GAATW-IS congratulates Amnesty International (AI) for adopting a decision to develop a policy in support of the decriminalisation of sex work at its International Council Meeting in Dublin, Ireland, in August.
In doing so, Amnesty joins a growing list of international organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, UNDP, and The Lancet medical journal, who all recognise that decriminalising sex work is the best policy to protect the human rights of sex workers and improve their access to legal and health services. The decision comes after two years of consultations with AI’s national chapters and with sex workers rights organisations, feminist and other women’s rights organisations and activists, LGBTI groups, anti-trafficking agencies and HIV/AIDS organisations. Amnesty also conducted research on the sex industry and the rights of sex workers in four countries.
Since its inception more than two decades ago, GAATW has recognised the distinction between sex work and trafficking and advocated that policy makers and activists do not conflate the two. We have worked in solidarity with the sex workers rights movements in various parts of the world and indeed, the Alliance has some sex workers rights organisations within its membership. GAATW has always maintained that rights of sex workers and rights of trafficked persons can and should go hand in hand and that ‘only rights can stop the wrongs’ that sex workers routinely experience from both state and non-state actors. Regardless of their organisational position (or lack of it) on the issue of sex work, all GAATW members respect the rights of sex workers to organise and advocate for the realisation of their rights. All GAATW members also recognise sex workers rights groups as allies in the movements against human trafficking.
Our members and colleagues in the sex workers rights movements strongly believe that decriminalisation offers sex workers the possibilities to work together for safety, to screen and refuse clients, to access health and social services, and to turn to the police and the courts should they fall victim to crimes. Often, sex workers are best positioned to detect and report cases of human trafficking or exploitative labour situations. In a decriminalised environment, clients of sex workers can and do report suspicions of abuse without fear of prosecution.
On the other hand, criminalisation of the sex industry or aspects of it, such as clients and third parties, increases the stigmatisation and marginalisation of sex workers and reduces their opportunities to claim their rights. Although there is no conclusive evidence that criminalisation reduces human trafficking and exploitation, this is often taken as a policy measure to address human trafficking. GAATW has documented extensively the harmful impacts of anti-trafficking initiatives on the rights of (migrant) sex workers around the world and the limitations of simplistic ‘end demand’ approaches to human trafficking.
What, if any, are the implications of the AI policy for sex workers? Kay Thi Win, Coordinator of Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, puts it clearly in her piece in the Guardian: “Nothing will change immediately – this new policy is not a UN convention that states must implement.... Our global movement is stronger than ever, and with this debate and decision we are more visible than ever. Perhaps in the future it will become unacceptable for the media to write an article or host a panel discussion about sex work without including sex worker voices advocating for human rights? (Perhaps, too, it will become unacceptable to publish the words of celebrities who know nothing of the reality of our experiences but feel qualified to preach on our behalf?)”
Are there any implications of the AI policy for the human rights community in general and for the anti-trafficking groups in particular? As we all know, the AI policy is internal and will primarily help the members and staff of the organisation to carry out their human rights advocacy with greater clarity. However, as the polarised discussions in the run up to this policy decision clearly showed, the issue of sex work continues to divide the human rights community, especially the feminist activists. So the disagreements will continue and this policy decision may win and lose allies for AI.
Debates, dialogues and disagreements are hallmarks of every society and they are most welcome on the issue of sex work too. But what we have often missed in the past and would like to see in the future are respectful dialogues and debates around the issue of sex work informed by the lived experience of sex workers. We would also like to see inclusion of sex workers rights groups in any future policy discussion on sex work and human trafficking. At this stage it is important for all colleagues doing anti-trafficking work, especially those who are just starting their work, to have some conceptual clarity regarding various legal frameworks around sex work and human trafficking and their human rights impacts on the lives of sex workers. There is a body of credible research on sex work and trafficking available now which clearly explains the issues. We have listed some of those in the resource section of our e-Bulletin.
It may not be possible or even necessary for all anti-trafficking activists to develop a position on sex work. But it is important that we understand the difference between human trafficking and sex work. It is also crucial that all of us practice a ‘Do no Harm’ policy and respect the rights of every human being, including sex workers, to represent themselves and advocate for the realisation of their rights.
