From 30th to 31st January, over 250 key voices, in the global movement to abolish prostitution systems came together for a World Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls. The Congress was organized by Indian Anti Trafficking NGO Apne Aap Women Worldwide, and CAP Internatonal, and supported by Vivel by ITC. The All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch was also a partner in this Congress.
Ruchira Gupta, Founder of Apne Aap said “The Congress seeks to highlight the vulnerability of the last girl- who is the most vulnerable of all human beings to prostitution because she is a poor, female, teenager, low caste in India, Black in the USA, Indigenous in Australia and Canada, or a minority religion or ethnicity, perhaps a refugee in Africa and Europe, and is therefore preyed upon by traffickers.” This is why the hashtag #LastGirlFirst was used throughout the congress.
Sarah Benson, Chair of CAP International stated “As an affiliation of 19 frontline NGOs providing daily assistance to thousands of women, girls and men affected by prostitution in 16 countries, we have a collective duty to expose the realities of sexual exploitation. While our societies remain widely deaf to the distress of victims of prostitution and trafficking, we stand in solidarity with survivors advocating their universal decriminalization, for unconditional access to protection, justice and exit options, and for the implementation of policies targeting their economic and sexual exploiters: pimps, procurers and sex buyers.”
Mr Sameer Satpathy, Chief Executive of Personal Care Products Business at ITC Limited said “Trafficking affects every country in the world and in India, the most disadvantaged social strata are the most vulnerable. Vivel’s #AbSamjhautaNahin supports the fight against the often coercive social conditioning that victims and survivors of human trafficking are confronted with. Vivel partners with Apne Aap Women Worldwide, to help fortify their endeavours to enable self action, empower and educate to improve livelihood options.”
The Congress sessions spanned two days, and included discussions on ending sexual exploitation of the most marginalized women and girls, mobilizing of prostitution survivors to combat commercial sexual exploitation, SAARC regional dynamics and challenges, the various youth movements to combat prostitution, and how technologies add value in the fight against sexual exploitation.
Centre for Social Research was honoured to be invited to the press conference, held on 30th January, as part of this Congress, consisted of a short panel discussion as well as a question and answer session. The panelists for the discussion consisted of Ms Ruchira Gupta, French Senator Ms. Catharine Coutelle, Swedish Ambassador at Large for Combatting Trafficking Mr Pers Anders Sunesson and prostitution survivors Rachel Moran, Fatima Khatoon and Soni Soori. Additionally, noted American actress Ashley Judd, who is the UNFPA and Apne Aap Goodwill Ambassador, was also a part of the Congress and the press conference.
The speakers gave a brief summary of the cause to end sexual exploitation, and managed to convey some very strong points during the press conference.
Ms Ruchira Gupta highlighted the work which Apne Aap has set out to do and made some relevant points about criminalizing the offenders and decriminalizing the victims of the sex trade. She also spoke about the intersectionality of prostitution – that it is a combination of poverty and lack of basic resources such as food, shelter, education and health, which traffickers taking advantage of victims. Ambassador Sunesson put it correct and sharp when he said “Prostitution is not something someone chooses.” Senator Coutelle from France, talked on deconstructing myths surrounding prostitution, and creation of exit opportunities so as to ensure that victims are able to realize their dreams.
The prostitution survivors, Rachel Moran, Fatima Khatoon and Soni Soori briefly discussed their heart wrenching experiences, and raised many questions on law enforcement, and treatment of prostitutes. Finally, Ashley Judd, took to the mike, and spoke on the rampant nature of sexual violence in all countries, and how women are subjected to misogyny even in a first world country like USA, when she discussed issues of gender pay gap in Hollywood.
Having been working in the area of women empowerment and gender issues for more than three decades now, it was a pleasure for us at Centre for Social Research to be a part of this press conference, and to witness such inspiring speakers from all corners of the world, and all parts of society, engage in a meaningful discussion on prostitution and the nature of sexual violence against women. Such intellectual discourse is very much required, if effective change has to take place. We hope to be a part of many more such discussions, and that this type of dialogue leads to more awareness regarding pertinent social issues.
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