The Portuguese Association for Victim Support - APAV is a non-profit organization which supports victims of crime, their families and friends by providing free and confidential quality services. APAV has 15 Victim Support Offices throughout the country, where victims can self-refer or be referred by other institutions (police, social services or others). APAV believes that the statute of the victim of crime must be fully acknowledged, valued and effective and works to achieve this goal in Portugal.
After an agreement made with the High Commission for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue (ACIDI) in 2005, APAV has created the Support Unit for Migrant Victims and Victims of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (UAVIDRE). This unit is specialized in supporting migrants who are victims of crime, especially hate crimes and transnational crimes, such as human trafficking.
Immigration to Portugal is characterized by migrant workers from Brazil, Africa and Easter Europe. These groups are an easy target for discrimination for labour exploitation and human trafficking, especially when they are undocumented.
In order to better address these situations, APAV has created a website and information brochures on migrants’ rights as victims of crime and discrimination which are actively distributed among this population. Also, APAV’s Victim Support Officers receive specialized training to provide adequate support to migrant victims.
The number of human trafficking cases registered in Portugal has been increasing each year. In 2012, the national Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings registered 81 cases of person who were trafficked into the country. The majority of those victims (39) were subjected to labour exploitation.
In order to fight human trafficking in Portugal, the government created a National Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings including a number of awareness-raising and victim support activities. With regard to criminal prosecutions, the Judiciary Police and the Foreign and Border Services have special units to investigate human trafficking situations.
According to Portuguese law, victims of human trafficking are entitled to obtain immediate psychological support, subsistence and legal counselling. If they chose to cooperate with a criminal investigation, victims may also apply for a residence permit which is valid for one year and renewable for as long as the investigations take place. There are two shelters for human trafficking victims (one for men and another for woman), which are ran by non- governmental organizations.
The major challenge faced by organisations working with trafficking victims is guaranteeing the support they need. Usually victims are unwilling to cooperate with investigations and are not entitled to a residence permit or sheltering. The victim’s psychological and physical states are also barriers to the provision of adequate support.
APAV has been developing different approaches within its Victims Support Offices in order to raise awareness and to promote a adequate support for victims of human trafficking. In this context, APAV is part of the national Network for Support and Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking, in which private and public institutions work together to fight human trafficking and support its victims.
In the past years, APAV has also initiated projects in Europe. In 2013, they started Project Briseis – Fight against Human Trafficking for Labour Exploitation, financed by the European Commission (ISEC - Home Affairs). The main goals are to engage the business sector in the prevention of labour exploitation, develop an awareness raising campaign for the general public and a training manual for professionals who work with the identification of possible victims of human trafficking.
La Strada International (LSI) is the International Secretariat of the La Strada network. LSI focuses on international networking, lobbying and public relations on behalf of its member organisations as well as producing common policies, action plans, harmonised lobbying and advocacy programmes. La Strada spoke to us about their work as a network secretariat and working with members.
Can you explain the nature and work of La Strada International? How does the network support its members?
La Strada International (LSI) was established in October 2004 to formalize the existing informal network/project cooperation among the La Strada partners, which had existed since 1995. LSI aims to prevent trafficking in human beings and to ensure adequate assistance and protection to trafficked persons and risk groups in Europe. The current eight independent human rights member organisations are based in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Each La Strada International member implements both direct social support programmes for trafficked persons and national-level prevention programmes for specific target groups.
All members are represented in LSI’s General Assembly, which is responsible for electing the international board. The network is represented by an international secretariat with the same name (La Strada International) based in Amsterdam. The secretariat was set up specifically to assist member organisations and harmonise their work. The secretariat’s work focuses on international networking, lobbying and public relations to ensure that human trafficking is addressed at a European political level. It further maintains and expands relations of the La Strada network with national and international organisations and NGOs; supports capacity building of the members and; provides a forum for European NGOs on the issue of human trafficking. Currently, 10 other NGOs are affiliated with LSI’s NGO platform.
