The Canadian Lorettos recently organised a seminar on human trafficking that attracted much interest from a wide range of people, including male and female high schools students. A federal MP, who has introduced a number of bills on the prosecution and sentencing of human traffickers, opened the proceedings. After a moving testimony by a trafficking survivor, three activists working at the national and international level took the floor: an ex-policeman, a First Nations woman and the Canadian director of International Justice Mission.
Evanne Hunter ibvm (Provincial Leader) set the scene for the day in the following manner.
How fitting it is that we should be here on this day, the 2nd United Nations “International Day for the Right to the Truth for Victims of Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims”. In proclaiming this new UN day last year, Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, also instituted “Romero Day” as he paid tribute to the Salvadoran Archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was shot dead at the altar during Mass at the behest of pro-government Armed Forces on March 24, 1980, an act clearly intended to silence an ardent opponent of repression.
Today’s conference is the fruit of a gathering of more than a hundred IBVMs and lay colleagues in mission in Toronto last May. One of the aims of that gathering was reflection on our experience in the light of the reality in which we live and work in more than 40 countries on all five continents. This reflection, in the true Ignatian tradition, resulted in discernment about how to be what God wants us to be and the world needs us to be, wherever we live and engage in ministry.
For our founder, Mary Ward, the empowerment of women through education was the particular emphasis of the ministry of the new religious congregation she founded in 1609. A gradual evolution from formal education meant that her followers engaged in “education in all its forms” as required by circumstances of time and place, though still aimed primarily at ensuring that “women in time to come [would] do much” to quote Mary Ward herself.
At last summer’s IBVM gathering, it became quickly evident that the forces conspiring against women in today’s world are appalling. In spite of a plethora of international instruments, including the UN Committee for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the creation of a new agency called UN WOMEN, annual Commissions on the Status of Women and the passing of gender equity legislation in many countries, implementation of these agreements remains weak.
As if this litany of human rights violations were not enough, we must add the horrendous modern form of slave trade: the trafficking of human persons for profit. Sadly this travesty is not solely the domain of powerful criminal organizations with international reach. It is also promoted by sports organizations, global companies and some government agencies that have no qualms about importing women to service males during gatherings such as the Olympics, the World Cup, political party conventions, R and R for military servicemen and even UN Peacekeepers and NGO respondents to international disasters. This is the dark side of globalization that treats persons as commodities.
The prevalence of gender based violence is vividly evident in the continuing reporting of such horrific practices as female genital mutilation, honour killing, dowry death, bride burning, child marriages, widow cleansing and acid burning to name just some. The feminization of poverty is well recognized. It is almost unthinkable that rape is seen as an effective weapon of war and that girls are prized as child soldiers. The painful experience of children bearing children has tragic consequences for both the short and long term, while the effect of gender-based violence is a significant factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Each Province Group at our gathering last May was asked to move beyond reflection to some action as a result of our being together. As Canadians we decided to organize a conference on human trafficking as our response. Maria Lanthier ibvm, Pat Grant ibvm and Anne Murray ibvm with Associate, Claudette Wingell, offered to take on the task.
So here we are, almost 200 strong, in the company of passionate experts whom we are counting on to advise us on how to do something to help eliminate the scourge of human trafficking. As IBVMs we want to do as Mary Ward did, to empower women in our day to raise themselves out of the poverty and oppression that makes them vulnerable to sexual violence with its damaging physical, psychological and generational consequences.
The IBVM is committed to the implementation of the UN Millennium Declaration which tells us that there will be no peace without security, no security without development and no development without respect for human life. We know that no strategy is more effective for development than the empowerment of women. We believe that each child who is born is precious and that a phrase I read recently in the newspaper is true: “There is a little girl out there who will suffer if we do not do something”.
We are aware of the gravity of the problem; we know that it is real, even in our own backyard; we hope today to find out what we can do to help remove this blight on our society and break the chains of bondage for vulnerable women and children.
Imelda Poole IBVM is a member of the English Province; her ministry in Albania includes the world-wide issue of trafficking of human persons. Imelda is a core member of RENATE (Religious in Europe Networking against Trafficking and Exploitation) and was in Brussels last week for 5 days of meetings including the AGM of COATNET (Christian Organisations against Trafficking in Human Beings) and the 3rd commission of the EU (European Union) on Anti Trafficking.
