Betty Pedraza Lozano, director of Corporación Espacios de Mujer, was one of eight people awarded the annual “TIP Report Hero Acting to End Modern Slavery Award” by the United States Department of State on 27 July. The award recognises the work carried out by different people, in different parts of the world, to end human trafficking. Betty Pedraza Lozano has been recognised for her commitment to the prevention of trafficking, her support of trafficked persons in Colombia and her work for the rights of all women and men who have survived human trafficking.
Chus Álvarez (GAATW-IS): Betty, you're the first Colombian winner of this award, how do you feel?
Betty Pedraza: This was the first time that a Colombian woman was nominated, and we won! I remember when the US Embassy called me informing me that I had won the prize, I told them that it must be a mistake, that I had not summited my name to any award. I could not believe it! I learned later that it was the American Embassy in Bogota who presented my candidacy, and I am delighted to have been awarded the prize.
C.A.: What does this award mean for Espacios de Mujer?
B.P.: It is recognition for all the people and organisations that have supported us over the years. It is hoped that, through this award, we will do more inter-agency partnerships between NGOs, governments and private companies in order to have adequate human and financial resources to address the fight against human trafficking.
C.A.: How and why was Espacios de Mujer founded?
B.P.: Espacios de Mujer was founded in 2004, after an experience of international cooperation with the Italian association PRO.DO.CS. The project was focused on self-recognition and empowerment of women in prostitution in the city of Medellin. When this project finished, we decided to continue our work with this group, which is highly marginalised. From the beginning we decided to help by improving the living standards of women who were working in prostitution in Medellin and Antioquia. We support these women to acquire tools that enable them to exercise their rights, as women and as a specific occupational group, and to ply their profession as sex workers in a dignified and safe way.
C.A.: What characterises and distinguishes you from other entities or organisations working against trafficking in women?
B.P.: I would say that what characterises us is the gender perspective from which we analyse reality in general plus the very dynamics of the context of prostitution and trafficking in particular. Through our daily work we have realised that we still need a lot of education and training institutions to identify what trafficking is about and how it can be prevented. We have therefore developed the kit "Maleta de viaje” (Suitcase), a material publication that we are very proud of. I had the opportunity to share the kit with those in charge of trafficking issues in the US Department of State and they even kept one.
This gender perspective allows us to demonstrate that trafficked persons in areas where we work are especially women - in a percentage ranging from 80% to 95% - and that they are mostly subject to sexual exploitation. Trafficked women also report various types of exploitation, such as domestic work, servile marriage, and other forms of slavery. From this perspective, one cannot ignore the factors that contribute to the vulnerability of the female population and the ancestral permissiveness of using the female body as a commodity, resulting from asymmetrical power relations and ideologies of sexist and patriarchal tradition.
C.A.: What was your inspiration in the fight for the rights of trafficked persons?
B.P.: Thousands of Colombian children, women and men suffer in silence, either because they are sexually exploited, subjected to forced labour, pressured into exercising degrading work or remain in servitude or are forced to work in conditions similar to slavery.
According to Espacios de Mujer, about seventy thousand people are trafficked every year in Colombia. The Valle del Cauca, Risaralda (part of the coffee zone) and Antioquia, are the three main provinces of origin of trafficked persons and an internal trafficking destination. What these three areas have in common is the fact that for decades they have been impacted by drug trafficking. Added to that has been the presence of armed groups, operating outside the law since the late eighties. Here, sexual exploitation, forced labour and slavery are the most common forms of trafficking.
In Colombia, internal trafficking is a significant problem. This country ranks among the regions with the highest number of trafficked persons. In its ten years of activity, Espacios de Mujer has served 101 trafficked people: 42 from other countries and 59 victims of internal trafficking. Of these, 97 were women and only 4 were men. The modes of abuse range from sexual exploitation to forced labour, servile marriage to domestic service.
C.A.: What do you think is the biggest mistake in the fight against human trafficking?
B.P.: I would point out two errors mainly. On the one hand, the lack of coordination between competent institutions to fight trafficking and protect victims and survivors. On the other hand, the lack of commitment of the State to provide protection to trafficked persons, including the tracking and support during the court proceedings.
For the elimination of trafficking, it is necessary to assure not only the work of prevention, care and protection in countries of origin, but also the commitment and political will in destination countries. Solidarity and support for the restoration of rights to women who have been trafficked should be our goal.
C.A.: And as for progress, what do you see as the principal accomplishments?
B.P.: In 2013 we participated in the creation of the “Alliance of Colombian Civil Society Organisations to Combat Trafficking in Persons” which currently consists of 24 civil society organisations. Espacios de Mujer even got funding to hold the first meeting! In 2014, we began to make recommendations for the implementation of public policy, mainly in the areas of care and prevention.
C.A.: What are the main recommendations that this Alliance has made to Colombian public policy on anti-trafficking?
B.P.: Among the recommendations made, I will highlight tackling trafficking in persons in all its forms with commitment and efficiency; give trafficked persons differential attention; clearly establish a database concerning cases of human trafficking and have pedagogical multipliers, for example policemen and teachers.
C.A.: Espacios de Mujer has recently been part of an international study with people who have survived trafficking conducted by GAATW. The main objective of the study was to know the opinion of people who have survived trafficking, regarding the care received by the institutions, both public and private, and about the services available to them to overcome the trafficking situation. What would you underline from this study?
B.P.: I would like to underline that for first time, victims and survivors were heard and were able to express their opinions on the care received and how they felt in the process of restoration of their rights.
C.A.: What did the interviewed women say were their best and worst experiences?
B.P.: The best was that their voices were heard and the support they received in the psychosocial processes. The worst was the indifference of the State to their situation and the lack of protection in their victim situations.
C.A.: What would you like the whole world to know about human trafficking?
B.P.: I would like everyone to know that trafficking happens in everyday life, and everyday life is where prevention is possible. It is essential to inform, sensitise and train civil society, clarifying certain concepts and clarifying what we mean when we talk about trafficking.
C.A.: Finally, we want to ask you to share the most inspiring words you have heard in your daily work of direct care.
B.P.: The women we work with have always expressed the empowerment they feel during the process: “Women reach Espacios de Mujer feeling low, broken up and leave here with our heads held high because we have the same rights as everyone. Thank you that we have been taught to fight and move forward despite adversity”.