Core activities of the International Secretariat also include information collection and research. LSI operates an online database at all offices. The database requires common client registration and contact information. This database allows members to directly report national facts and figures on trafficking patterns, cases and practices. LSI international secretariat is further responsible for common strategy planning, policy development and capacity building.
To summarise, the LSI secretariat ensures that the voices of its national members are heard at international fora; shares its expertise and offers consultation and capacity building to members where needed (e.g. on European legislation); facilitates contact (e.g. for referrals or for strategic issues or funding applications); and organises common meetings.
Can you give us an example of joint advocacy strategies between LSI and its members? What are the challenges of a network secretariat?
In line with the overall strategic plans of the network, the LSI secretariat develops lobbying and advocacy strategies, policies and action plans for the network. For these plans, the members provide input and provide feedback. An example of a collaborative strategy between the secretariat and member was the COMP.ACT project. LSI lobbied for compensation for trafficked persons and the members lobbied at their national level. The focus was different between members: some lobbied for a compensation fund, others for specialized judges.
Another example of close work between the secretariat and its members was the GRETA monitoring of the Council of Europe. The Secretariat encouraged LSI members and other NGOs to provide GRETA with input from civil society and react to the report that was released. At the secretariat, the national and international lobby groups worked together and maintained close contact with the GRETA secretariat.
One of the challenges in acting on behalf of a network is that we often work on commonalities between the members. That is to say, the context in which our members operate is quite diverse and each country’s needs are different and do not necessarily match with other countries. So we are not always able to take differences between countries into account. For example, four of our members are not part of the EU yet our international lobby is often linked with developments and actions within the EU. However, we try to ensure that our European lobby supports all our members and where possible, provide links for national lobbying efforts. If needed, we will support one member by providing them with specific information and arguments or take up their issue at an international level.
What are the major challenges in addressing trafficking in persons in Europe?
The main challenges for anti-trafficking NGOs are related to the implementation of national and international policies. Good legislation is in place but a lot more awareness is required among all stakeholders. Also, more commitment is required to ensure that policies are implemented well.
Furthermore, policies in linked spheres, for example on migration and prostitution, can negatively impact the protection and assistance of trafficked persons. In general, it is give attention both by international governments and national governments and all LSI member countries have national action plans and legislation in place. In most countries, there is also a coordinating body and NGOs are invited to provide consultation and feedback on policies and actions plans. NGOs are also responsible for a specific part of the country’s national referral mechanism in providing assistance to trafficked persons or, in the Netherlands, the registration of trafficked persons.
The challenge for NGOs is to be heard by different stakeholders and for their comments to be taken seriously. Furthermore, it is difficult for NGOs to remain independent while at the same time remaining financially viable to continue their work. Over the last few years, it has been very difficult for anti-trafficking NGOs to become financially sustainable for several reasons. Firstly, there is a lot of competition between different stakeholders for EU funds and secondly the more traditional donors and governments have less funding available for anti-trafficking work. This has meant that anti-trafficking NGOs are often dependent on project funding from which to do their core work.
What are your current activities focused on?
Alongside LSI’s efforts to have certain legislation implemented, LSI is focusing on the monitoring of anti-trafficking policies. In particular, we are providing our members and affiliated NGOs with information on monitoring tools (and promoting these tools) and building their capacity on the issue. We also hope to work more on monitoring our own services, not only to improve the network and organisations but to make us more financial sustainable in the long term.
We would like to extend our network to new stake holders and currently we are strengthening the LSI NGO platform. We are currently planning or involved in several international projects linked to this. Firstly, LSI is collaborating with KOK on a project concerning the data protection of trafficked persons. We are also working on data sharing and improving data collection with Polaris (a US-based organisation). LSI also joined two international research consortia to support two research projects next year. One project is exploring demand and other is focusing on traffickers. Furthermore, LSI started a project last year called NGOs & Co that aims to engage the business sector in addressing human trafficking. This is a new area for us.
Lastly, we would like to improve our own data collection and data analysis.