Some of the issues addressed were:
Ø the link between trafficking and domestic labour (e.g. nannies, carers,
o issues include human rights, gender equality and migrant workers.
o What are the work conditions and rights afforded to domestic workers where you live? Perhaps these workers are taking care of a family member or friend known to you? Or are they caring for a community member?
o In chat rooms, profiles of vulnerable children and teens can be found and exploited through cyber grooming, sexting, cyber bullying and happy slapping. While difficult to pursue these activities can be subject to criminal prosecution.
“It is believed that up to 20% of children in Europe have already received electronic messages that fall within the category of cybergrooming, sexting or cyberbullying. A plea to help children and their parents to fight this crime was made to 75 nuns from 17 countries of Europe gathered for a Conference on Human Trafficking at Trzebinia, Poland on Tuesday.” (from a press release Sept. 7)
A very informative report and tool kit called ‘Lost in Cyber World’, was presented by an EU coalition working group led by ‘In Via Berlin’. (www.lostincyberworld.eu). This was the culmination of a Research Project funded by the EU. While this group works in the European context, the same activities exist in every country where we are.
One statement that occurs early in the report says: A child left free on Facebook is equal to a child left free on a motorway. We would not leave children free to play on a motorway.
What is happening in your neighbourhood? How aware is your family ... or the families you know to this kind of behaviour? What about schools, parishes, youth centres?
o “Cyber grooming ... when the perpetrator takes advantage of the trust developed to convince the child or adolescent to watch sexual acts performed by the perpetrator in front of the camera or to convince the child or adolescent to engage in sexual conduct in front of the camera or to agree to meet in real life where sexual abuse can be the result.
Sexting refers to the phenomenon of taking nude photos of oneself and sharing them via Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS). The word represents a combination of Sex and Texting. Sexting is involved when adolescents send sexually uninhibited photos of themselves as attachments to usually erotic text messages.”
o Cyber Bullying: This is a form of mobbing on the Internet and is particularly prevalent in social networks. Victims receive insulting and hurtful messages; taunting articles are posted on the chat pinboard and/or hate groups are formed directed towards a target person which can then be joined by many other users. A variant of cyber bullying similar to happy slapping involves filming the victim in an unpleasant and compromising situation. The ensuing extremely swift distribution of this video on the Internet or by mobile phone means additional grief for the victim. The social and psychological consequences can be dramatic. After all, victims have practically no possibility to defend themselves in such situations.
o Happy Slapping: This describes an intentional act of violence filmed and shared by the perpetrators. The victim is usually both physically and psychologically inferior. Violent situations are instigated and recorded on mobile phones. Recordings are shared among mobiles or through the Internet, published on student homepages or simply printed and passed from one person to another. Happy slapping often takes place in close social environments such as school. It usually involves adolescents aged 14 to 17. The number of adolescents who have been victims of happy slapping has not been statistically recorded and is practically impossible to calculate. After all, victims fail to report perpetrators out of shame and/or fear of reprisal.
The Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC ) Committee is the tool through which the Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary focus and coordinate their work for justice.
IBVM members, associates and collaborators within the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary worldwide have already clearly expressed a commitment to promote Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) on several occasions.
The General Congregation in Lima, Peru in September 2006 has as one of its calls: 'Our Institute is called to sharpen its engagement with the Church and world.'
Challenged by this call and imbued with the spirit of our foundress, Mary Ward, the Committee's goal is to facilitate the embodiment the IBVM charism of Integrity, Justice and Freedom.
Some actions flowing from this are:
- Share the Ignatian Mary Ward spirituality entrusted to us with those with whom we live and work.
- Take a credible and insistent stand for justice, peace, reconciliation and inter-faith dialogue.
- Challenge the misuse of power, especially as it affects women in the Church and world.
- Commit to building right relationships with people and the planet.
- Endorse the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the Earth Charter.
- Allow ourselves and our ministries to be transformed by what they require.
- Educate ourselves about global urgencies.