Helping Rural Girls and Women Protect Themselves from Traffickers
December 13, 2005
– Alexandra Pratt of Creative Times and Miranda Fishka, director of the Institute of Gender Applied Policies in Tirana, Albania.
Nearly 300 Albanian girls and women fell victim to illegal trafficking for the purpose of enforced prostitution in 2005. Of these, an overwhelming number were from rural areas and one third were younger than 18.
To empower other girls and women to protect themselves from becoming victims, one nongovernmental organization is waging a prevention campaign in rural areas of Albania. A small Albanian NGO, the Institute of Gender Applied Policies (IGAP) is conducting house to house information campaigns, sponsoring awareness raising school-based meetings and building the capacity of authorities to prevent, protect and assist victims.
IGAP’s awareness raising project is funded by a grant from the The Albanian Initiative: Coordinated Action Against Human Trafficking, (CAAHT), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Creative Associates International, Inc.
CAAHT is one of the largest programs in USAID’s response to its mandate handed down by Congress to combat trafficking in persons, to ensure the just and effective punishment of traffickers and to protect victims. It provides grants to Albanian and international NGOs whose focus is to prevent trafficking as well as assist and reintegrate women and girls into their communities. Albania is a focus of anti-trafficking programs because political turbulence and a rough transition to a market economy have made it a country of origin as well as transit for trafficking in persons.
“IGAP has acquainted us with lots of new knowledge. It taught us to care for our lives and not trust people who promise big things. Above all they helped me find a job, and it is the first time somebody takes care of me, apart from my mother,” said 18-year old Alma, an IGAP beneficiary.
The ways in which girls and women fall prey to trafficking varies. Some are kidnapped, some are sold and others are made vulnerable to trafficking by false promises – of employment, marriage, education or other opportunities. Girls in rural areas are particularly vulnerable to these tactics because they are more often not educated, isolated and have little access to mass media to learn how to avoid these traps. Complicating matters further is the prevailing mentality in rural communities, which denies that trafficking occurs at all because most trafficked girls and women are taken to Italy and Greece, and to a lesser extent, Belgium and the Netherlands, where they lose contact with their friends and families.
Marjana, a 17-year-old IGAP beneficiary, said she knows someone from her village who was trafficked. The victim came from a poor family whose father was unemployed. “She was the eldest daughter and one day we heard that she left for Italy with a local guy. After some months the guy came back alone, helped the family and took away her two sisters. For some time, the family’s finances were arranged as they had only a son to care for. But, after some months, the eldest daughter was brought back dead. We heard that [the father] left for Italy to search for his other two daughters. So far, we have heard nothing about them,” said Marjana.
IGAP’s campaign to diminish rural girls’ vulnerabilities to being trafficked, utilizes local coordinators who identify girls at risk. Rural girls often drop out of school after the first year of secondary school for economic and cultural reasons. Families sometimes keep girls at home to help with housework and because they fear their honor will be compromised. Through meetings at community centers and churches and by visiting individual homes, local coordinators earn the trust of girls to teach them about the dangers of trafficking.
“At first contact, they [young girls] seem to be uncertain because they consider trafficking to be a social phenomena that is still too taboo to talk about. That is why our approach is very delicate and tactful, so that the girls can feel confident to talk with us. I can say that in general, after the first contact, they [the girls] participate with pleasure in the project activities and are open to talking with us,” Edmira Muco, local coordinator for the Lushnje district.
IGAP’s awareness raising efforts have struck a cord with rural girls such as Marjana. “I did not feel that I was at risk before because I was thinking that these girls [trafficking victims] were leaving Albania for pleasure and by their own will and they were getting lots of money. Now I know what a trafficking victim is and I am told that we should be very careful and responsible when taking a step in life,” Marjana said.
IGAP is only one of 23 grantees the CAAHT program is supporting through it’s $2.1 million grant fund. In the past year alone, CAAHT grants have reached more than 9,000 people through prevention programs throughout Albania. More than 1,500 women and girls received assistance from a variety of anti-trafficking stakeholders. Another 95 women and girls were provided with protection and reintegration assistance.