LegalResources Centre - UNTUK KEADILAN JENDER DAN HAK ASASI MANUSIA (LRCKJHAM SEMARANG) works in Central Java and campaigns for an understanding and awareness of the values of gender equality and human rights. LRC-KJHAM applies a rights-based approach in its work to achieve its missions of promoting the respect, protection and fulfillment of women’s rights in the region, including that of female migrant workers.
LRC has been strong in its right based approach and its community work – how do you ensure a rights-based work at community level?
A rights-based approach ensures the rights of all groups, including women and marginal communities, to demand justice for the human rights violations they have suffered. To realize this, LRC - KJHAM facilitates the empowerment and genuine participation of female victims of human trafficking to have a voice in determining the government policies that impact them. This is what is meant by "giving a voice to people who have no voice.”
Moreover, a rights-based approach in our work also requires increasing the government’s capability or capacity to realize its obligations and responsibilities under international human rights law. Work done by LRC - KJHAM at the community level strives to increase the knowledge and ability of local governments in listening and working with female migrant workers and women victims of trafficking to ensure the protection of women’s rights.
To ensure a rights-based approach is adopted in our work, we continuously reflect on our work and develop our staff’s knowledge through capacity development training. Furthermore, we ensure women’s involvement and control through-out the planning and implementing stages of all our programs. We empower them to speak up and ensure there are spaces for their voices to be heard when government formulates policies.
Over the years, Feminist Participatory Action Research has been an effective instrument for LRC-KJHAM to organize, empower, and promote women's participation in fighting for their rights (the right to medical care, the right for protection and legal assistance, and the right to social reintegration services).
What challenges do you face in your legal literacy work in the community?
One of the biggest challenges we face is from the government. Since the issue of women's rights violations, including those of women migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, are not considered a priority development issue, the commitment from local government remains low. By example, 75-80% of the current budget is allocated to salaries and allowances of government officials while only a minimal amount is allocated to enforcing the rights of women migrant workers and victims of human trafficking. Further, government planning and budgeting does not provide equal opportunities for women, ex-migrant workers, trafficking survivors or other such groups to participate and determine policies that impact their lives.
What changes have you seen in the lives of women, including migrant women in the communities you work with?
There is an emerging awareness among the women about gender inequality and a growing interest and knowledge concerning their rights and existing laws. Furthermore, the women are becoming more involved in policy, planning and budget decisions with the local government and attend annual Development Planning Meetings (District and City). They also conduct hearings with the local parliament to ensure that any proposals they have made are adopted by the local government. We have seen some improvement in victim support services and there is now an integrated centre for abused women, including migrant workers and victims of human trafficking.
In the rural areas, two new groups of former female migrant workers and victims of trafficking have been formed: Migrant Groups Wedoro in Grobogam, Peribumi (Society of Women Migrant Workers) in Kendal and SEKARTAJI Survivor Organisation in Semarang, Central Java. Outside of these formal groups, former female migrant workers and victims of human trafficking continue to support one another. For example, some are working to increase the income of former women migrant workers and victims of human trafficking through a Women’s Cooperative which has established microfinance and a small shop. Others have established community information centres to disseminate information on safe migration, the rights of women migrant workers and how to act if they experience violence and/or human trafficking.
Like the survivors who established SEKARTAJI in Semerang, many survivors of trafficking are providing direct assistance to other victims of trafficking and/or migrant workers who have experienced violence. Many are becoming paralegals and also handle other cases of violence against women, such as rape and domestic violence, in the region. Each paralegal in the district handles on average 20-40 cases.
How do you work with other like-minded networks, such as trade unions? How do your networks help in your work?
LRC-KJHAM is constantly strengthening and developing its network locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. At the local and national level, we have built a strong network with trade unions such as the National Workers Union (SPN), the Federation of Indonesian (FSPI) and the United Domestic Workers.
Together we fight for the rights of women workers in the areas of minimum salary, leave, reproductive health, and rape and sexual harassment in the workplace. We also work alongside them in cases of women who have experience gender-based violence, including forced abortion domestic violence and rape in dating. We also jointly advocate for domestic workers who have experienced violence from their employers.
