’t make a difference” yet if people continue to act to this belief then certainly nothing will ever change and the people who do vote will dictate who governance your society.

People therefore need to get involved in politics, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea! Yet politics is part of our everyday lives whether we like it or not, be it our ability to access public services, health care, even down to getting those pot holes in your road filled, the list is endless. This is your community so make sure you have people in government that are those who will work for the positive development of your community.


John Campbell re-elected

On a final note I’d like to thank John Campbell for giving me the opportunity to come along to the count and to his mother and sister for entertaining me with a few laughs in between the very long count waits!