Mercy Sisters Shares New Guide to Changing Perspectives on Human Trafficking

A painting on display at the July 25 launch of “Inherent Dignity: An Advocacy Guidebook,” commissioned for publication and created by Sr. Venus Marie Pegar, a sister of the Congregation of St. Francis Xavier and member of the United Women’s Artist Association of Philippines (photo GSR / Chris Herlinger)

New York, New York State – The persistent work of Catholic sisters against human trafficking continues as the world focuses today on efforts to end the exploitation of human beings for cheap sex and labor.

As part of the global celebrations of the United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which is held every July 30, a congregation recently released an advocacy guide focusing on a human rights-based approach to trafficking , centered on the need for governments to protect “the human rights of women and girls throughout their lives.

Mercy International Association’s new publication, “Inherent Dignity: An Advocacy Guidebook,” aims to help anti-trafficking advocates and those working at the grassroots with trafficked persons.

The United Nations International Labor Organization defines human trafficking as “a crime that exploits women, children and men for many purposes, including forced labor and sex”. The ILO estimates that “21 million people are victims of forced labor around the world”, including “victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor and sexual exploitation”.

The cornerstone of the new 94-page guide, launched on July 25, is to challenge what Sr. Angela Reed calls the “current discourse on human trafficking”, which often sees trafficking “as a single isolated event” .

In fact, she said, human rights violations “often occur before the experience of trafficking and make women and girls more vulnerable to exploitation.” As a result, said Reed, “it is imperative that states take responsibility for ensuring the realization of human rights throughout life.”

Reed, an Australian sister of Mercy, represents Mercy International Association / Mercy Global Action at the United Nations and is secondary author of the new guide. The lead author is Rose Bryant Smith, a short-term Mercy researcher at the United Nations.

As the Mercy International Association’s global action coordinator, Reed oversees her congregation’s advocacy work at the UN with a particular focus on trafficking in women and girls.

From left to right: Sr. Winifred Doherty, UN representative of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd; United Nations Under-Secretary-General Jane Connors; and Australian Mercy Sr. Angela Reed, who represents Mercy International Association / Mercy Global Action at the United Nations, at the July 25 launch of “Inherent Dignity: An Advocacy Guidebook” at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York. (GSR Photo / Chris Herlinger)

Reed’s advocacy and research in the Philippines has focused on what she calls optimal conditions of the life course. She argues that if conditions such as an adequate standard of living, quality education, safety and gender equality were a reality for young women and girls, their vulnerability to trafficking would decrease dramatically.

Research for the guide showed that “most survivors of human trafficking experience cumulative disadvantage and marginalization over their lifetimes due to multiple human rights violations,” Reed told GSR. And yet, she said, there are “many international human rights mechanisms available to address areas of vulnerability and assert rights.”

In her introduction to the publication, Anne T. Gallagher, president of the International Catholic Commission for Migration, said the new manual “is ultimately about prevention. is no longer possible. This goal is ambitious, but those we serve deserve nothing less. “

During the launch on July 25 at the Church Center for the United Nations, Reed noted that the testimonies of survivors of trafficking are an important part of any work on trafficking.

The experiences of a survivor, Cathy from Cebu, Philippines, anchor the new guide.

“There were times when I was trafficked and I just went with the flow, like I just accepted it,” Cathy told Reed. “But I still had hope and fought for my future. No one can treat me like a dog. I had a limit to what could be done.”

In light of such stories, “those of us who have this knowledge are compelled to respond,” said Reed, adding that upon meeting with survivors of trafficking in the Philippines, “I have found great resilience. and great hope “.

“’Inherent Dignity’ is a great title,” said Sr. Winifred Doherty, UN representative of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, at the launch event: it indicates the overall dynamic of the broader global dynamic. To place the profit on people.

“Inherent Dignity: An Advocacy Guidebook,” published by the Mercy International Association, aims to help anti-trafficking advocates and those working at the grassroots with trafficked persons. (GSR Photo / Chris Herlinger)

Calling human trafficking an “attack on the very idea of ​​human dignity,” UN Under-Secretary-General Jane Connors, the global body’s first victim rights advocate, said the The strength of the new guide is to “put human rights at the center” of the dialogue on human trafficking.

Advocacy work at the United Nations and elsewhere is only part of what the sisters are doing to stop human trafficking. The Talitha Kum international network, a collaboration of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General based in Rome, will mark 10 years of advocacy and grassroots work in 76 countries in 2019.

In a July 20 webinar that brought together UISG staff, sisters working on anti-trafficking efforts and journalists, Comboni missionary Sr. Gabriella Bottani, coordinator of Talitha Kum, said the The network’s work is expanding, and this is in part because more women are being trafficked due to deteriorating economic and social conditions in many parts of the world.

Bottani said Talitha Kum’s work will be one of the goals of the UISG plenary in May 2019 in Rome, adding that the assembly “will give us time to reflect and assess” Talitha Kum’s efforts. and what is also happening in the world in terms of trafficking.

[Chris Herlinger is GSR international correspondent. His email address is [email protected]]