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”.
During 2013-14 GAATW-IS initiated and steered a project entitled "Towards greater accountability - Participatory Monitoring of Anti-Trafficking Initiatives”. In the framework of this project, 17 GAATW member organisations from Asia, Europe and Latin America carried out researches to find out from trafficked persons their perceptions and views of the support services they received.
The researches reaffirmed the rights of trafficked persons to express their voices and ensured that service providing organisations incorporated their feedback in future work. Participating colleagues from the Latin American region have put together their research reports into a regional report that can be downloaded from GAATW-IS Website. Click here for the executive summary in English, the full report in Spanish or the executive summary in Spanish.
Within the Stepping Stones Project, "Building Bridges to combat commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of children and adolescents", the Dutch development foundation ICCO published a comparative study of policy processes, plans and national laws on commercial sexual violence and trafficking of children and adolescents in five South American countries. The participating organisations are Centro Humanitario de Apoyo a la Mujer - CHAME (Brazil), Fundación La Paz (Bolivia), Fundación Renacer (Colombia), Organización Luna Nueva (Paraguay) and Organización Capital Humano e Social - CHS (Perú).
The publication is based on national studies, conducted in each of the partner countries, which analysed the existing legislation and the conceptual definitions used, as well as the practical application of these policies. It aims to provide an overview of the advances in the legal framework, as well as the strategies, plans and programmes currently executed by their governments in order to address the trafficking and smuggling of children and adolescents. It makes recommendations for future steps and specific actions that need to be taken in the region.
"Labour exploitation, commercial sexual violence and sexual exploitation of adults"
GAATW-IS and some members from Latin America are participating in the Fourth Latin American Congress on Trafficking and Smuggling. The Congress is held in La Paz, Bolivia on 14-16 October under the slogan: Building networks, voices and views to decide and act.
GAATW members are presenting the findings of their Accountability Research at the Conference. GAATW-IS is also doing a second launch of issue 5 of the Anti-Trafficking Review at the conference. There will also be a half-day meeting with members who are present at the conference.
The Access to Justice Programme of GAATW-IS currently has a South Asia-Middle East focus. We are engaged in a two-year project that aims to identify and address barriers that trafficked overseas migrant workers from South Asia face in countries of origin and destination when accessing justice. The project focuses on workers from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan. While the primary focus is on countries of destination, keeping in mind the continuum of rights violation that workers face, the project aims to analyse the scenario at both ends and hopes to strengthen coordination among NGOs providing legal and psychosocial assistance to migrant workers.
To begin this project, GAATW and partner organisations participated in three labour exploitation case analysis and documentation workshops, which took place on 31 July – 3 August in Bangkok, Thailand, 24-25 August in Beirut, Lebanon and 31 August – 1 September in Amman, Jordan. The Bangkok workshop brought together representatives from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. The Beirut workshop included local trade unions and Lebanese organisations that provide legal aid to domestic workers. Participants in the Amman workshop came from Kuwait, as well as Jordan, and also included officials from the Ministry of Justice of Jordan and the Jordanian Public Security Department’s Counter-Trafficking Unit.
All partners in this project are legal service providers and have some kind of internal system to record and analyse the complaints they receive from migrant workers. However, the types of legal services they provide vary and are often only a part of the many types of assistance available from the organisation. Our desk research and discussions with partners indicate that, while it has been possible to use the national anti-trafficking legislation to seek redress for abused domestic workers in countries like Lebanon and Jordan, it is not the case in other focus countries of the project. Therefore, the project used these workshops as an opportunity to understand the reasons behind this limited use of anti-trafficking legislation. It was also important to understand why on many occasions, non-legal solutions are seen as more practical and just solutions to rights violations of migrant workers. Through discussions on how each organisation and its beneficiaries view justice, the barriers trafficked migrant workers face when accessing justice, the most common types of cases the participants take, examples of good practices for providing legal aid to trafficked migrant workers, and ideas and goals for future collaboration, the workshops provided the participants and the Access to Justice Programme with an initial starting point to help develop action plans for the future work of the project. A full summary of the discussions will be available shortly.