Institute for Social Development (ISD) in Orissa, a group established by women social workers to fight against all forms of violence against women in the state, including trafficking. The organization’s biggest strength is in organizing and mobilizing women at grassroots levels. ISD shared with us their experience in working with women at grassroots level, the services they provide and their work to stop trafficking of women and encourage safe migration.
Can you please explain ISD work in addressing trafficking in Odisha?
The Institute for Social Development (ISD) was formed and registered in the year 1997 by a group of women with educational background in Social Work. All the founder members of the organization were professionals working on women’s empowerment and development when the organization was established. ISD was formed to pursue a mission for the rights and dignity by women. Gender justice and prevention of gender based discrimination were foremost on the agenda of the organization.
The mission of ISD is to promote a violence-free life and dignity for women. We work towards the empowerment of women and challenge social barriers for gender justice. While pursuing this mission ISD has identified trafficking as a major challenge to a violence free life and a cause of concern. In order to ensure the violence-free life of women there is a need to address trafficking through which ISD believes the human rights of women can be advanced.
For the advancement of women’s human rights, the ISD pursues various strategies such as community mobilization, advocacy and campaigns at different levels. The ISD primarily works as a state level in Odisha for the promotion and protection of women’s human right. At the state level ISD is presently involved in research, networking and advocacy on trafficking issues.
Apart from its state level advocacy the ISD also focuses its work in five districts which are mostly inhabited by tribal population. The ISD has identified domestic violence, trafficking and property rights of women as themes for intervention. It also addresses education, training, capacity building and legal support as cross cutting subjects.
At the field level, ISD has also focused on issues like domestic workers and registration of marriage as these are the areas that contribute to migration. ISD organizes meetings with domestic workers in various locations to make them aware of their rights as well as the risks of trafficking. In a nut shell, trafficking is one of the identified themes for intervention which is now addressed through networking and advocacy. The ISD has a mandate to spearhead its mission for a strategic intervention on the theme of trafficking through community mobilization, campaigns, and advocacy at various levels.
How do you mobilize women at community level and what are the challenges you face?
ISD's major activity is a project called “Promoting Violence-free lives for women from poor and marginalized sections of Odisha”. This project is aimed at creating a responsive and enabling environment where incidences of domestic violence and trafficking are reduced and that institutions and individuals respond to the rights of survivors at community level. Today ISD’s overall focus is working with communities in 5 districts - Kalahandi, Rayagada, Kandhamal , Dhenkanal and Khurdha.
The project will be strengthening the capacity of community level groups like PRI members, vigilance groups & district level forum members. Through the network partners, the project reaches out on a significant geographical scale. The project design is based on deep-rooted processes and actions at the service level and also at the level of the community. The focus is on community mobilization at the village level where awareness on gender, trafficking and domestic violence issues is raised. The groups are emerging with strong voices and are also taking up cases related to violence against women and supporting women in distress in their communities. For strengthening of the groups, ISD conducts interaction with them regularly and organizes different training programmes on VAW issues to increase their legal knowledge and provide other support services for those experiencing violence.
The root cause of trafficking is low level of awareness and lack of capacity to challenge exploitative situations. The situation is made worse with improper enforcement of law due to a lack of political will. The primary stakeholders in our work are family and communities. We work mostly with the support of potential migrant and returnee migrant girls and women and adolescent girls in the communities. The allies for the work are the district administration, district level network of NGOs, Panchayati Raj Representatives and community based organizations.
Many migrant workers from Odisha have been rescued from brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu by the police. This includes women who were duped by pimps and dalals (agents) and taken to Uttar Pradesh, Jhansi and parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the assurance of marriage or a good job. There are labour contractors who negotiate the migration process. As we are working in the community, we demand the registration of all outbound labourers at the place of origin, and provide them with identity cards. Registration could take place at railway stations, bus stands, gram panchayat offices, even in villages with ward members. This way we can ensure that migrants receive a minimum wage, enjoy full labour rights, and receive compensation in the event of sickness or death. For our work, we are often threatened by labour contractors.
