The Circle are in partnership with Eco-Age to champion women’s rights globally and promote Global Feminism, our Difficult Conversations series investigates the facts and figures of some of the most difficult global topics affecting women worldwide and, critically, highlight how you can get involved with driving change.
In today’s focus, The Circle’s Anna Renfrew and filmmaker and member of The Circle Anya Camilleri discuss the facts surrounding human trafficking following the UN’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, and what you can do to help.
“Human trafficking is a vast, insidious and incredibly profitable industry that takes place in almost every country across the world. Contrary to popular belief and depictions of trafficking in contemporary media, according to the UN, no country can claim that trafficking does not happen within its borders as either a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. Trafficking is a lucrative business as it produces steady profits over a long period of time as humans may be sold repeatedly and continue to work and earn money for their owners.
While it is important to remember that trafficking does not only refer to sexual exploitation but also other kinds of forced labour including agricultural work, as with many examples of exploitation, women and girls are disproportionately affected. According to the ILO, women and girls account for 99% of trafficking victims in the commercial sex industry and make up an estimated 71% of total trafficking victims.
The U.S Government conservatively reported that 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year with almost half estimated to be minors. As with any illicit activity, these numbers will only ever be an estimate, yet the demand for younger and younger girls is increasing as younger victims are deemed as being less likely to carry a sexually transmitted disease. Devastatingly, young girls are most susceptible to poor conditions and health risks and are the least able to resist.
This begs the question, how do women and girls become victims of trafficking?”
The Circle are having our very own Chai Day and we’re very excited. As well as being an opportunity to network and raise funds for victims of gender-based violence, it will also be an opportunity to learn more about issues that are close to The Circle’s heart.
The Circle’s Executive Director will be talking about the importance of Chai Day and the vital work being done by the grass-root projects funded by this initiative. Sioned will be joined by two guest speakers on the night.
The first is member of The Circle, International Advocate and author Sharon Benning-Prince.
Sharon Benning-Prince is a former corporate/private equity lawyer who now additionally works on supply chains and modern slavery legal matters by assisting corporates with their supply chains and transparency. Additionally, she sits as a trustee for the Medaille Trust, and is an international advocate for the International Justice Mission, both of which are anti-slavery and trafficking charities. She is passionate about the empowerment of and raising awareness for voiceless women and children and has written her first book on modern slavery with the former CEO of the Medaille Trust, Mike Emberson, which will be released in early December 2018.
She explains her decision to focus on the legal rights of women and girls who have been trafficked claiming that:
‘I have always felt strongly about women’s rights and female empowerment but it was when I first attended a women’s event on trafficking in the DRC and then heard Mike Emberson, the former CEO of the Medaille and my co-author of our modern slavery text book that made me realise the huge numbers of female adults and children that are trafficked. The numbers are astounding. In this day and age, one in which my eleven-year old daughter has no concept of restriction due to her gender, it is an anathema to me that large numbers of women and girls are suffering.’
When we spoke to Sharon about what Chai Day meant to her, she said ‘it is a day where like-minded members can share their mutual desire for change and empowerment of women. It is also provide a basis of bringing in new friends who can help in the common cause of giving a voice to those without.’ We are so excited to hear her speak on the day and learn more about her work fighting for women’s rights.
Credit: Act Alberta. Act Alberta is a human trafficking project supported by The Circle.
Our second speaker is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) activist, Hoda Ali.
Hoda Ali is a Survivor of Female Genital Mutilation. At age seven she was cut in Somalia and by age eleven, Hoda experienced her first of many acute hospitalisations due to complications from FGM; infected menses had caused pelvic inflammatory disease. Hoda had been unable to menstruate as a result of the small hole left after FGM.
After many surgical procedures in Somalia, Djibouti and Italy, Hoda first started menstruating age 17. However, the resulting medical complications from FGM continue to impact on Hoda’s life: infections, adhesions, subfertility, IVF, and miscarriage. Finally, she received the medical advice that IVF could no longer be pursued due to these complications.
Hoda has worked as a nurse as specialist in sexual health, in HIV clinics and as an FGM trainer for health professionals.
“We need to stop one generation from passing the practice on to the next, we all have duty of care to make sure we protect vulnerable girls/women from the violent practice. FGM is child abuse and should be treated as such rather than avoided because of cultural sensitivities.”
She has dedicated her professional life to raising awareness and campaigning for the prevention of FGM, focused on ensuring girls are treated with dignity and compassion when they encounter health care professionals in the NHS. In addition, she works as a Trustee for the charity 28TooMany whose primary focus is on research and enabling local initiatives to end FGM in the 28 African countries where it is practiced, and across the diaspora.
