Of the over 40 million people worldwide shackled by modern slavery, 70 percent are women and girls as gender discrimination is a primary driving factor in enslavement. Pandemic isolation has further exasperated the human trafficking and slavery crisis.
To empower women and survivors of modern slavery to lead anti-slavery organizations, the largest global funder of frontline, anti-slavery organizations, The Freedom Fund, virtually launched its Freedom Rising initiative on December 2nd with keynote speakers Nada Al-Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights joined from Geneva, and Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former president of Ireland. A lineup of speakers including P. Jayashree, Program Manager, CARE (Tamil Nadu), Claire Falconer, The Freedom Fund’s Head of Global Initiatives and Movement Building, Anannya Bhattacharjee, International Coordinator of Asia Floor Wage Alliance were moderated by Amy Rahe, The Freedom Fund’s North America Director.
“Initiatives to support women’s leadership like this one are crucial, especially at this critical moment as the world battles a global pandemic,” Nada Al-Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights stated. “We know that putting women at the center, indeed ensuring women are at the helm, will help ensure our collective success in meeting the global changes that we face together.”
Al-Nashif cited women’s role in inspiring local and national movement as the “backbone of vibrant communities across the globe.” Citing the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration as a “remarkable achievement” she noted various women’s activism and leadership across the globe from August 1956 Women’s March in Pretoria, South Africa against Apartheid, to Rosa Parks, to Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina to the current women’s movement in Belarus, Myanmar and Black Lives Matter. “Progress and transformative change are impossible without” women’s participation she said, underscoring Freedom Rising as an exemplary effort to tackle these issues.
In her remarks Mary Robinson expressed how Covid-19 “is the mirror that has exacerbated the inequalities” bringing about a “feminist idea of the intersectionality of the inequalities.”
“If build back better is to go beyond the slogan, we need a new paradigm of leadership that draws on the successful examples of women,” Robinson cited the successful cooperative leadership models of Germany’s Angela Merkel and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern in handling the pandemic. She called for more linked leadership, taking advantage of the UNSCR 1325 and “rejecting failed models of the past.”
Quoting Xiye Bastida, the 18-year-old Mexican-Chilean climate activist and member of the indigenous Mexican Otomi-Toltec nation saying, “We need to recognize each other to bring dignity forward” Robinson expressed her pleasure in learning from the digital savvy youth tackling our world’s problems.
Devoting $1.2 million in funding–with support from Laudes Foundation, Stardust Fund, The Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund, UBS Optimus Foundation and Lisa Wolverton, President, Wolverton Foundation–the Freedom Rising program will build on existing programs to identify, train and support women survivors to lead anti-slavery campaigns in their own communities as part of a global movement to eradicate modern slavery. The campaign will distinctly focus on “building a stronger, more strategic, and more representative anti-slavery movement.” The trainees, following their year-long leadership training, will be introduced to the program’s alumni network to continue building local, regional and international level connections and actively scale impact programs to eradicate modern slavery.
“We invested in Freedom Rising because we believe that transformational change comes only when women are in leadership positions and in influential roles sharing power and exerting influence,” Natasha Dolby, founder of Freedom Forward and Board member of the Freedom Fund was quoted in a recent press release explaining how women are best positioned to understand, analyze and provide solutions to the anti-slavery movement at-large. “We’re aware that changing norms takes time, but we’re behind the Freedom Fund’s vision that we must start now, when multiple pandemics that impact women worldwide have converged.”
Rising Against Modern Slavery
Explaining how human trafficking “leverages social vulnerabilities of race, cast and gender” in low-wage women’s labor, Bhattacharjee recognized women’s leadership “at the forefront of global revolutionary movements.” Comparing the Freedom Rising program to “building the scaffolding which will deliver survivors’ leadership to more organization” she stressed how it brings together “women’s rights, human rights and labor rights” to develop and sustain and mentor that leadership.
Each group of 50 selected leaders will undergo at minimum a 12-month mentorship, leadership and technical skills training–which for now will be phased and online because of the pandemic. The campaign leaders, up-skilled in leadership values through analysis of their own experiences with modern slavery issues, will then apply their training to rise above their personal trauma and the cultural bias of their respective communities. The Freedom Rising alumni network will then amplify their voices with new leadership skills and approaches to help reverse the cultural taboos that undervalue and dismiss women’s basic human rights.
Piloting the program in south-Indian state of Tamil Nadu throughout 2021 will allow for refinement and improvement before the full roll-out. Then each curriculum will be customized to meet the specific needs and context of the training location–and delivered in the local language.
P. Jayashree, who as a 14-year-old began working in a spinning mill in Tamil Nadu, now leads a 30-volunteer team to end similar bondages for adolescent girls working 12-hour shifts in the mills. “Since I’ve come to work as a social worker, I have transformed myself into a warrior to protect women and children. To know that this movement is going to stand exactly for this, it is my big desire, happiness and ambition,” Jayashree welcomed the close network of Freedom Rising program’s “protective web” of a global platform. “When this transformation is possible, there could be no human trafficking. Free India could emerge, a country with freedom to protect women. Another world is possible.”
Claire Falconer explained the pressures the pandemic has placed on anti-slavery organizations and the importance of having women survivors represented. Understanding the challenges of leadership, she is invested in building the program to achieve “gender justice and end slavery by shifting power to the women.”
“This program is providing support and connection to frontline leaders at a time of unique stress and isolation. As they respond and recover, Freedom Rising will be there to shape the future of a movement that will be stronger, more resilient, and truly representative of the communities it serves,” Falconer hopes to see deep and diverse grassroots leaders, learning from and uplifting each other while challenging their communities’ social norms, engaging the power of their communities, collaborating with other movements seeking equity and justice. “And dismantling the power infrastructure to make unprecedented leads into ending slavery.”