Please give us a picture of a life of a women in shelters and how it has helped/ or not help her in her life beyond?
Institute for Social Development (ISD) has organized a network of 54 NGOs who run shelter homes all over Odisha. ISD has coordinated this state level forum, called SWADHIKAR, since 2003. There are three types of Institutional services available for destitute women. These services are Short Stay home, Swadhar homes and Ujjala homes.
Short Stay Home
These homes are meant primarily for those women and girls who are either exposed to danger or are victims of family disputes. The Home usually has an average of 30 residents at a time with facilities for a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 40 residents for period of 30 days.
The scheme is meant to provide temporary accommodation, maintenance and rehabilitative services to women and girls.
This scheme was launched by the Department of Women and Child Development in 2001-02. The scheme provides shelter, food, clothing, counseling, trainings, clinical and legal aid aims to rehabilitate women in difficult circumstances.
Women affected by domestic violence can stay up to one year. For other categories of women, the period of stay could be up to 3 years. The older women above 55 years of age may be accommodated for a maximum period of 5 years after which they will have to shift to an old age home or other institutions. Swadhar homes facilities can also accommodate children accompanying women in the above categories. Girls up to the age of 18 years and boys up to the age of 12 years would be allowed to stay in the Swadhar homes with their mothers (Boys of more than 12 years of age will be shifted to the Children Homes being run under JJ Act.).
Some of the services available in Swadhar Homes for the residents are Legal services, Vocation Trainings and medical treatment at local civil hospitals including telephone counseling for the women.
Trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation is an organized crime that violates basic human rights. India has emerged as a source, destination and transit for both in-country and cross border trafficking.The problem of trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation is especially challenging due to its root causes: poverty, low status of women, lack of a protective environment.
Keeping the above issues in mind, the Ministry of Women and Child, Govt. of India has formulated a Central Scheme “Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of Trafficking for Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-Integration of Victims of Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation—Ujjawala”. The new scheme has been conceived in 2005 primarily for the purpose of preventing trafficking and rescue and rehabilitation of victims.
As a state level entity, SWADHIKAR has become a powerful force in terms of advocating with related departments and other institutions to optimise the provisions for the residents at Shelter homes. The forum placed all NGOs managing the homes on a unified implementation strategy. Inter-district collaboration for establishing backward and forward linkages for victims especially in the case of trafficked girls was possible through this forum. This forum also helped with linkages with member organisations for providing services on disability, mental health issues and HIV/AIDS and helped establish relationships with other state level networks such as National Alliance of Women and Jyagnaseni.
In the past two decades, reported cases of trafficking have been very high in Odisha. The majority of those trafficked are young women. Reportedly, most of them are trafficked for wage-labour, false promises of marriage and as domestic help in different parts of country. It is also alleged that many of them end up in prostitution. They are exploited and tortured in different forms. After they escape and/or are rescued, they end up in shelter homes. We have observed that many trafficked victims staying in shelter homes are not accepted by their family members.
ISD has created a counseling center for victims of trafficking, some of whom are rescued and some who escape their trafficker(s). Through this centre, ISD provides immediate relief to victims including the provision of food, shelter, trauma care and counseling to victims. We then place them in anti-trafficking shelter homes run by our member organizations. At the shelter homes, victims are provided with skills training, capacity-building opportunities, job placement and guidance in income-generating activities, to empower them and help them live independently. If the woman wants to file a case and if it becomes legally viable to do so, ISD also supports them during the legal process. We provide free legal counseling and have pro-bono lawyers who work with us.
Skill Development training includes tailoring, jute-bag making, mushroom cultivation, food processing which will widen their livelihood opportunities after leaving the shelter homes. Some of the organizations have made substantial efforts to place the residents in other programmes based on their desired training
We also provide capacity building of the shelter home workers that includes increasing their knowledge about legal rights, understanding of gender-based violence, counseling techniques, record-keeping and management of shelter homes.
