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Posts Tagged ‘Global Issues’

AAUW rising largeAs Eve Ensler says, I’m “over it.”

I’m over the public safety warnings from my university alerting the community of another violent crime.

I’m over the headlines about another woman becoming the 1 in 3 worldwide to be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

I’m over the jokes, the slut-shaming, and the blaming.

I’m over Congress dragging its feet on passing a bill that would ensure protection for the 1 in 4 women who experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

I’m over violence against women.

Each day there are new stories of harassment, stalking, and violence, and with these stories emerge new victims who join the 1 billion other women who will be violated in their lifetimes.

Although Valentine’s Day is traditionally considered a day to celebrate love, today is also for remembering women who have suffered physical, emotional, and social pain due to violence. Rather than spending the day enjoying boxes of chocolates and card and flower deliveries, Ensler, author and playwright of The Vagina Monologues, invites women around the globe to walk, dance, rise, and demand an end to violence against women.

As part of her One Billion Rising campaign, Ensler aims to raise consciousness about the global problem of violence against women. By encouraging women and men to join in solidarity, Ensler hopes to change the cultural and political ways we address violence.

AAUW is risingWhile the dancing is slated for just one day, spreading awareness does not end today. One way to keep the movement going is to join AAUW in urging Congress to reauthorize the  Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). For me and millions of my college peers, reauthorization of VAWA is particularly important. One in 5 women will experience sexual assault while in college. Since policies from the Campus SaVE Act are included in the Senate-passed VAWA reauthorization, we could see better and stronger policies from colleges detailing their handling of claims of sexual assault and violence. We could also see prevention activities at every school and better reporting on more types of incidents on campuses. But that only happens if the House includes these provisions in their bill as well.

By dancing for One Billion Rising and supporting the reauthorization of VAWA, women can re-energize awareness about violence against women and ignite change. This Valentine’s Day, forget the chocolate and the roses. Get up and dance, or contact your representatives in Congress. Tell them you are over violence against women.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member and AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi, whose SAC membership is sponsored by Dagmar E. McGill in memory of Happy Fernandez and Helen F. Faust.

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Between 1861 and 1865, the United States fought a brutal war that divided the nation. By the war’s conclusion, the Union had been preserved and slavery officially ended. Yet more than 150 years later, the nation is still fighting slavery, albeit in a different form: human trafficking. AAUW strongly supports efforts to combat trafficking, a position formally adopted as part of our public policy agenda by AAUW members in 2011.

Human trafficking, which President Obama said “must be called by its true name — modern slavery,” is a criminal activity that forces individuals into prostitution or involuntary labor. On Wednesday, government officials, academic and business leaders, and an Academy Award-winning actress came together to discuss the fight against modern-day slavery.

Hosted by Georgetown University and Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Anti-Human Trafficking Symposium: Transforming the Coalition included keynote addresses from Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton and actress Mira Sorvino, who is a U.N. goodwill ambassador.

Actress Mira Sorvino, photo by United Nations Photos, Flickr Creative Commons

“It’s fitting for us to meet during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” said Morton. “The grim reality is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a very real part of the modern world … To defeat human trafficking we must attack it relentlessly.”

According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls. Because the majority of victims are female, Morton stressed the need to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking. Education can help at-risk girls become less vulnerable to offenders.

Morton also discussed ICE’s victim-centered investigation approach. Based on gaining victims’ trust and reducing intimidation from their offenders, the approach considers recovering victims to be as important as prosecuting offenders.

Sorvino echoed the importance of helping victims. She told the true story of a young boy and girl from the Philippines who were lured to the United States by the promise of work. The woman who recruited the children told them to take taekwondo classes for a month before leaving home so that they could come into the country on athletic visas. After securing visas at the border with their transporter (the taekwondo trainer), the children began work at an assisted living facility in Long Beach, California. They worked nearly nonstop without pay until a neighbor tipped off the FBI, who ultimately rescued the children from the woman’s control. Saving these and other children from sex slavery and forced labor motivates Sorvino to lobby Congress and state legislatures to pass laws preventing human trafficking within our borders.

