Soroptimist International, 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence

16 Days – Day Eight: Human Trafficking


The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December, marks the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.


Human Trafficking – A never-ceasing fight for Soroptimists

by Elena Savu, SIE Federation Programme Director

“Trafficking in persons represents a serious form of gender violence given that nearly 80% of its victims are women and girl children. Human trafficking, more than any other form of violence against women and young girls, resorts to multiple forms of violating basic human rights. Trafficking in persons remains an act of violence against women and girls that, paradoxically, is hidden in everyone’s plain sight. The commercial acts of stripping and lap dancing, consented prostitution or the circle of family members, friends or acquaintances who encourage females to choose ’a better life’ cover unpardonable coercive sexual exploitation and forced labour. Behind all these, there is abuse, assault and denial of the female individual’s right to decent food, medical care, education, health, equal chances and liberty. The phenomenon is even more dangerous because traffickers, driven by the desire of financial gain, find new markets and keep up with times. Nowadays organ trafficking as a colateral form of trafficking in persons is on the rise, while some Internet social sites have become modernised tools for recruiting victims.

“Regardless of the form it may take, trafficking in persons builds on the victims’ ignorance and vulnerability and leads to modern slavery and humiliation which practically eliminate the opportunities for the education and empowerment of women and girls.

“Through determined action, Soroptimist International, a worldwide organisation of professional women, has raised the voice, with dedication, creativity and commitment, against the menacing phenomenon of human trafficking. Soroptimist members have taken the pledge to create a better world for women and young girls all over the globe. A better world means a world without violence of any kind, equal opportunities for education and economic empowerment, dignity and hope for the future.

“Hundreds, maybe thousands of Soroptimist projects on human trafficking already exist and stand proof of this pledge. Big or small unions and single clubs across the four Soroptimist Federations have been running projects which have grown and refined from year to year. Soroptimists across the four Federations have been developing strategies and renewing their ways of action for a sustainable anti-trafficking response. Nowadays Soroptimist projects on trafficking in persons have become a masterful combination of the 3 A’s – Awareness, Action and Advocacy as much as a pool of international Soroptimist expertise to which members from different clubs contribute.

“A telling example in support of all these could be the anti-trafficking work performed by the Romanian Soroptimists since 2009, both at club and union level. In spite of being a small union, SI Romania is greatly challenged by the phenomenon of trafficking in persons because it has been mainly a country of origin and transit. In their combat against human trafficking, the Romanian clubs fully enjoyed the support of their mentoring union, S.I. Union of Denmark, but also the cooperation of other Soroptimist clubs, such as Hassleholm, Sweden and Zwolle, the Netherlands. Romanian anti-trafficking projects addressed several issues from trying to educate the civil society to providing support for the reintegration of trafficked victims and nowadays to advocating at a local level.

“The original awareness-raising campaigns in schools were followed by street action meant to increase visibility in the local community. In the attempt to come up with a more and more comprehensive anti-trafficking solution, Romanian Soroptimist clubs adjusted their messages to the needs of their communities, made partnerships with local authorities, e.g. town council and the police, and printed their own club’s leaflets with advice  on how women and girls can protect themselves and how to get help in case of need. They also engaged into a cooperation with the mass-media to transmit and spread the anti-trafficking message. To reach a wider segment of the target population, Romanian clubs trained young people to become  their ’anti-trafficking messengers’ – young people to warn other young people about the dangers of trafficking in persons.

“In spite of all our awareness and first-hand testimony that human trafficking dramatically affects women and young girls in our countries and communities, we still do not have enough factual data to prove it to all political decision makers and urge them to take a firm stand against this phenomenon. As the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns “If we do not overcome this knowledge crisis we will be fighting the problem blindfolded”. That is the reason why Soroptimist International members have joined the first-ever organization-wide project entitled Defeating Violence Against Women and Girls –The Road to Effective Prevention. This project initiated by Soroptimist International of Europe represents a new stage in the battle against violence against women and young girls, and its outcomes are expected to provide useful information and recommendations for suitable future action that will eliminate violence against women and girls, including trafficking in persons.



Project Focus The Purple Teardrop Campaign

SI talks to Liz Rodgers, Trustee of The Purple Teardrop Campaign, Vice President SI Poole.

“It all started at an SI Southern England conference in 2008 where the keynote speaker was Christine Beddoe, then Director of ECPAT UK. Christine told her audience about human trafficking and the story of one of its victims transported by crate; the young girl knew her terrifying journey took 3 months because that was the number of periods she had.


“The Poole Soroptimists in the audience that day were horrified by what they had heard and came away determined to take action with particular focus on the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. What ensued was one of the largest programme action projects the club has undertaken with the whole membership working on one of three action areas:

·         Raising awareness using a poster campaign

·         Working with Crimestoppers to report human trafficking activity

·         Raising funds for victim support by selling teardrop pin badges

These three areas have remained at the core of the Purple Teardrop Campaign’s work ever since and Soroptimists throughout the UK and far beyond continue to bring human trafficking to the forefront of their local communities using the distinctive black, purple and white posters and leaflets; encourage reporting to Crimestoppers; and use the purple tear pins to raise funds.

“The range and success of Soroptimist activities has been extraordinary. The Purple Teardrop Campaign’s core messages have laid at the centre of conferences, vigils, shopping mall stands and student fresher fayres. Clubs in the Midlands, South Wales and the South West have worked to raise awareness amongst taxi drivers. Clubs in the North West and South have succeeded in getting posters into public wc’s.

And clubs right across the UK have gathered over 33,000 signatures for the Purple Teardrop Campaign’s lobby to ban sex for sale advertising, a lobby inspired by Kevin Hyland, formerly of the Metropolitan Police and now the first Designate Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Over the past six years, many anti human trafficking organisations and charities have sprung up and at the initiative of Antony Steen work under the umbrella of the Human Trafficking Foundation which has played a key role in the Modern Slavery Bill now going through Parliament. Soroptimists Jacky Paling and Pauline Monk represent Soroptimist International and the Purple Teardrop Campaign on this important group and received recognition for their work in 2013 in the form of the Marsh Award.

Purple Teardrop Campaign funds support victims in the South and South West, and our next phase of work is a feasibility study on expanding this support to further safe houses. Funds from the Poole Lions Swimarathon, SI Barnstaple’s Purple Ball, One Billion Rising, coffee mornings, the sale of pins, individual donations and more are all invaluable to the victims of this relentless crime.

Poole Soroptimists remain at the heart of the Purple Teardrop Campaign, two being trustees of the charity and six forming the operations group but it is the Soroptimist clubs around the UK and Ireland and as far away as the Caribbean and Australia who bring the campaign to life. Thank you”.

Purple Teardrop Campaign

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