The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a coalition of more than 80 non-governmental organizations from different parts of the world. Its international secretariat, which advocates on behalf of the alliance at regional and international levels, is based in Bangkok, from where its activities, including information collection and dissemination, are coordinated. GAATW is made up of 80 NGOs, including migrant rights and anti-trafficking organizations, self-organized groups of migrant workers, domestic workers, survivors of trafficking and sex workers, human rights and women’s rights organizations, and direct service providers such as care-workers.
IranWire interviewed Borislav Gerasimov, the Communications and Advocacy Coordinator of the GAATW, to find out more about the alliance, its accomplishments, and about the challenges the 21st century presents to groups combating trafficking, particularly the trafficking of women.
An Alliance formed by Women of the Global South
“The alliance was formed in 1994 and last year we celebrated our 25th anniversary,” Gerasimov told IranWire. “It was formed by several women who were activists in the field of violence against women in the eighties and nineties.”
At the time of the alliance’s establishment, human trafficking was a very opaque subject, and the alliance’s founders had a “desire to understand what constitutes the crime of human trafficking” as well as what the needs of the victims were, Gerasimov says. Enlightening states into attending to the needs of human trafficking victims was — and still is — indispensable. “At that time, in the eighties and early nineties, human trafficking was on the agenda of some, yes only some, Western governments,” says Gerasimov. As more women from Southeast Asia started working in the West, a greater awareness of the problem started to form.
At the time, discourse about the issue very different. Human trafficking was conceptualized by feminists and academics in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom as “intrinsically linked to prostitution, while women who were from Asia and Latin America were seen as helpless, powerless. Prostitution was identified as the core reason for trafficking,” Gerasimov says.
A new sort of awareness needed to be raised, one that did not cast women from the Global South as victims and only victims. So “the women who formed the GAATW were mostly from the Global South such as the Philippines, Colombia, India. They disagreed with this view of the ‘third-world woman’ as simply being a victim, but as having the right to migrate, including to work in the sex industry. So they wanted to counter this harmful discourse. This was their motivation for forming the GAATW”.
Moreover, as an alliance formed by women from the Global South, the GAATW also chose to be headquartered there. According to Gerasimov, “At the time of its foundation, there were discussions as to which country the GAATW should be based. They did not want to be based in the Global North. They wanted our alliance to be led from the Global South.”
How Do you Define Global Trafficking?
The definition of human trafficking varies from one organization to another. The GAATW has adopted an “internationally accepted definition in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (the Palermo Protocol), which involves the act of recruitment, transportation, harboring of a person through deception, coercion, abduction, abuse of people in situations of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation.”
While this UN protocol has highlighted various dimensions of human trafficking, Gerasimov points out that “most countries have adopted only partially this definition. In some countries, for example, India and Nepal and perhaps others, trafficking is being defined mainly and solely for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In some countries like Mexico, Bulgaria — and I’m sure there are others — concepts like deception and coercion are not an integral part of the definition of trafficking.”
Ever since its foundation, the GAATW has strived to make a concrete difference in the realm of human trafficking and the trafficking of women.“We were amongst the NGOs present during the negotiations of the Palermo Protocol,” Gerasimov says. “We lobbied for an expansive [definition of] trafficking [so that it covers] more than just prostitution. This is another thing that we see as a success. We have also always been supportive of the sex workers’ rights movement. We have always insisted that trafficking and prostitution are not the same thing and should be treated differently. This is something that distinguishes us from other anti-trafficking organizations.”
Education and putting forth recommendations to governments and political parties are an integral part of GAATW’s work, which the organization facilitates through regular research publications: “In 2007, we published a report called Collateral Damage, which investigated human rights violations that occurred in the name of preventing trafficking. One way of preventing human trafficking that states have favored is through the prevention of migration. Of course, migration is a human right; people have the right to move. But in the name of preventing human trafficking, some states have tried to prevent migration. For example, certain countries in Asia have introduced bans on women migrating for domestic work in the Middle East.”
He says the worldwide impact GAATW has had cannot be overlooked: “We contribute to the international processes that develop policies on migration and human trafficking — for example, the Global Compact for Migration, which was agreed upon a year ago. We engage with the UN Special Rapporteurs on migration, on trafficking, we present evidence at the human rights council.”
Challenges to the Prevention of Human Trafficking in the 21st century
Chief among the challenges the 21st century poses to the task of combating trafficking is “climate change and especially droughts, or flooding forcing people to migrate,” Gerasimov says.
Another challenge, he says, is neoliberalism, which is “affecting people’s livelihood opportunities, highlighting, in particular, the phenomena of privatization. “In different enterprises the private owner can lay off workers. Also, the austerity measures which have continued irreversibly over the past few decades. They have had an impact on employment, childcare. People, especially women, are affected.”
A direct corollary of neoliberalism, according to Gerasimov, is the “precarization of work,” an increasingly instability as more work is being “outsourced or done through zero-hour contracts or in the gig economy.” He added: “In many countries, not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries, we see a weakening of trade unions, labor rights. All of these create a situation where employers are able to abuse workers. This is the depressing global picture.”
Moreover, contrary to common misconceptions that trafficking in women is a Global South problem, Gerasimov points out that “it does indeed happen in the Global North.” But he is quick to note that, “at least from our perspective, most of the flow is from less developed countries to more developed countries, in the sense that people are looking for opportunities. But the problem in the Global North, as I mentioned, is neoliberalism, the weakening of the state and rights and protections. It’s happening there too.”