Friday, December 5, 2014

What is DRESSember?



Welcome (a bit late) to the month of December, or as people from IJM and fashionistas against human trafficking across the globe may call it, DRESSember! What is DRESSember exactly? This is the exact question I asked myself when I happened upon it just a few weeks ago on Instagram(oh that place).

"Dressember is a collaborative movement leveraging fashion and creativity to restore dignity to all women. Dressember uses fashion to advocate for women who've been exploited for their femininity. As women take on the creative challenge of wearing a dress for the 31 days of December, they are advocating for the inherent dignity of all women. 

Dressember exists to inspire and empower a global community of like-minded women who are locking arms to face one of the greatest injustices of our time. The heart of Dressember is freedom-- that every woman has the right to live a vibrant and autonomous life." -- Dressember Foundation 



It began back in 2009 by Blythe Hill, a graduate student who was bored with her academic routine and decided to start a style challenge which ended up turning into a national campaign! Last year this campiagn raised over $150,000 for the human trafficking rescue/raise awareness/recovery organization International Justice Mission. You can check out an interview discussing last year's campaign on  according to an Ember Arts


The Rules: 
  1. Commit to wearing a dress every day for the entire month of December
  2. Create your own campaign page (or a team page!) under the Dressember campaign (opens in October) 
  3. Tell your friends what you're doing and why, and invite them to sponsor you

Helpful Loopholes:

  1. You can repeat dresses (get creative!)
  2. You can wear pants when you're working out, cleaning, sleeping, or if you have a job that requires you to wear pants
  3. You can wear skirts, but only over dresses
  4. You can wear pants, but only under dresses


Wearing a dress is not a big deal. The involuntary servitude and slavery of millions of men, women, and children worldwide is! So, what are we waiting for? Let's join in!  Leave us a comment below or tweet us at @ourBASI and tag #DRESSember to join us! Also, on Monday, there will be a group of fashion bloggers who are going to do a collaboration link up post for DRESSember. More details here.

Learn more about DRESSember and raising awareness and funds HERE.

What is DRESSember
#DRESSember Fashion blogger Jo from Cut and Chic

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Social Issues Fueling Fashion Social Enterprises: An Interview with Fatima Mahmood of Ala Mairi

This is your co-editor Christine with another segment on ethical fashion! The past few months I have been working with fashion social enterprises. This has sparked my interest in learning about their origins. Questions about their financial and workplace sustainability, niche markets, and the presence of a socially conscious consumer brought me to ask questions. And so, today I introduce to you a fairly new social enterprise which works with women in rural areas of Pakistan to empower women, and bring Pakistani inspired ethical luxury fashion to the American market. I hope this interview with Fatima of Ala Mairi helps you understand the growing fashion social enterprise sector a bit better!


Fatima Ala Mairi BASI Pakistan Fashion
Founder, Fatima Mahmood, at the Ala Mairi launch

Hello there, please introduce yourself!
My name is Fatima Mahmood and I am the founder of ethical luxury fashion brand and social enterprise, AlaMairi.

What brought you to begin Ala Mairi? What social issues attracted your to beginning this brand in the area you did?
After travelling to Pakistan in 2010 and 2011 I witnessed, first-hand, the social injustices that inspired me to create Ala Mairi. I saw the struggle that many of the women in the rural area of Rawalpindi face each day, to keep themselves and their families who rely on them afloat. These women are often isolated in their homes yet carry the burden of being the sole providers for themselves and their family.

Sadly, and all to regularly, these women are the victims of unhappy circumstances that have come about through no fault of their own.
                                                                                        
Take the case of Zahida, her husband abandoned her and their 3 daughters and married another woman. He ceased to provide for her and their children. The shame this situation caused for her family meant they disowned her, leaving her to fend for herself.

In the rural areas, Zahida’s situation is not unusual. But, it is worsened by the fact that due to the prevailing culture and society, women in these areas are predominantly financially dependent on their father or husband. The lucky ones will have a husband who is loving and caring. But as Zahida’s situation shows, this is not always the case.

In the rural areas of Pakistan, culturally, men are the providers and women are not allowed to earn a place in society through employment. There even exist some communities that are very aggressive in this attitude and demand their daughters and wives remain in the home. The situation is amplified by the older generations who were not able to tap into education. Their mindset means that education is not enforced onto women as it would be for men. For these women, their poor social position within their community, their lack of education and their gender inequality, amongst other reasons, cause these conditions to perpetuate. Resultantly they have a lack of confidence and absence of self-worth, which makes them unable to pull themselves up and out of this rut.

Hillary Clinton women's empowerment wcw Ala mairi

In the more affluent cities, it’s a different story for women. There, Pakistani women are well educated and have access to, and work in, many respectable sectors. But there exists a divide between the rich and the poor. The rich are often established businessmen or people who earn a good living and can easily send their children to private schools, colleges and universities. The poor cannot afford these things, of course, and so the rich become richer and the poor stay poor and the chasm between the two becomes ever wider.