What are your network and linkages with other likemindedorganizations? Has there been any collaboration that has had benefitted the women you are serving?
ISD uses a participatory approach in its work. Consultations are regularly held for collaboration and collective endeavors. ISD participates and invites allies to collaborate in its work. It builds network with civil society groups. ISD also represents in various Govt. Institutions as member.
ISD has received intellectual and tangible support from a range of individuals and institutions. The noteworthy among them are Director of Social Welfare and WCD, District Collectors and Additional District Magistrates, State Commission for Women, State and District Legal Services Authority( for free Legal Aid) and officials from health department. As far as individuals are concerned, noted social and legal activists and members of the State commission for women have provided value-laden guardianship to the efforts of the organization.
Collaboration has also helped in expediting resolution and reconciliation of cases, which have inter –district implications esp. related to trafficking, desertion and dowry.
Institutional linkages were established with a variety of likeminded agencies for providing need-based training to the survivors so that they are able to achieve reasonable level of economic self-reliance. Examples of such networking were with ORMAS (Orissa Rural Development and Marketing Society) for training on entrepreneurial skills, SHRUSHUSHA for training on home nursing and OMFED (Orissa Milk Federation) for management of dairy. This has contributed in making the affected women more skillful and therefore self-dependant to make a sustainable livelihood. In one case, ISD has been a successful in placing woman at the retail fuel stations franchised by Hindustan Petroleum in the outskirts of the state capital.
Have you been involved in state/ national or international level advocacy?
As a part of networking ISD collaborates with various international and national organization to strengthen its portfolio concerning trafficking. The ISD organized an International Symposium in Bhubaneswar in collaboration with GAATW for deliberation on transnational measures on trafficking. The ISD also participates in exchange and exposure of survivors of trafficking for their leadership development in Asian Region. Similarly ISD also collaborates with national networks like Center for Social Research and Women Power Connect and National Alliance of Women for exchange of knowledge and experience.
Women forum for Women Nepal (WOFOWON) is an organisation established by women working in informal and entertainment sectors. Starting with a small group of women, they now have more than 300 members. WOFOWON provides a space for women working in these sectors to come and share their issues, support each other and collectively advocates for recognition of their work and demand rights as workers.
Can you tell us briefly about how WOFOWON became an organization?
During the 10 years long civil war many people, including women and girls, migrated to the city for security and livelihood. For similar reasons, I too entered Kathmandu in 2059 (2002) and started looking for job. No one was ready to give me job accusing me of being a Maoist. It was difficult for us even to find an accommodation to rent. It was five of us that were together at that time. We sold all our jewellery but it was still not enough for us to survive in Kathmandu. We tried to find work in garment factories and finance companies but no one trusted us to give us work. We then started looking for jobs in restaurants and initially started work in cabin restaurants. With the help of some colleagues, I started working as singer in Dohori(local songs) restaurants. At that time, finding that job was like finally meeting God! That was the beginning of my life, I felt.
In the course of work, we found out about WOREC’s Chahari program which was established to provide women’s health consultation services and also had English language classes for women. I joined the program to learn English. I found it was not only about teaching language but also informed on women’s rights. I have always been vocal, even as child. When I see any injustice in society - I wanted to speak out against it. But in my real life, as a worker in a restaurant, there’s no institution for a women to lodge complaint when atrocities are committed against her. Police would conduct raid and arrest us, different people would physically beat us. I used to feel frustrated that there was no one to speak for us or hear what we had to say. Then I attended a capacity building training on women’s right conducted by Dr. Renu Rajbhandari of WOREC where we were motivated to fight for ourselves. This training gave us a new life. Nine of us working in restaurant and entertainment sectors then established Women Forum for Women Nepal with an aim to fight for women’s rights and establishing human rights for all. This is the first organisation in Nepal established by women working in entertainment sectors and since then we have been raising issues faced by women workers in these sectors. We are now 365 members strong. We are also included in trade unions and have two local committees. Our movement for the recognition and establishment of rights of women workers in entertainment sectors continues.
