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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Confronting Patriarchy: Women of the Revolution

By Danielle Bonner

girlpower1International Women’s Day is upon us once again and around the world people pay tribute to women while raising awareness to the challenges women continue to face. Last year I wrote a feature entitled ‘women’s equality let’s make it happen’ which outlined why we need to celebrate women’s day and the inequalities women faced in 2015 which  included;

  • Employment Pay Gaps– “Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities– there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Psychical and Sexual Violence– Global statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion Live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under Political Representation– Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)
  • Lack of Access to Education– 1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.

A year on and it’s still the case that these inequalities remain in the lives of women. This is despite the fact research clearly shows women’s equality and sustainable development goes hand in hand. It therefore makes no economic or development sense to hold women’s equality back. With this unjust reality it’s important to ask why these inequalities remain for women.

Last October I attended the ‘Peace, Power and Patriarchy’ conference hosted by the Foyle Women’s Information Network in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, which discussed the social system of patriarchy which underpins women’s inequality.

IMG_4851Maureen Hetherington a community leader and peacebuilder, stated in her opening ‘I’m happy to have a voice here today, not every woman has this’. A statement reflecting the fact that millions of women in our world find they do not have a voice in their own society because of patriarchy.

IMG_4861By definition patriarchy means ‘rule of the father’ with origins dating back a thousand years, influencing the way in which we think and act within society. Dr Cathy Higgins outlined a society or social system is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, is male identified and centred. While it also involves the oppression of women through structural violence.

Over the day we heard the experiences of women who’ve challenged patriarchal systems. Like guest speaker Lilian Seenoi, who spoke of the male dominated culture which created hostility towards her when establishing a girl’s education programme in Kenya, hostility forcing her to seek asylum in the UK. IMG_4874

She highlighted too the situations refugee Syrian women are finding themselves in from sexual exploitation, increased domestic violence and child marriage, consequences of a war created by men in their society. Lilian ended by saying “It took me a while to find my voice and now I’ve found it I’m not going to lose it”.

Mona Eltahawy a reporter and author of the book ‘Headscarves and Hymens’ was the keynote guest speaker, who I also had the opportunity to interview before the conference which can be read here. In her conference talk she spoke candidly about the need for a sexual revolution where women solely controlled their minds and bodies. She shared her experience during the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt, when she was detained had her arms broken and sexually assaulted by government security forces.

IMG_4882Mona recalled how people have labelled her an angry women for speaking out, but as she said with pride “An angry woman is a free woman”.  She spoke of the need for women to write their own narratives and talk about their lives because they matter. And then posed the question, ‘What would a sexual revolution look like in Ireland?’

The conference highlighted the need for all women to feel free to claim their voice, challenge injustices and be equal partners within society without fear of violence, it delivered an empowering message that women should feel ‘I can and I will’.

To end this patriarchal system which hold women’s equality back requires a united effort for change.

There is a need for men to recognise that they have to do things differently, that it should not be women who change to fit into an unhealthy culture. Women also need to support other women and those women at the top need to leave the ladder down for other women to rise up and join them.

Women should feel free to claim their voice and be equal partners, we must keep striving for this goal locally and internationally. As women we must transform our frustration and anger at current structures and turn them into empowerment that will help us drive for change. We must make ourselves agents of change because we know what has to happen we just need to implement it.

RosieTheRiverterI firmly believe the more women are empowered and their voices are heard the more things will change for the better, both for women and the wider society. So ladies and gentlemen let’s start this revolution and end Patriarchy.