Human Trafficking Awareness Day was a couple of weeks ago. In fact, January is Human Trafficking Awareness month – FYI. And apparently we wear blue to promote awareness now. I am not new to promoting human trafficking awareness, but wearing blue is new to me! I am glad we have a day, a month, and color to wear to promote human trafficking awareness. The road has been long to get to this place where Human Trafficking Awareness Day has its own color!
My question is, “How does all this awareness promote action?” Does it just feed the cultural phenomenon of letting people know how awesome we are? … “Look at me! I wear blue so you know I care about human trafficking.” Is it possible that it’s something that really only has value in social media world?
I am in charge of the brand at Sari Bari, and I encourage our Marketing Coordinator to use these awareness days to help get our message out. It is a way to promote the “cause” for which I have given my life. The “cause,” for me, is personal because I have journeyed intimately with exploited and trafficked women since 2002 and I have celebrated their freedom and mourned their losses with them. And it has been and continues to be a long, hard road ,my friends. We are actually having a give-away with 5 other brands to promote and help businesses who create freedom and opportunity for women/girls vulnerable to human trafficking. I will tell you honestly, I am hypocrite. I’m not a fan of these gimmicks, but I’ll use them. I will sell my soul for the purpose of awareness for our freedom brand and the issue of human trafficking so we can keep going and continue employing more women for freedom while sustaining the 100 plus we already employ.
Fifteen plus years ago, there was no buzz around human trafficking. There was just “prostitutes” (if you know me, you know how much I hate that label ) who possibly, somehow deserved to be where they were in our own sort of “cultural karma.” They weren’t victims yet, or survivors. They were “they” “other”— not vulnerable people or exploited children. They were runaways and addicts and not yet worthy of a socially-evolved majority consciousness. Human trafficking is not new, but our consciousness about it is — I mean, we have only had a month and day for awareness since President Obama declared it so in 2015,
I’m certainly glad we have found our way to awareness, and I still long for more actionable change. In the last 20 years, justice organizations specifically focusing on the issue of human trafficking have emerged. Some seek justice. Some engage in legal battles and rescues. Some seek restoration by providing aftercare. Some provide employment as part of a growing number of freedom businesses. In parallel, more and more awareness around ethical fashion (since Rana Plaza ) and connecting the makers to the market, and thereby the consumer awareness, has also grown. We’ve created this unique space where we are “aware,” and some of us spend a lot of social media energy spreading the word. We feel good about fighting human trafficking with our social media accounts and with our consumer dollars. Maybe I see more than my fair share since I follow folks who do care. We should feel good about our efforts, but it still begs the question, can we do more?
Most of the resources for front-line trafficking, restoration, and prevention orgs are still strained. We sell ourselves, our brands, and some orgs even sell exploitative stories in order to engage the consumer and the donor while a select few do the actual work of preventing Human Trafficking: providing restoration and legal services, employment, and economic opportunity. How can we fight a $150,000 billion dollar industry with the resources available to us? How will we succeed with burn out and secondary trauma chasing at the heels of everyone engaged on the front line of this truly important battle for freedom and justice? How do we keep going?
We use the market in the broken system of capitalism. We ask you to buy so a woman won’t have to stand in line one more day and make a choice or be forced to sell herself. It’s a good thing in a bad system. Economic opportunity creates economies where people have choices and their morality is not inhibited by hunger or survival. When was the last time most of us were living in true in survival mode with no options to feed our kids and we had to make the choice, even though we knew it was risky, to send our 10-year-old daughter to clean someone’s floors, knowing she could be exploited? I don’t want anyone to have to make that choice. I want you to come to Bangladesh and West Bengal and start a business that employs women. Women are an excellent investment. They take their earnings and support their families, educate their kids, and change their communities. When you invest in women and girls in vulnerable communities, I want you to come for the long-haul with the knowledge that it will take everything you have to make it work. I want to see a change in the market economy — an economy that does justly.
I wanted a business — not a nonprofit — in the beginning because I wanted and hoped to create an empowering opportunity that was sustainable. I didn’t want to raise money. I wanted to actively participate in creating freedom and adding value to a broken economic system that exploits rather than empowers. We did create a business, and it provides that opportunity for freedom to 110 plus women. And still to sustain it, to sustain them, we have to raise awareness. We have to raise money because it takes so much more than a job to make freedom a reality. We have to raise the consciousness so we can sustain freedom and offer it to more women.
Honestly, it’s exhausting to keep up. It is hard to woo still more people into awareness hoping they will care long enough to scroll down and actually read the post and maybe take action — a like or a comment. Do we take action beyond that? What action did you take to make a difference and why?
What action do I hope for? Well, I hope you do buy something from Sari Bari as the freedom of 110-plus women and their families depend on employment that results from your purchase. I hope you buy freedom products because they are beautiful and well-made and can stand up against many major brands in terms of quality. And, I hope you see the person who made your product as a person who made a choice for freedom; choosing a different job and still struggling every day to make it all work. I hope you donate to support programs which are actively engaged on the front lines in the fight against Human Trafficking, not the shiny, fancy ones, but the ones that quietly go about the work of changing the reality of one trafficking victim at a time. Ultimately, I hope you send us an email asking how you can work with us, or any other freedom business or justice-related org. I want to know how many people wore blue and if they felt a compulsion to do more. It’s a good first step, but I want to know what will be your next step will be? Because ultimately. what I want, more than for people to buy ethical and empowering stuff, is THE END OF EXPLOITATION. Period. Isn’t that what we all want? I want to see the end of new teenagers standing in the middle of the red light area in Kolkata every day. I want the end of human trafficking. I want the end of men, women, and children being exploited for labor and sex. I want the end of having to sell the consumer market on compassion, justice, and the worthiness of caring so we can change our consumer behavior for good. I dream for a day when my friends and sisters will no longer be fighting for their freedom. I dream for a day when those who are those still enslaved will no longer be waiting for a rescue that may never come. On that day, we can all be free. Until then, we are bound to those still enslaved, tied to their realities, their broken futures, and their unrealized dreams.
Human Trafficking Awareness Day has come and gone. I didn’t wear blue. I hope I am living a life says I am blue through and through. I am an advocate and grassroots practitioner committed to END IT. I am thankful that many more are aware today than they were last month. The questions remains “What is the result of this awareness?” What actions will we take in in 2019 that will ensure that we come one step closer to end of exploitation?
Sarah co-founded, Sari Bari Private Limited, a social business in 2006 in Kolkata, India to give freedom to women from the sex trade through alternative employment. Sari Bari Private Limited currently brings empowerment and freedom to over 110 women in two red light areas and one village trafficking source area.
Sarah is currently the Director of Brand and Strategy at Sari Bari. Her job is to offer love, creativity, vision and direction to the Sari Bari movement and community.
In 2016, Sarah was awarded the Opus Prize for Social Entrepreneurship. She continues to dream for things she may never see, avoiding 5 year plans in favor of a 50 year plan for long term economic empowerment and social change for women in India. She desire’s to be an advocate for HOPE for the women who continue in bondage in the red light areas