In the poorer, rural communities, things are – slowly - starting to change. Recently organisations and action programmes have been set up by the government and by the private sector that focus on providing education for the poor.

Talk to me about the importance of a sustainable income in the area Ala Mairi works in.
It is my belief that we have to teach skills, educate communities and focus on the outcome of the training. In this way, a sustainable income can be generated out of these skills, so that through themselves, people can earn their own livelihood, and in doing so, create a sense of achievement and self-respect.


Ala Mairi Pakistan ethical luxury fashion

How does Ala Mairi make an impact on the community without just being a foreign give-back handout or short-term project? Tell me about the women Ala Mairi works with.
Ala Mairi fills the gap in these communities and aims to make a difference in these women’s lives. We work with welfare centres that provide a safe, ‘women only’ environment where women can come to learn, develop and master their skills of quality craftsmanship. We have women who enjoy their work so much the take it home with them and continue with it there too. As we involve more women in our project, we always ensure that we continue to maintain the livelihood for the women that we started the journey with.

And our ladies work hard. They do so because they enjoy learning and the feeling of self-worth they gain from doing so. One woman, a single mother from Rawalpindi, made 200 bags for Ala Mairi. We are proud to say that through her talents, she was able to buy her son books for the whole school year. But not only can they use their skills to support their families, these are skills that they can teach their daughters – and so their talents will be propagated for many generations to come.

I believe in charity, but only for those whom have special needs in some way and not able to carry out any productive or creative work. I disagree in just giving handouts to a mind and body that is capable of doing and of learning. This doesn’t catalyse long-term, positive change.



Visit their website and follow Ala Mairi on social media to learn more about their story:

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So awesome! As you can see from this story, Ala Mairi began with a journey, inspiration, and a yearning to contribute and make a difference. It is so great to see organizations that are doing more than just giving handouts. Economic empowerment is a powerful tool that can be utilized far beyond the timespan of a handout. As we both learned from this story, work done by brands such as this brand not only provide economic empowerment, but also uplift people and give them strength. How do you feel about social good fashion? Where did you first learn about it?

Thank you Fatima for allowing us to interview you and for the work that you are doing! :)


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Upcoming Casino Night in Southern Florida to Benefit the Slavery and Exploitation Abolition Movement

Linda Ponder - October 8, 2014 - The Early Development of Global Education (EDGE) Charitable Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, invites the South Florida community to their second annual Casino Night. The Hispanic Police Officers Association of Miami-Dade (HPOA) is the presenting sponsor of “A Night in Casablanca.” The themed event will be held on Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 7:00 p.m., at The Fairways on the Key – Crandon Park Golf Course (located at 6700 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, FL. 33149).
As of today, The EDGE Charitable Foundation has helped more than 20,000 children in the United States, Haiti, Jamaica, Kenya, Guatemala, India, Madagascar, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. The organization raises funds to benefit children who are homeless, unaccompanied, and victims of human trafficking, domestic violence or victimized in any other way. Last year’s event raised money to fund various projects locally and globally. Ninety percent of funds raised impacted children on a local level.
“The EDGE set a goal during last year’s Casino Night to double the number of children to be impacted by the 2013 Casino Night event, and they not only achieved their aggressive goal, they surpassed it,” said Mercy Hernandez, founder and president of the EDGE Charitable Foundation.
EDGE Flyer
The Casino Night’s lounge-style setting promises to become the EDGE Charitable Foundation’s humanitarian event of the year. CBS4 Miami reporter, MaryAnn Martinez, will be the Master of Ceremonies for this year’s gala which attracts a vibrant group of local business executives, community leaders and local celebrities. The evening will also feature two special celebrity guest hosts, Marysol Patton, President of The Patton Group Public Relations and star of Bravo Network’s hit reality show “Real Housewives of Miami,” and Alexia Echevarria, Executive Editor of Venue Magazine and television personality on Bravo Networks’s “Real Housewives of Miami.” During the evening, guests will enjoy classic cars, gaming tables, a VIP champagne bar, a Funclick photo booth, food provided by Sal’s Italian Restaurant, a dessert station courtesy of Azucar Ice Cream and Bindi Italian Desserts, a coffee station courtesy of Starbucks, cigars and cocktails. Attire for the event will be black and white chic.
If purchased in advance, tickets for the second annual Casino Night start at $75 per person and include an open bar, food, cocktails and $30 in chips. Tickets will cost $100 at the door and are limited to the first 500 players (must be 21 years of age). Winnings have no actual cash value but guests will receive prizes and raffle items. To purchase tickets for the event online, visit www.EventBrite.com and search “The EDGE Casino Night.” For more information on the EDGE Charitable Foundation, visit www.TheEdgeEducation.com. For sponsorship opportunities, email Mercy Hernandez at mercy@theedgeeducation.com or call 305-298-1763.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Crowdfunding Site, ENDcrowd.com, Launches to Combat Human Trafficking Atrocities




Platform Fights Mounting Humanitarian Crisis Nationwide and Globally


RALEIGH, North Carolina – Sept. 23, 2014
– It's now tied for the world's second largest criminal enterprise and its product is human beings. Currently, an estimated 29.8 million people are the victims of human trafficking, including 300,000 children at risk of trafficking in the United States alone. Now joining the crusade for what our president has called "one of the greatest human rights causes of our time" is the newly launched crowdfunding website, ENDcrowd.com.

