Almost three weeks ago, I arrived in Mumbai, ready to begin my work as a Gateway House summer associate, focusing on women and foreign policy. I have traveled briefly in the past within India, but this is my first time living and working as a scholar in the country. As a place to study issues concerning women and gender, India was my first choice, as there is both advocacy as well as work to be done at all levels of society. I hope to learn from the many accomplished women in my workplace, as well as those working and living at the grassroots level, all within the same city. Eager to learn what the women’s rights movement is doing in Mumbai, I decided to dive right into the activist community and attend a conference on trafficking, hosted by the newly formed Indian chapter of Stop the Traffik (STT) this past Wednesday. STT is a global campaign to raise awareness surrounding trafficking and develop coalitions between organizations working to combat this insidious crime against humanity. Attending were more than 10 organizations, both international and Indian based, devoted almost solely to fighting trafficking from different angles.
Being the only representative from an organization not devoted to advocacy or programming on trafficking, I was a bit tentative at first when speaking with the many participants. I wanted to represent myself and Gateway House as dedicated to being a part of this campaign, but did not know how they would react to someone working so far from the ground. I was pleasantly surprised by the welcome responses and clear interest most people had in our foreign policy perspective. Many participants immediately directed me to other attendees working specifically on cross border issues such as repatriation, or gave me their information and asked me to contact them to further discuss this perspective. I was even able to offer resources I had found on the more technical and international policy driven side, such as UN agreements and specific SAARC treaties that had been drawn up and signed by all parties. I was also happily able to provide examples of international organizations’ methodologies that had been developed to sensitize police forces and judiciaries on the existence of laws pertaining to trafficking victims and treatment of women and girls in general that I have learned throughout my studies and work in international women’s rights. Next week I will be meeting with several participants interested in developing a relationship with Gateway House and offering their insight on how we can apply our mission to this worthy cause.
I feel part of this positive reception was due to the fact that much of the current local resources devoted to combating trafficking, both human and monetary, are spent rescuing and rehabilitating trafficking victims, as well as lobbying for better laws. Very few have the time to step outside direct services and attempt to work at the foreign policy level. Unfortunately, this has not even dented the admittedly advanced trafficking system, which is seemingly indomitable when addressed in the disjointed and individual manner necessitated by the lack of resources and political will. Of course, networks within the anti-trafficking community already exist. Organizations work together all the time. However, like many efforts that work to address different types of violence against women and children, there is so much need on the ground that organizations necessarily focus on helping the victims, and have little left over to encourage the vast systematic and cultural changes necessary to truly combat trafficking. It is not just about corruption in the government, or lack of awareness among the general population, or even a lack of understanding among users of sex-workers, who may not believe or want to believe that they are indeed a part of the trafficking network. It’s not about the predatory exploitation of poor populations and families by traffickers looking to make fast money, or families that sell their children to do the same. Nor is it just about the low status and image of women, particularly the girl child, which is the norm in so many cultures. It is not even just about the need for better foreign policies, government collaborations, devoted resources, and smoother repatriation and bureaucratic processes. It is also not just about the lack of police enforcement, proper training of police and judiciary in the national and international laws and protocols surrounding victims of trafficking, both domestic and international, and government corruption. It’s about all of these things, working together, at once, to form a well-oiled machine of apathy, tolerance, efficiency, and profit. And it needs to be addressed in the same manner. Namely as an organic system with many working parts at all levels of society.
One of the guest speakers, brought in from Boston University, highlighted this “systems approach” in her interactive activity that visualized the many different aspects of a thriving trafficking system. It was through this exercise that I was able to see where we at Gateway House can be a part of this developing anti-trafficking system. With Gateway House’s focus on foreign policy, our research will be able to contribute to a piece of the puzzle that is often unable to be tackled by local Indian organizations due to overwhelming needs for direct services. By keeping in line with the mission of Gateway House, we will raise awareness among a new population of people about this issue and bring it into the conversation on India’s Foreign Policy as well as India’s growing influence globally. India’s rise on the global stage should not be without attention to its place within international crime systems. In fact, the two are potentially related, for as India grows, both economically and politically, its demand for the less legal things in life also increases. India’s demand for trafficking victims directly influences its relations with neighboring countries, and increasingly with countries further away that are now beginning to see a growing population of trafficked women and children within the Mumbai scene. Instead of using this growing influence to better its society, India’s society, as well as its increasingly influential and important visitors, has begun to desire more exotic, more costly, illicit goods, including human beings.
Gateway House’s Women and Foreign Policy Program will focus on several areas of research and scholarship, one of which will be looking at these foreign policies and international relationships that exploit India’s poorest neighbors, its own women and children, as well as invite an even greater variety of victims into the country. We aim to provide research on international collaborations, agreements and treaties and offer recommendations, both to organizations, regional coalitions and the governments themselves, on how this aspect of combating trafficking can be improved.
This however, is only part of the Women and Foreign Policy Studies Program currently being developed at Gateway House. Several other focuses are being identified and will become the core of this new initiative at this crucial moment in India’s economic and political development. At this moment in time, when India is gaining influence, stature, and respect on the global stage, it is crucial that its policies and strategies incorporate an awareness and intentionality of their impact on the women of both India and the world.
Zara Rapaport is a summer assosiate at Gateway House.
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