Noting the ease with which the children in Sorvino’s story secured visas, the speakers also discussed the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. Morton said that current laws must be overhauled and rewritten to help protect illegal immigrants from exploitation. He and other symposium speakers agreed that in order to combat human trafficking, partnerships between federal and nongovernmental organizations, both in the United States and internationally, are vital.

“I think we will all agree that human trafficking provokes our justifiable and righteous anger,” said Morton. “Let’s bring our outrage to the offense.”

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi.

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Recently, India has garnered international attention with the devastating news of the rape (and later death) of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi. Despite the Indian government’s flawed sexual assault and harassment laws, there are organizations, communities, and companies out there that are making a difference in the lives of Indian women. One such organization is the Jaipur Rugs Foundation, whose work I had the privilege of seeing firsthand on my recent travels to India.

Women weavers in India

I arrived in Delhi on December 28, just a week after the terrible incident. During my travels, I visited a number of organizations. The first was the Jaipur Rugs Foundation, a nonprofit branch of Jaipur Rugs, a company that manufactures rugs produced by women in rural India.

The Jaipur Rugs Foundation visit was twofold. The first day I visited a rural village in northern Jaipur, where we saw women of the village working in their homes on huge weaving mills to produce the rugs Americans see every day at stores like Kmart and Crate and Barrel. We visited the classrooms that the foundation had established in the villages for women to learn basic literacy skills such as counting money. I saw two of the most prominent women weavers in the village, who were able to send both of their children to private school on their 1,000 rupee ($100) monthly salary. The next day I sat down with the founder and CEO of the organization, N. K. Chaudhary, and heard his thoughts on the importance of women’s empowerment and social responsibility.

Taaj with children

Student Advisory Council member Taaj Reaves with children in India

When Chaudhary first began Jaipur Rugs, he worked as an artisan with rural villagers. He noticed that the women were much more efficient than the men at work and formed the cornerstone of every household — making sure the children were in school and their bellies full. At the same time, he also saw many women being taken advantage of because they could not count, read, or write. Hence, a core value of the Jaipur Rugs Foundation is women’s empowerment through education in rural communities that provides women with financial independence and self-esteem. Because India is still a very patriarchal society, I questioned Chaudhary about how the men in rural villages typically view the newfound independence of their wives and daughters. He responded that the men see it as economic independence for the family. A dollar earned is still a dollar earned — and one more that can contribute to a family that is living below the poverty line.

It is true that there are many places in the world where discriminatory policies make it more beneficial to be a man than a woman, but there will always be people out there who want to change that. People like Chaudhary and all of the women working on behalf of the Jaipur Rugs Foundation make me believe that change is possible. This semester I will be working toward women’s development as an intern with the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, and I look forward to supporting and contributing to those who are making positive change for the progress of women.

AAUW also works to support change through International Project Grants, which fund community-based projects focused on empowering women and girls.

This post was written Taaj Reaves, whose participation in the National Student Advisory Council is sponsored by Loryann Eis of AAUW of Illinois.

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Not only was a day last week dedicated to human trafficking awareness, but January was also declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This month, President Obama is urging Americans to “educate themselves about all forms of modern slavery.”

There’s a lot of discussion about slavery these days — we’re commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, plus the release of movies like Lincoln and Django Unchained. But a different kind of slavery also draws our attention — human trafficking. According to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, modern-day slavery involves “exploitation through fraud, force or coercion; physical abuse and/or psychological intimidation; and victims are not readily able to free themselves from their situation.” Human trafficking is a worldwide, multibillion dollar enterprise that affects 12–27 million people annually.

A recent Google Hangout on slavery and human trafficking featured Cambodian anti-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam, New York City-based Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) founder Rachel Lloyd, and New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof. The panel, moderated by Luke Blocher from the Freedom Center, discussed the causes and consequences of domestic and international sex trafficking, as well as the steps we can all take to address this problem.

