World Day Against Trafficking: Girls hold the solution

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Shakti Samuha received an award from With and For Girls in 2016. With and For Girls is a Collective of charitable organisations which share the belief that all girls should have agency, platform, space and support to enjoy equality, justice, opportunity and inclusion at home in their communities and in society.

An estimated 40.3 million people are in slavery worldwide and according to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations, women and girls comprise 71% of human trafficking victims, often for marriages and sexual slavery.

In Nepal, an estimated 12,000 children are trafficked to India every year. Girls who are trafficked fall victim to trafficking due to grim realities at home where poverty is rife and consequently are often coerced or forced to leave their villages in search of a better life. Traffickers gain trust with promises of new opportunities and a brighter future, however these false promises soon turn into a nightmare with girls being recruited into prostitution or slavery and subjected to horrific conditions.

Even when girls are rescued and returned in Nepal, they are often scapegoated and face discrimination back home due to the stigma associated with trafficking and slavery. Those who do return find themselves shunned by their communities and are left isolated, vulnerable and traumatised.

This World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we need to accentuate not only the importance of continuing to work on solutions to end violence against women and girls but to recognise and support those who are at the forefront of fighting this ongoing and worldwide epidemic.

When you think of the youth activists, your mind turns to those protesting on the streets, united in chants with instagrammable signs in hand, however it is time that we also gave girls, who are most affected and at risk from trafficking, a seat at the table and the opportunity to have input on important decisions and conversations; where government funding should go, what more needs to be done and by whom. Women and girls who have been directly affected by trafficking need to be at the game-changing discussions alongside policy makers and be given the opportunity to advise government.

Figures and structures which hold all the power are all too often out of touch and far removed from the harsh realities at hand to make the informed decisions needed to propel transformational change.

We need to change perceptions and look at the women and girls who are most affected by these issues, not just as survivors but also as leaders, who hold the tools and solutions to end these crimes.

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Shakti Samuha is a girl-run organisation based in Nepal which was started as a result of an incident in 1996 where 500 women and girls were rescued from slavery in brothels in India during mass police raids. 200 of the girls were Nepalese and once rescued they were housed in India in conditions which were worse than prison. The Nepalese government at the time denied these women the right to return to Nepal, claiming they would bring HIV into the country. Eventually, a group of NGOs’ came together and took on the responsibility of rehabilitating them back into their country.

Shakti Samuha was founded by fifteen of the rescued girls. The organisation provides safe houses and also runs an emergency support programme to rehabilitate survivors and their children. They offer training in income-generating skills to ensure that once rescued, survivors are able to support themselves independently and sustainably. The organisation also holds monthly meetings to educate girls and make them aware of the dangers of trafficking and exploitation.

Many of these girls have opportunities to work within the organisation.

Nineteen-year-old Manisha was rescued from India and received shelter and support from Shakti Samuha. She now works as a front desk officer at the organisation and says:

“It is very important to end human trafficking, not only in Nepal but in the rest of the world too.”

She continues: “It seems that trafficking networks are only growing and becoming stronger. We cannot end human trafficking but we can minimise it somehow”.

To date, Shakti Samuha has given shelter to 1027 trafficking survivors and has provided educational support to over 1500 children. Whilst we may not be able to end human trafficking overnight, what we can do is raise awareness, advocate for change and encourage people to give more flexible funding to local groups run by girls, for girls. Feminism is not a Western concept which just exists in the Global North. There are so many courageous girls around the world carrying out invaluable work and setting up organisations to fight for their rights. We don’t need to speak up for those who we perceive as the ‘voiceless’ or even necessarily travel to their countries or communities when there are already so many girls doing the work needed to reach a more gender equal, better world. What we can do is provide support and give recognition.

The With and For Girls Collective currently supports 60 organisations in 41 countries working toward gender equality on a variety of issues from ending child marriage and harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation to supporting LGBTQ+ communities. You can check out all of these badass, girl-run groups and find out more here!

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Article by Anisa Easterbrook,
With and For Girls