Celebrating Women Working for Freedom This International Women’s Day
Photo Credit: MoreTooLife.org
Women are leading the charge against human trafficking. Today, on International Women’s Day, the Human Trafficking Institute is highlighting a few of the women who are defenders against the exploitation human traffickers inflict on the vulnerable. These women are different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, but they are united under one word: heroes.
Each one of these courageous women, when faced with the choice to turn away from other’s suffering, chose to turn towards hope. And even though the work is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting, they keep fighting. They demonstrate that women have a unique role to play in combatting human trafficking. With empathy, they remind us that the people who traffickers trap in brothels, hotels, or factories could have easily been any one of us. In this work, they are not just advocating for victims of human trafficking but for all of us—for the chance to live in a world where femininity is respected, not exploited.
So, on this day, let’s not forget the women who are leading the modern movement for freedom. They are speaking out for the enslaved around the world who may never see the social media posts but will know of our advocacy when we turn awareness into action. It’s their day too.
“You can’t walk away from it. Somebody needs to be here, somebody needs to listen to their stories.”
Photo Credit: Derek Watson
When Sister Rosemary Nyriumbe took over St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring School in Gulu, Uganda, she knew it was an area that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had terrorized for more than 30 years, trafficking children to be child soldiers and sex slaves. As some of these victims escaped from the LRA, Sister Rosemary quickly saw the need to provide a refuge for these traumatized children. They carried with them emotional and physical scars, lingering addictions, and even children born from the sexual violence they endured.
Sister Rosemary saw the school as a way to give these girls a new chance at life by teaching them sewing, a skill they could use to care for themselves, as well as providing them a safe place to live. She has helped hundreds of girls rehabilitate from their trauma and started the Sewing Hope Foundation, so the women could sell the handbags and accessories they make out of used soda tabs. As Sister Rosemary said, “We re-stitch a life thrown away and make it beautiful again.” Sister Rosemary continues to stand against human trafficking in all its forms throughout Uganda.
“I chose not to feel like a victim . . . I don’t want my face to be blurred because I should not be ashamed of it. The guys that have done it should be hiding their faces and they should be blurring their faces.”
Photo credit: www.aljazeera.com
Sunitha Krishnan is just 4’5”, but she is a mighty advocate for sex trafficking victims in India. Raped by eight men at 15, she says, “I do not remember the rape part of it as much as I remember the anger part of it…I derive power from that anger.” Krishnan emphasizes that the societal consequences of the rape—the isolation, stigmatization, and blame that followed the event—were as damaging as the event itself.
She knew other young women caught in trafficking were experiencing that same shame and injustice, so she started Prajwala in 1996 in South India with Brother Jose Vetticatil. Prajwala, meaning eternal flame, raises awareness about sex trafficking, rescues, and rehabilitates victims so they can reintegrate into society. Many learn trades and return to their family, live independently, marry and start their own family. Sunitha knows more than anyone the power of holistic rehabilitation, and Prajwala is a home and family for survivors until they can walk with dignity. Although Krishnan has been attacked 14 different times for her work with survivors, every day she gets up and fights again because she knows living a free and whole life is worth it.
“I didn’t have much money to give, and I wasn’t pursuing a career in social work, law, psychology, or any field that seemed to connect to making a difference, so I felt powerless. When I decided to align Dressember with anti-trafficking, it came out of that long-standing desire to engage.”
Blythe Hill used a dress to become an unlikely advocate for human trafficking, showing how one small step can make a huge difference. A survivor of childhood sexual molestation, when Blythe heard about human trafficking, especially the sexual exploitation of innocent women, it broke her heart. However, she felt powerless. Hill started off interested in fashion, and in 2009 decided to do a personal style challenge of wearing a dress every day in December. Soon her friends began to join in, and that’s when Hill had an epiphany. She started Dressember, a non-profit organization that fundraises every December for anti-trafficking NGOs. Women are invited to wear a dress every day of December, and men can dress up to show their support of Dressember. The beauty of Dressember is that it takes the dress, a traditional symbol of femininity, and turns it into a powerful protest against the exploitation of femininity and the vulnerabilities of all people. To date, Dressember has raised more than $5 million dollars towards anti-trafficking work, rescuing thousands from bondage and giving them new hope.