She co-founded The Vavengers, who campaigned for the UK’s first billboard campaign against FGM, has appeared in a BAFTA nominated FGM documentary, spoken at national conferences, news channels, and parliament; the list could go on. She is a truly inspirational woman who voices the pain, comforts the victims and campaigns to protect the girls. She trusts in life and a future and gives hope to FGM survivors.
We asked her to share her thoughts on Chai Day and any advice to those who have been generous enough to host one.
She points out that:‘in most societies, women have limited space to meet, and public spaces are often used by man. If women and girls are given the opportunity to shine and empower we can change the world. Chai day is very important because it provides safer space for women and girls to feel safe to talk, to speak up and help others; besides, who doesn’t like chai tea … be counted, stand up and speak up…you are the voice for the voiceless. By hosting your own Chai day, you are providing a safe space for discussion, for sharing stories, for empowering every women and girls who took part will be empowering the rest of their community. Together we can all end violence against women and girls; cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable and FGM is unacceptable.’
Credit: One of Hoda Ali’s many activism projects.
There are still a few spaces at this event on Wednesday 28th November, so if you would like to hear these incredible women speak and meet fellow members of The Circle then RSVP as soon as possible!
The Calgary Circle, the newest affiliate in our sisterhood of Circles, is supporting ACT Alberta, an organisation that works to end human trafficking in Alberta, Canada. To help end human trafficking it is important to understand the issue better, which is why The Calgary Circle committee members Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner have written this list of facts and myths about human trafficking in Canada. If you’d like to find out more about their work with ACT Alberta and donate, please click here.
FACT: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE
The legal definition of human trafficking requires three elements:
1) the act of recruitment, transportation or harbouring a person;
2) by means of exercising control, direction or influence over their movements;
3) for the purpose of exploiting that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.
Due to the clandestine nature of trafficking, it is difficult to quantify the number and determine the types of victims, but it is believed that most trafficking victims in Canada are sexually exploited.
MYTH: TRAFFICKING IS THE SAME AS SMUGGLING
Although the idea of trafficking can invoke a nefarious vision of a victim being transported across borders under cover of darkness, the reality is often far different. Trafficking victims are not necessarily moved across international borders and approximately 94% of the cases of sex trafficking identified in Canada have occurred within its borders.
FACT: TRAFFICKING IS BIG BUSINESS
Sex trafficking can be less problematic, easier to conceal and more profitable than selling drugs. On
average, every trafficked woman in Canada generates just under $300,000 for her traffickers per year.
MYTH: ONLY CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERED TO BE “AT RISK”
The major risk factors for being trafficked are living in poverty; having a personal history of violence or neglect; or being otherwise vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. However, the number one risk factor is being female. Women and children from every socio-economic background are at risk and anyone can be targeted and exploited.
FACT: VICTIMS ARE PREDOMINANTELY WOMEN
Approximately 95% of trafficked victims are female: most under the age of 25. Of note, in Canada, indigenous women are disproportionately affected. Although indigenous people make up approximately 4% of the population, they account for approximately 50% of sex trafficking victims.
MYTH: VICTIMS ARE PHYSICALLY FORCED INTO TRAFFICKING
Relationships between traffickers and their victims often begin with what the victim believes to be a friendship or romantic relationship. A common technique used by traffickers is to lure teens and young women into sex trafficking by treating them well, initially. Many victims are recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance. Often, the victim is “groomed” by someone pretending to be her boyfriend or friend who promises her a better life and buys her gifts. The average age of girls who are manipulated in this manner is 13. In the case of older teens or young women, the trafficker also buys gifts and may promise her a good job in a new city. Once a relationship has developed, the trafficker is able to more easily emotionally manipulate the victim and exploit her vulnerabilities. The trafficker often becomes violent and may threaten and isolate the victim but continue to show occasional affection. Through these tactics, the trafficker gains control and the victim can be coerced into selling sex for others’ profit. Because of the nature of the relationship and how it is developed, the victim might not understand that she is being trafficked.
FACT: TRAFFICKING IS A HIDDEN CRIME
Much of the sex trade has moved away from the street to the internet. The solicitation of sex predominantly occurs online through local classified and escort pages, which makes it difficult to locate and identify sex trafficking victims. Victims often do not come forward for many reasons, including fear of retribution and further violence from their trafficker; fear of arrest because they have been coerced into performing illegal activities; lack of knowledge about their legal rights, and lack of understanding that they have been victimized and trafficked.
Prosecution is often difficult because victims are often frightened and unwilling to testify against the perpetrators. It can also be difficult to prove in court that the woman was, in fact, a victim and not a willing participant due to the coercive nature of the relationship between the victim and trafficker. Because of these reasons and more, most (60%) of trafficking cases in Canada have resulted in a decision of stayed or withdrawn whereas only 30% resulted in a guilty finding.