Rights Jessore: Gender Equitable Participation in Community Development Processes
Interview with Binoy Mallick, Rights Jessore
Rights Jessore is an organisation working in south western Bangladesh to promote and protect human rights along with the 500 NGOs within their network. They focus primarily on repatriating women who have survived trafficking for sexual exploitation to India and offer services to support women’s reintegration process. They also work with law enforcement to assist in the prosecution of traffickers. Their anti-trafficking work has been internationally recognized and they have received awards from the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organization (AGFUND).
Rights Jessore have many creative activities to help prevent human trafficking. How do you decide how to engage with different target groups to ensure successful prevention is achieved?
We select the type of activities we do by observing trends and patterns of trafficking within communities and using this empirical knowledge to identify the target groups for our work and to analyse their roles and potential influence in their communities. We then sit with them and other stakeholders, such as police persons and elected bodies to work together to find solutions and develop a set of practices to work on together. We remain very flexible in terms of exploring and adopting new methodologies and strategies when working with different target groups so that efficacy of the prevention activities can be ensured to the highest degree. These include adapting our communication tools to suit the needs of the target groups, such as by showing films and engaging in trainings for peer-mentors, volunteers and community outreach teams. By working within communities to facilitate the training of peer-educators we are able to help spread information about human trafficking and offer methods and tools for prevention.
Rights Jessore is very successful at reuniting human trafficking survivors with their families. How do you achieve such high levels of success in this area? Do you ever encounter trafficked persons who do not want to be reunited with their families? How do you support these individuals?
When working with trafficked persons to assess their desire to be reunited with their families we will work with both them and their families and communities to first asses the suitability for this return and to help prepare for it. As our organization is highly regarded and trusted families are often interested in learning the practical suggestions we have to assist them to support their returnee loved one. This can include by engaging in trainings and workshops with other families who have experienced trafficking of their daughter or sister, as it tends to be, in order to shed the stigma sometimes held for women who have endured trafficking. By working with families who have had similar experiences we are able to generate a wider support system to prepare families for the repatriation process. We never turn a family or a trafficking survivor away and we continue to support them if reunification is achieved by continuing to respond to their calls regarding any problems they face during the integration process.. In cases where it is not suitable to return a trafficked woman to her family we will try again to engage families in supporting the survivor and offer counselling to women whose family members were involved in their trafficking experience. We recommend women report their traffickers to the police, even when they are relatives and we support the survivor’s path towards a new start, either within or outside the community.
In cases where the survivors do not wish to return home we try to support them with a job placement outside of their original communities considering their skills and education or send them for business training if they do not yet have a skill. The job placement is followed by vocational/ life skills/capacity building trainings, and again, we always maintain communication with the survivor to ensure she is doing well. In essence we become her new family.
Can you tell us more about your most recent projects such as the Awareness Raising Campaign to facilitate safe migration and reduce trafficking in persons, as well as your work on Community Safety Nets to combat trafficking at the grass roots level and the Counter Trafficking Women Forum?
Of our recent projects; “To improve prosecutorial process of trafficking case of all forms and influence the legal reformation through evidence based advocacy” supported by Winrock International/USAID, as well as ‘Enhancing Vulnerable Communities’ Access to Justice’ and support mainstreaming of trafficking survivors supported by Government of Canada are significant. Under these projects we have supported 40 survivors with alternative livelihood options and provided vulnerable communities with adequate legal education on the existing trafficking related legal instruments. This has allowed communities to feel empowered to access the existing justice service facilities. We have also printed booklets with information on relevant laws and the basic information with regard to human trafficking and safe migration so that the vulnerable communities can consult the book. We have also installed billboards in different public places with relevant information as part of our mass awareness campaign in prevention of human trafficking.
Under the Winrock International/USAID supported project we have been contributing to improve the prosecutorial process of the human trafficking cases. The project is focused on advocacy at local and policy level. We have identified the different phases of the prosecution process and thereby have uncovered the relevant target groups to work with. We have then engaged with in advocacy work to help influence a change in the existing practices. Specifically, we are in dialogue with the Judiciaries motivating investigation officers of the police (who deal with human trafficking cases) and are working to sensitise lawyers and media people towards a more holistic approach which will improve the prosecutorial process of the human trafficking cases. We have already achieved some tangible results i.e. the police are now proactive to register trafficking cases under the newly enacted human trafficking law, investigation officers (IO) are submitting their investigation reports to the special public prosecutors (SPP) so that the SPP can scan through the reports and help the IO with necessary feedback to make the report more evidence based, journalist are not breaching the victims’ confidentiality and Judges have become more aware of factors that influence the victim and are more prepared to settle the case out of court if it will benefit the victim.
The concept of establishing social safety net through forming community level watchdog committees like Counter Trafficking Women Forum (CTWF) was first applied to 20 unions (1 union composed of around 15 villages) and it was replicated to another 182 unions. Here we engaged womens groups in anti-trafficking and other related work as we thought women had an unique insight into issues of domestic violence, child marriage and other happenings at community level. These women share their knowledge with men and the rest of their communities and raise their voices collectively to seek support from other agencies to fight the social problems. We have built the capacities of these female leaders at grass root level communities and formed a 15 member committee involving women from different professions such as house wives, local elected members, law enforcement agencies, teachers, students, social workers etc. and linked them with the existing service facilities. Now, the CTWF has become motivated and vigilant and whenever they encounter incidences of domestic violence or human trafficking they are standing united to protect the victim or offer counseling to the victim’s family members, or informing Rights Jessore for further support. We have also built the capacities of the community level stakeholders so that they can identify incidents of trafficking and domestic violence and can decide on the avenues for action.This social safety net mechanism has been successfully functioning at community level.
As you acknowledge, gender inequality often serves to deny women their rights. How does Rights Jessore’s thematic focus on women’s rights and empowerment overcome these challenges and work to ensure women’s participation in social programming?
We believe in gender equitable participation in community development processes. All of our community development projects are women and child focused and we always try to ensure active women’s participation in our program planning and implementation process. Usually we prefer the community led development approach. We have been working to enhance women’s access to the justice services and advocating for the promotion of equal gender participation in community development processes.
GAATW as an Alliance of like-minded groups is always interested to learn about our Members’ successful work through networking. How does your relationship with the Indian government and like-minded NGOs in India as well as Bangladesh enhance your work?
Networking with other like-minded NGOs always enriches our knowledge by encountering different perspectives. Our nature of work has intrinsically made us dependable on different agencies/networks and good working relationships truly enhance our work and scope of influence of our work and strengthen our capacity to provide for our target groups. Specifically our working relationship with the Indian government counterpart and NGOs working in India has provided us with opportunity to widen the sites and destinations of our work in order to support the trafficking victims with Rescue, Recovery, and Repatriation and Integration (RRRI) services.
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