By Maria Grazia Giammarinaro
Human trafficking is a gross violation of human rights that occurs on a massive scale as vulnerable groups such as migrant workers are exploited by criminal groups. According to 2012 estimates by the International Labour Organization (ILO) 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour globally, though the organization stresses that this is a conservative estimate.
As Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), part of my work consists of shedding light on under-explored aspects of this global phenomenon. Since taking office in 2010, for example, I have highlighted issues such as trafficking for the purpose of domestic servitude, with a particular focus on domestic servitude in diplomatic households, or trafficking cases amounting to torture, or trafficking for the purpose of organ removal.
Another under-examined issue is discrimination and how it affects an entire range of trafficking issues, from victimisation to treatment within the criminal justice system. Last month, I hosted a high-level event on this issue at the OSCE’s headquarters in Vienna, the 12th Alliance against Trafficking in Persons conference “An Agenda for Prevention: Non-Discrimination and Empowerment”.
The conference examined how discrimination in its myriad forms (including discrimination based on race, gender, membership in a national or ethnic group, social and migration status) contributes to the increased vulnerability of certain groups to human trafficking, while at the same time acts to limit their access to services, care, protection and ultimately, social inclusion. Speakers also focused on how a more robust use of the international human rights law framework and specifically the principles of non-discrimination and equality can reinforce the rights of trafficked persons, and offer additional channels of legal protection and entitlements. Last, the concept of empowerment and the principle of non-discrimination can be used in prevention strategies for human trafficking, with examples of good practices, was also discussed.
One major theme was gender, since women account for a disproportionate number of trafficking victims. According to ILO estimates 11.4 million women and girls are trafficking victims, making up 55 percent of the total.
Women are in fact at the crossroads of various identity factors such as sex, family status, language, religion or other belief, residence status, membership to a specific community or minority. In this respect women can be subject to discrimination on different grounds in different social environments. For example, they can be discriminated against as women in their community, and as members of a minority in the society at large.
However, being at the crossroads of various identity components also means that women are simultaneously capable of learning from different social and cultural experiences, to build bridges between different communities, and take opportunities for social inclusion as soon as they arise. This is what we have witnessed even in extreme situations such as those of survivors of trafficking in human beings. Successful integration into the labour market of the countries of destination, for example, has been possible in many cases, thanks to the extraordinary woman’s ability to take advantage in a creative way of training and work opportunities. At the same time, women at crossroads are usually a sort of cultural mediator, who make possible a dialogue between, for example, native and migrant communities, dialogue that is capable of introducing elements of innovation in both cultures.
This is the reason why we do not want to look at women, even when they are subject to exploitation and trafficking, merely as victims. Through empowerment, trafficked and exploited women can achieve ownership on their own lives and become agents of change.
To read the speeches given at the Alliance conference, please click on the following link: http://www.osce.org/event/alliance12/speeches
Dr. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro will speak at the Law Faculty on November 20th from 13:00 to 14:30 as part of the Oxford Human Rights Hub Seminar Series.
More information about the Special Representative and her work is available here: http://www.osce.org/cthb