Survivors of Trafficking Fight Back

Joanna Psaros

6 April 2021

Nepalese women are disproportionately affected by modern slavery- but they aren’t afraid to fight back.

Slavery is a practice we usually consider a horrendous relic of the past. Images of African slaves being forced onto ships bound for US plantations cause us to shudder, while feeling relief that the world has moved on. Less commonly understood is the prevalence of modern slavery- a term that describes a range of forced labour including unpaid work and sexual exploitation. An estimated 71% of victims are women and girls. 

One organisation fighting back is Shakti Samuha, whose headquarters operate in Nepal’s chaotic capital, Kathmandu. Shakti Samuha has the distinction of being the world’s first ever organisation to be established and run by survivors of human trafficking. 

The group describes its goal as organising, empowering and providing awareness to survivors and people at risk of trafficking and “establish[ing] a progressive society, devoid of trafficking and other kinds of violence against women;”  a crucial role given the devastating frequency with which human trafficking takes place in Nepal (an estimated 35,000 people were victims of human trafficking in 2018, and Nepal is ranked number 5 in the world for incidences of this crime).  

As explained by the operators and founders of the program, it is this personal experience and ownership which has given the organisation its power to disrupt the horrors of human trafficking and sexual slavery and restore hope, pride and a control of their own futures for survivors. Clearly, the grassroots ownership and control of the organisation is key to its success and identity. 

Town square at Bhaktapur, a short distance from Kathmandu.

But this does not mean that international donors, both individually and collectively, have no place in directly supporting the work of Shakti Samuha and engaging with the organisation. In fact, the socio-economic factors that contribute the problem of trafficking suggest donors are crucial in supporting the aims of Shakti Samuha while respecting and upholding the group’s independence. 

Shakti Samuha occupies a valuable space in providing education, intervention and rehabilitation to Nepali women and children directly at risk or affected by human trafficking. However due to the organisation’s relatively small scale and local reach, Shakti Samuha lacks the ability to comprehensively address the social, economic and political conditions which have allowed human trafficking to flourish in the region. Donors of any scale are therefore desperately needed so that this crucial work can continue, and Nepalese women can feel safe. 

Find out more, or donate to Shakti Samuha here.  

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