In July and September 2015, GAATW-IS and two partner organisations from Bangladesh, Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) and Association for Community Development (ACD), co-organised training workshops for Community Workers within the Work in Freedom project. The workshops brought together field workers, community trainers and project staff with the aim to strengthen their human rights-based perspective and conceptual clarity on trafficking and migration, and at the same time to enhance the capacity of partner organisations to support women in their communities in making well informed decisions about safe migration.
The training sessions focused on enhancing the participants’ understanding of women’s labour migration from a human rights perspective and the trafficking-migration nexus. The workshop was also an opportunity to reflect on the strengths and challenges of community interventions and understanding the empowerment process in the lived realities of women in the communities where our partners work.
29 September, GAATW launched the 5th issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review in Bangkok, in conjunction with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. All articles from the issue, guest edited by Nicola Piper and Marie Segrave, are freely available at www.antitraffickingreview.org.
Two authors presented their research at the launch event, and GAATW founder Dr. Jyoti Sanghera moderated.
Anna Olsen from the ILO GMS TRIANGLE project presented The Role of Trade Unions in Reducing Migrant Workers’ Vulnerability to Forced Labour and Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Subregion, describing trade union work in Thailand and Malaysia to overcome challenges to unionisation of migrant workers. Though unionisation rates remain low in the region, collective bargaining is important in the fight against forced labour and trafficking. Anna Olsen and co-author Eliza Marks describe a ‘labour approach’ to anti-trafficking in their paper, involving systemic changes to ensure labour protections for all. They argue that a ‘labour approach’ would be beneficial to anti-trafficking work globally.
The second paper, presented by Daphne Demetriou, was ‘Tied Visas’ and Inadequate Labour Protections: A formula for abuse and exploitation of migrant domestic workers in the United Kingdom. In the new Modern Slavery Act the ‘kafala’-type visa for domestic workers remains, despite active NGO lobby to abolish it. In addition, labour laws are only selectively applied to domestic workers. Workers with a visa tied to one employer often find themselves trapped in exploitative situations without the ability to leave or access justice. The restrictive immigration regime has increased instances of abuses in the domestic work sector in the UK. Better immigration laws are needed to protect the rights of domestic workers.
See these and other articles on the journal’s website.
GAATW International Secretariat organised a four-day workshop on 3-6 October 2015 in Bangkok as part of GAATW’s efforts to bring back the focus on women migrants from victims and sensationalised objects to agents of change, and subjects of hope, determination, and self-reliance.
The workshop brought together journalists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to share and analyse the way women migrants are portrayed and to better understand from them what drives a story and how articles are framed. Participants received detailed information about the international legal framework on migration, human rights and gender and also had the chance to visit organisations supporting migrant workers in Bangkok and learn first-hand about the difficulties that migrant workers and their families in Thailand face. At the end of the workshop, a plan was drawn up to strengthen affirmative and realistic reporting on labour migration through an enhanced focus on accuracy, fairness, balance, human rights and representation of migrant women in the media.
GAATW e-bulletin is sent out to all member organisations of the Alliance as well as to many of its friends and sister NGOs worldwide.
The e-bulletin is published every three months. A Spanish version goes out to REDLAC members a few days after the English version. Sometimes additional follow-up information and/or reminders are also sent via email member organisations.
Primarily a tool for communication between the International Secretariat and the Alliance members, the e-bulletin aims to cover a broad range of topics although trafficking related issues remain its special focus. The bulletin does not have a rigid format; while some issues may contain news clips others may have an opinion piece or a report. We also use this e-bulletin to inform members about upcoming events and provide regular updates about the Secretariat.
2010 GAATW Advocacy Update
Access to Justice bulletins
Centring Rights -This specialised e-Bulletin offers a platform of exchange for a broad and diverse community with one common goal: centring the rights of trafficked persons in the justice process.
Visit the Access to Justice website at www.gaatw.org/atj