Woke up this morning to what I thought was a normal day and so I dressed normally and went to the restaurant for breakfast. A minute later I got a message from one of my friends living in New York. Daphne, it is snowing outside and there is a forecast of a snowstorm. So be prepared, wear your snow boots and warm wear before you step out. I looked at the high heel shoes that I was wearing and the light jacket and said ‘Oh No.’ This snowstorm is going to ruin my CSW experience. I had registered to go to the session conducted by the Holy See on the ‘Prevention of trafficking of rural girls and women’ at the United Nations Headquarters. I’m also expected to be at the Kimmel House, New York University for a reception at 6 pm decked in our national dress; the saree. Would I be able to make it to the Kimmel House in a saree in a snowstorm and survive? These were my thoughts at the beginning of the day.
I went back to my hotel room changed into my heaviest coat, put on the only boots that I had carried and walked to the elevator. A friendly gentleman greeted me. I asked him about the impending storm which was going to hit New York. And he shrugged his shoulders, threw his hands in the air and said ‘New Yorkers exaggerate.’
I made it to the conference. However, my humour changed to horror after I heard the shocking realities of human trafficking at the UN conference. One survivor of human trafficking and five valiant religious sisters from Philippines, India, Africa, England and Canada gave gripping accounts of this crime against humanity.
Mely Lenario from the Phillipines recounted her horrific ordeal in her narration entitled ‘Life as a Trafficked Woman: A Story Unfold.’ She saw her sister being repeatedly raped by her stepfather when she was only 8 years. She protested and because she did, she was sent to a shelter. She and a few other girls were lured by some ‘elegant’ lady who offered them education and a better life, but forced them into the sex trade. To get food the girls had to get a minimum of 10 customers a day, else they were made to starve. It left her hating anyone who was ‘kind’ as she felt that it was ‘kindness’ which made her fall into a trap. Mely has now changed the course of her life and has become a survivor advocate, helping those women who experienced her hell to rebuild their lives.
Sr Annie Jesus Mary Louis from India spoke on the ‘Rural Origins of the Sex Trade’. Like any other business in the world which has a supply chain system, so also does the sex trade. You have a product and someone buys and someone sells. In this case the product is sexual access to another human being. Sexual exploitation is big business. It is governed by exactly the same principles as any commercial activity. Supply and demand. Traffickers cloak their evil intentions with benevolence to lure women away from their homes. Sr Annie’s appeal to the audience was to join together to campaign for sexual exploitation to be treated with the same seriousness as other supply chain issues. And to support local organisations working against human trafficking in rural areas.
Sr Lynda DearLove from England spoke on ‘Hearing Rural Voices in the Fight against Trafficking’. The rural NGOs are neglected as funding goes only to the big NGOs in the cities. Her organisation ‘Women at the Well’ work towards giving ‘alternate narratives’ to rural women as against the false promises of the traffickers. If rural girls were provided with an education and sustainable financial support then the demand would be cut and the supply would also dry up. Sr Lynda lamented that the Global Community does not do much to address this scourge of human trafficking in the rural areas.
Sr Sheila Smith from Canada said that every human being has an inherent dignity, but for women it is an ‘aspirational and not an experiential reality. Sr Angela Reed said it was time to listen to the voices of victims exposed to trafficking, publish their stories and give them opportunities to speak at public forums like the CSW.
The UN conference room was overcrowded with people. Those who did not get seats were left standing, but were engrossed for the whole session.
I travelled back to the hotel in the same vehicle with Sr Annie. She works alone in the Chattisgarh region. She feels threatened by the trafficking mafia, their business is slowly getting choked by her interventions. God Bless You Sr. Annie and may you live long to continue the good work that you have been doing at such grave risk to your life.
And to end on a good note, I did make it to the Kimmel Centre of New York University for the reception. The skies cleared and the sun came out specially for me. I went to the occasion draped in my national dress- the SAREE.