Mam, who was profiled in last fall’s documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is the founder of AFESIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations). The organization fights against the trafficking of women and children for sex slavery and works to secure victims’ rights, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Mam, a survivor of sex trafficking, understands exactly what’s needed to heal survivors. She noted during the Hangout that “you can’t just go into brothels and get the women — you have to empower them, be with them, and listen to them. Don’t look at them as victims but as human beings.” As a survivor, she understands that “it’s not easy to escape, stay out, to heal.” But once the survivors do, AFESIP provides them with skills training, since most have no education. When asked about the future, Mam has hope. She sees “students getting involved, pop stars, more social media.” This exposure has given more people a chance to understand the issue and gives survivors a voice.

GEMS founder Lloyd indicated that “100,000–300,000 young people are at risk for commercial exploitation each year.” And she reminds us that this is happening in our neighborhoods, not just in other countries. Unfortunately, the lack of attention to the issue of human trafficking reflects a similar neglect of those whom it impacts most: low-income people, people of color, and people in the juvenile justice system — those who are not “high on anybody’s priority list.” Lloyd supports the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which encourages decriminalization of survivors so that they are “not prosecuted as criminals but as people in need of services when they are picked up at the age of 12 for prostitution.” But she noted, “We can’t legislate or prosecute our way out of it.” She encourages people to get educated, find out what’s happening locally, and get involved — tutor, mentor, volunteer — because ending trafficking is more than “driving around in a van at night scooping up and rescuing girls.”

Kristof noted that “traffickers control the girls the same way around the world, whether it’s New York or Cambodia.” This control can be psychological or physical. The past strategic mistake of “people grabbing the girls instead of the pimps has begun to change but must change even more.” He stressed the importance of the empowerment of girls and education: “Just 1 percent of what we spent on the Afghan and Iraq wars would eliminate the primary education gap and end global illiteracy.” Education is critical since the “pimp model relies on illiterate girls.” Kristof, like Mam, acknowledged that there has been progress because the issue has gotten more attention, and “naming and shaming” has worked, since “the U.S. annual trafficking report does embarrass some governments.”

And speaking of pimps, all of the panelists agreed that men (and boys) need to be a part of the solution. Lloyd wants us to “socialize boys and young men differently, so that they know that they don’t have the right to purchase other human beings.” Kristof stressed the importance of “john school” to give men “a day in which they hear from survivors what trafficking is really like.” Mam simply stated that “we need to have men and boys involved and educate them.”

If you missed the Hangout, I encourage you to watch it (above).

Wondering what else you can do to help?

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This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Bangalore, India, through the Vira I. Heinz Program. While I was enamored by the colorful architecture, food, and clothing there, I was exposed to some of the less colorful aspects of India in my sociology course. The large scale and impact that human trafficking has on India was difficult to comprehend and, frankly, disheartening. Traffickers target children begging for money on the streets, women in brothels, and poor manual laborers. When thinking of human trafficking, most people imagine red-light districts in other parts of the world, but human trafficking is closer to home than most may realize.

Photo taken in India by Huong Nguyen

A modern-day form of slavery, human trafficking occurs not only abroad but within the U.S. border — manipulating and exploiting people for profit. U.S. federal law defines victims of human trafficking as “children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of ‘labor or services,’ such as domestic workers held in a home or farm workers forced to labor against their will.” Sadly, human trafficking occurs in all 50 states; however, the exact number of victims is largely unknown or inaccurate due to various factors, including underreporting.

Victims of human trafficking can be children, adults, men, women, U.S. citizens, and foreign nationals. There is not a consistent profile for victims, nor is there a single profile for the  traffickers, who can range from family members to brothel owners to employers of domestic servants.

There are an estimated 27 million people in modern-day slavery across the world. The Polaris Project provides red flags, as well as a hotline for confidential help and information. Regardless of your background or how wealthy your country is, human trafficking occurs everywhere. Human trafficking preys on peoples’ vulnerabilities for profit. Let’s recognize the signs and speak out about this crime against humanity.

Friday, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a day dedicated to shedding light on human trafficking and empowering individuals to fight against this crime. Join me tomorrow and every day after to say no to human trafficking.

Here are a few ways you can raise awareness:

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Huong Nguyen.

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