To mark International Women’s Day, Hope for Justice is exploring stories across our projects that reflect our chosen theme of Ownership. Part of our international anti-trafficking and modern slavery work involves working with “victims” to help them be able to think of themselves as “survivors”. This is linked to empowerment: survivors are people who deserve a chance to overcome this horrible episode in their lives and not be defined by this experience alone.
We see many survivors and people impacted by modern slavery and trafficking take ownership over their lives and situations in numerous and inspiring ways. Their stories should be told. The below story of ownership comes from one of our Ethiopia projects, concerning a self-help group of mothers with children previously lost to trafficking and enslavement. Here, they take ownership of their economic situation and raise awareness about trafficking risks to avoid children being exploited for forced labour.
Abeba: How economic empowerment is reducing the risk of human trafficking
Abeba (Amharic for ‘flower’) was founded in August 2021 in the Sodo Zureya Woreda village of Zala Shasha Kebele Four Gate. There are 20 women in the group, mothers of 35-55 years old, all with at least two children. A participant said of the group’s formation: “We learned about an organisation that assists economically disadvantaged women in becoming economically independent before the formation of our group. We later discovered that the organisation is Hope for Justice. We asked if we could be a part of the group and they assessed our individual capacity and interest with our inclusive participation. We later founded the group with Hope for Justice.”
Before forming the group, all members worked in petty trading: selling produce, including fruits and vegetables, on a small scale. The money they made was barely enough for one meal a day. Despite the fact that their husbands support them with living expenses, they were unable to provide for their children’s basic needs. It was a constant struggle for them to feed their kids. Five of the mothers in the group sent their older child to Addis Ababa in order to make money – a common response to economic hardship and one that routinely results in forced labour and child trafficking. Their children would send them their monthly income after working as domestic workers and day laborers. As regrettable as this was, the mothers say they were left with no choice.
Since forming, Abeba has provided training to its members on saving money, the risks of human trafficking and modern slavery, and growing a business. The lessons learned have allowed its members to take greater ownership of their economic situation, empowering them as people and as mothers. Hope for Justice have worked with the five mothers whose children were trafficked to Addis Ababa, who have now been returned to their families. The group has enabled these mothers to speak about their experiences with trafficking together, allowing them to take ownership of this disempowering situation through communication and expression. As part of the work of the group, the five mothers have recently invested in a cow calf to be able to sell dairy products. This has allowed them to increase their income and better cater for their children’s needs along with their husband’s income.
Hope for Justice Project Manager Selamu Yigezu said: “We advise women to protect their children from trafficking and exploitation and to join self-help groups. Doing so will help them gain more independence and ownership in the future. We encourage husbands to support their wives’ involvement in these community activities.”