Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...


Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...

Events and News

15 years down the road

Today, there are many more organizations working on trafficking than before and a significant increase in funding for anti-trafficking work. Research has been conducted and reports written on the situation of trafficking virtually in all parts of the world. In 2000, an internationally recognised definition of human trafficking was created, and today many countries are working towards national legislations in accordance with the Palermo Protocol.

Even with such progress, we are still a long way from achieving human rights protection for trafficked persons. Year after year, every report on the situation of trafficking claims that the problem is getting worse. Anyone working on the ground knows that it is incredibly difficult to identify a trafficked person, so how do we actually know or monitor the problem? Reliable statistics on trafficking are scarce, due to the underground nature of the crime.

Migrants continue to take dangerous risks because of a lack of legal and safe channels to find work in another country or a lack of adequate information about the situation in the destination country. This means the risk for trafficking continues. However, many migrant workers whose experience has some elements of trafficking are reluctant to be labelled as a "victim of trafficking" for that would mean immediate or eventual deportation.

Many colleagues are of the opinion that unless a sustained advocacy for the rights of all migrants is launched, human trafficking will continue to increase. Another concern raised by human rights activists is the violation of the rights of migrants, trafficked persons or sex workers caused by zealous anti-trafficking efforts.

It is time we take stock of our work, consolidate the gains and find new strategies to address persistent problems.

back to History >

The Early Years

In the mid-1990s there was no clear definition of trafficking and the treatment meted out by the state and mainstream society to trafficked women was appalling. Rather than receiving assistance and support, the women were being treated as criminals for violating immigration laws and stigmatised by society for having worked in prostitution.

Two clear tasks were identified at the launch of the Alliance:

  • To work towards a clear and unambiguous understanding of trafficking that would inform legislation as well as social action;

  • To ensure that the human rights of trafficked women are protected by law.

The early years of GAATW were years of heady optimism. As Barbara Limanowska, who worked in the GAATW Secretariat in those early years recalls, “Everything looked so simple ten years ago!” It seemed logical that the combined efforts of so many people would go a long way in solving the problems, states would soon formulate adequate legislation on trafficking and NGOs trained in the human rights approach would complement the states.

A multi-country research study led to the conclusion that the issue of trafficking needed to be placed firmly within the context of globalisation, expansion of the informal economy, increase in female labour migration and existing inequalities of gender, race, class and nationalities. Human rights violations were found to be both the cause and consequence of trafficking.

A study of existing international conventions and treaties showed that possible measures for human rights protection of trafficked persons existed in many of those documents, although their implementation was a problem. Activities of the Alliance in the early years included organising human rights training workshops for NGO colleagues, putting together the Human Rights Standard for the Treatment of Trafficked Persons (HRS) and lobbying for an internationally recognised definition of trafficking. Complementing the training and advocacy efforts, feminist participatory action research projects were also carried out to ensure that members of the Alliance did not lose sight of the ground reality.

Why was GAATW launched?

A feminist participatory action research project carried out in Thailand by the Foundation for Women, Bangkok, revealed the complexities around women’s cross border migration, entry into prostitution, sexual and other exploitations. The findings of this study were shared at an international conference in Chiang Mai in 1994. Discussions at the conference found parallels in research studies and direct assistance experiences in other countries. Participants identified problematic areas in the contemporary discourse and activism around trafficking in women. A collective decision was taken to launch the GLOBAL ALLIANCE AGAINST TRAFFIC IN WOMEN.

GAATW started her work by asking simple questions: why do women migrate, why do some of them end up in difficult situations, what indeed are the elements of trafficking, are trafficking and prostitution synonymous and what could be done so that the human rights of women who experience exploitation in migration can be protected.

The Roots of GAATW

The story of GAATW is a women’s story; it is a story of women building alliances across borders. This story also marks a moment of maturity in the feminist movement when women:

  • Acknowledged that the vision of global sisterhood is fraught with numerous tensions – including those of class, race, sexuality and nationality - and began to understand that they need to listen before speaking on behalf of other women;

  • Recognised that alliances, feminist or otherwise, are built around unequal power relationships;

  • Understood that solidarities for political action can only be effective if one is able to negotiate different agendas.

Many of the founding mothers of GAATW are women from the Global South who had personal experiences of migration and displacement. As politically active women, all of them had engaged with issues of violence against women, sex tourism and sexual exploitation of women in the context of armed conflict. Years of working on, or being involved with the situation of migrant women both in countries of origin and destination had led them to rethink issues of migration and trafficking. As migrant women themselves, albeit with comparatively better social privileges, they were drawn into the plight of women from their own countries in the industrialised North.

As care givers, translators, interviewers and advocates in law courts the women, who later founded GAATW, had heard the stories of their compatriots who had undertaken multiple journeys in search of their dreams. Typically, the stories were narrated by women who were in difficult situations. Promises made to them by the agents/recruiters were broken, conditions at work were unbearable, or after years of hard work, they had returned home without much financial gain. However, each story was a testimony to the women’s courage, enterprise and determination. Complex, powerful and open-ended, the stories were challenging the stereotype of the victim as well as the prevailing understanding of trafficking.

Strategic Thematic Direction

During 2011-13, through our Power in Migration and Work thematic programme, we engaged more directly with the migrant rights and labour rights movements. During 2014-2016 our work will build on the work of previous years; we will continue to push for a human rights based approach in anti-trafficking policies and practices.  We will also deepen our engagement with the issue of migration and labour.

The three thematic strategic issues outlined below are continuations of our work during 2011-13.

ACCOUNTABILITY Increasing the accountability of all anti-trafficking stakeholders involved in the design or implementation of anti-trafficking responses, towards the persons whose human rights they purport to protect.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE Broadening spaces for trafficked persons and migrant workers to practice their human rights by improving access to justice and combating all forms of discrimination that impact women’s ability to exercise their human rights as they relate to trafficking.

POWER IN MIGRATION AND WORK Centring an analysis of women’s power in their labour and migration to better assess migration and labour policies’ impact on women, and to work towards labour and migration processes that reflect migrants’ needs, aspirations and capabilities.