Tell us about the activities you conduct and why are those activities needed? How do you reach out to more women in this sector?
As we said, WOFOWON works for promoting and establishing labour rights and women’s rights for women workers in informal and entertainment sectors. We conduct public awareness raising campaigns, activities for women empowerment, organising campaigns for empowerment, and support and advocate for our rights.
In our programs, we highlight the issues of violence, labour exploitation, sexual violations and exploitations faced by women in informal and entertainments sectors and organise events to generate pressure for ensuring labour and human rights for these workers.
We have an outreach programme to reach out to all women working in these sectors. Through this outreach program, our members reach out to women workers in their work places to inform them about our organisation and its work. We encourage them to come visit our organisation to find out more about our work and be a member. Women members create an environment to support each other and to empower each other. We provide counselling services to women that have faced violence by their employers, co-workers, police, family or their society. If necessary, we provide referral. There are women that come for other services we provide such as health, legal assistance, psychological assistance and skill development trainings where we meet them on daily basis too.
We currently work within the three cities of the valley – Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. We want to expand our network in other districts but for various reasons, we have not been able to do so at the moment.
You mentioned that you are included in trade unions. How do you work with trade unions and how do they support your work?
Only three years ago, none of the trade unions were ready to include women workers in these sectors in their unions. Since last year, 112 women have been registered as members of Free All Nepal Hotel, Casino and Restaurant Workers Union (NFHU). As I mention earlier, we have two local committees as well. The two committees are in Thamel and Gongabu areas around which most women workers are employed. These committees within their specific work areas address issues of women workers. There are 11 active members in these committees and these committees have strongly supported our demand for a safe social environment and ensuring human rights for our workers. Currently, the Union is supporting us in our call to the state for inclusion of informal and entertainment workers under the labour right framework. The Union also support us by providing us legal assistance and motivating us to unite for labour rights.
What is your biggest concern at the moment?
Our biggest concern is the physical and social insecurity of women workers. There is absolutely no security for women workers. When we return home from work at night, we worry whether we will reach our home alive. We worry about the police that are supposed to be there for security – do we have to face physical and sexual violence from them? We have to lie to our family and society about the nature of our work because our work is not recognised as “good work”. Until the state recognises our work and us as formal workers, these issues will continue.
Do you want to talk about the issue of safe migration of women in entertainment sectors? What do they need to migrate safely?
Safe migration as I understand is people moving from their original place to another with their own will, including from one country to another to migrate, for work or other purposes. It is right of every person to be able to migrate. Many women in the informal sectors are internal migrants. Some have come through friends, others through relatives. Some also migrated because of discrimination and violence they faced either in family or society. There is also a large number of women in this sector that have migrated India, China and gulf countries. If we look at it from positive way, women have taken big leaps in asserting their right to mobility and freedom which has challenged our patriarchal society. Women have learned to fight against all odds. The State should take this into account and establish safe migration rights of women. NGOs and other stakeholders also need to take account of women’s right to migrate safely.
For the safe migration of women, the current policies and regulations in place needs to be implemented effectively. Especially the policy regarding freedom of movement of women needs to be strengthened and implemented. Nepal should respect its international commitment towards economic, social and cultural rights of women. The government should appreciate women’s rights to freedom of movement and ensure that the movement, their migration is safe whether within the country or abroad.
Please tell us about your current advocacy efforts.
The main issue for now is ensuring a dignified environment for women working in restaurants and inclusion of women in informal sectors within the labour rights framework. We are demanding social security, end of social discrimination, end of culture of dehumanising women in entertainment sectors, ensuring labour rights and human rights for the women working in informal and entertainment sectors.
We are also actively working towards changing the perception of all stakeholders and society towards entertainment sector workers through various media outlets. We want them to not look upon us as ill of society, not have to hide our occupation from our family and society and establish this sector as a formal employment sector. We want a positive outlook for entertainment sector as one of the various forms of livelihood. We are working towards creating this awareness through public awareness campaigns via songs, dance and dramas utilising various media.