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#IWD2024: 'Women are perceived as commodities to be sold...'

Arise women, including Nigeria Coordinator Chinomso Osuji, met with the HSBC women's group this week, discussing the gendered nature of human trafficking, and the women on the frontline working to prevent it. Chinomso's remarks are below:

'There are lots of high-achieving Nigerian women, record-breakers and empowered leaders, who would make exciting subjects. But I will not be speaking about them today. Instead, I think it would be more important to discuss the women and girls in the communities we serve alongside our partners in Nigeria. 

For context, Nigeria is a country in West Africa, with a population of about 229 million people. 63% of these people are multidimensionally poor.

The women in these communities are strong and very resilient, but from a young age, most have little or no access to; education, clean water and sanitation, and the opportunities and skills they need to unleash their full potential, create their own wealth, and control their choices.

Some of the girls go to school and some don’t, but they all have one thing in common - they are not sure where their meals for the day will come from. These girls, and their sisters and mothers, live their daily lives in survival mode. 

In some parts of the country, child marriages still occur. Elsewhere, women are perceived as commodities to be sold, or married off to alleviate family financial needs, rather than human beings with potential, aspirations and dreams.

These patterns, rooted in poverty and deprivation, have made many girls in the rural communities we serve blind to their potential, and their rights as women - deserving to live a life of fulfilment. The mindset heightens their vulnerability and susceptibility to all forms of exploitation.

Riding on the back of this belief and poverty, recruitment agents and traffickers go to rural areas with promises of high-paying job opportunities in the city or abroad that will help them provide better life for themselves and their children and wider families. At one time, it was reported that the majority of women and girls in Italian brothels were from Edo – a single state in Nigeria. Nowadays, however, cases of domestic servitude, forced labour and sexual exploitation in the Middle East are more frequent.

In most cases, traffickers go through family members - uncles, fathers, neighbours - to recruit women and girls for all forms of exploitation. In some cases, these relatives are genuinely unaware of the schemes of traffickers, while in some cases they are complicit and benefiting financially.

What does a young woman do when presented with this job offer , perhaps in Lagos or Dubai? She may have her suspicions – it seems too good to be true. But with little education and few prospects at home, she can’t afford not to hope. This may be her lucky ticket out of poverty, to build a career and care for her family. 

Her next move depends on the kind of information available to her -  her level of awareness about human trafficking and who she can turn to.

In most situations, these women have little or no awareness of human trafficking, and they have learnt not to trust government authorities for protection. As a result, they yield to the convincing words of the trafficker and over time, become enslaved.

We are working, with our partners, across vulnerable communities to increase awareness and bring such cases to their attention. When possible, they intervene, and prevent tragedy.

However, awareness is only the first step of human trafficking prevention. What is needed is access to viable alternatives. Opportunity is the antidote to human trafficking. And opportunity comes through education, skills development and employment opportunities, as well as community mobilisation, rights empowerment and access to government support.

This is where the anti-trafficking frontline comes in. Our Nigerian partners (all of which are women-led) live in these communities, and are locally trusted. They understand the root causes of these challenges and what needs to be done to bring about desired change. Communities readily buy-in to their interventions around sensitive issues, such as the need to invest in skills training of women and girls, rather than marrying them off at very young age or encouraging them to embark on unsafe migration.

Arise established in Nigeria 3 years ago, but we have already built up a network of 40 frontline groups in 6 different regions, supporting a multitude of local projects with different approaches but with one shared goal.

We support this network not only through funding their anti-trafficking projects, but by providing capacity building support in the form of training, mentorship, research, amplification and network development. 

Francisca’s story

Francisca* was a medical student, trafficked from Lagos to Dubai and forced to administer drugs to other enslaved women, to prevent them from escaping their traffickers. Last year, Francisca graduated from the Wavecrest College of Hospitality in a cohort of 15 women – all survivors of trafficking, striving for a new level of freedom through local NGO Women’s Board and the support of Arise and others.

Since then, Francisca has established and registered her own food vending business, preparing meals and delivering them to homes and offices. As of February 2023, she has 4 employees – all young women from the community.

Francisca’s story is just one of tens of thousands in Nigeria. These women have incredible potential, but have never been given anything. The interventions we deliver with our partners are often the difference between a lifetime of deprivation and exploitation, or a better path for them and their children. 

Many people and organisations feel the problems in Nigeria are too great to consider, let alone tackle. But it is for this very reason that Arise will not look the other way. We hope you will join us and become a “woman who champions women”, as every woman and girl across the world is equally deserving of life and dignity. 

Thank you.' 

Arise thanks HSBC for their support. You can support this crucial anti-slavery frontline here.

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