Putting the power to fight this problem in the hands of people everywhere, ENDcrowd.com is a voice for this issue that has gone underserved for far too long. Few realize there are more people enslaved today than any time in history.

“Human trafficking is now estimated to be a $150 billion a year industry; in stark contrast, approximately 1 percent of that budget is available for the groups struggling to fight against it," said ENDcrowd founder, Joe Schmidt. "ENDcrowd is focusing on the heart of the problem, driving both funding to stop this injustice and awareness of how prominent and close to home it actually is. We believe that, together, we can be the crowd that ends human trafficking forever.”

Differing from the conventional philanthropic practice in which people donate money to an overarching cause or organization, ENDcrowd employs targeted giving campaigns for specific projects that will allow audiences to become modern day abolitionists and engage with organizations fighting slavery at its source. For example, people can currently support ENDcrowd campaigns that will fund:
·         A van to transport students to and from school in a Cambodian town, thus preventing the risk of being trafficked.
·         Supplies enabling women rescued from human trafficking in India to make and sell jewelry in order to earn livable wages and emerge from poverty.
·         A motorcycle for transportation and training for staff and other leaders of community watch groups in areas of Sierra Leone.
·         Development of an electronic toolkit to educate students across the United States on key safety measures that can prevent trafficking.

The ENDcrowd campaigns are each partnered with and support an established nonprofit working to help survivors or prevent further trafficking, domestically and internationally. Through the crowdfunding platform, similar in format to Kickstarter, visitors can learn more about these programs and select to support ones they feel passionately about, making donations in any dollar amount. Donors will receive updates on projects they support, and even get pictures of the final results, such as the purchased van actually taking children to and from school.

ENDcrowd's founder, motivated by his faith and a desire to make a difference in the world, created the website to give people a clear, tangible path to participate in the fight against human trafficking, and to also ensure people understand the problem is real, rampant and happening in their own backyard.
"Beyond the sheer size of the problem, what many people don't realize is that human trafficking is an equal opportunity atrocity. It can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time. It happens in all 50 states – right here in America," said Schmidt. "And it's right here in America that I hope we can ignite a global movement empowering those who are free to forever change lives around the world with just a click of a button and a generous heart."

Fifteen campaigns are currently active to support some of the world’s top freedom fighters and a number of corporations have already stepped up to match donations on many of the projects. To learn more and become part of the ENDcrowd helping end human trafficking, visit www.ENDcrowd.com and get in on the conversation at @theendcrowd and facebook.com/endcrowd.

About ENDcrowd
Endeavoring to put an end to human trafficking, both nationally and internationally, ENDcrowd is a nonprofit crowdfunding platform aiming to raise money and awareness for this hugely underserved cause. It partners with established charities around the world to host their specific targeted giving campaigns that will truly make a tangible and immediate impact in the fight against modern-day slavery. ENDcrowd's parent organization, Audacity Factory, is a think-tank incubator based in Raleigh, North Carolina, that develops and drives initiatives to bring attention to underpublicized, underfunded – yet critical – domestic and global matters. Its mission is to positively impact the lives of 10 million people over the next 10 years. For more information, please visit www.ENDcrowd.com and www.audacityfactory.com

Media Contact:
Jo-Anne Chase
+1 (919) 881-7922

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

child marriage in the middle east: why it happens



Hej (that's hello in Swedish) to readers out there. Its Serene here writing from (too) sunny Singapore. I originally published this post in my own blog: Infamous Lipstick (www.infamouslipstick.wordpress.com)  and Christine had invited me to post it on the BASI blog as well. And so here I am sharing this post about the issue of child marriage in the Middle East & offer some reasons as to why it exists.

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pink

I'm glad that I live in an age and society where people marry each other out of love, and not because of fear of being raped and to repay a debt.

Child marriage is a sad reality in the Middle East and is an issue that still hasn't gotten the justice it deserves. When we read about children being sold as child brides to older men, we often wonder how  a parent give his or her own child to a complete stranger. Unfortunately, it is true that some parents have become corrupted by greed and use their young daughters as a form of payment to settle money disputes. In some other cases, daughters are married to wealthier families to establish ties with them for economic security. In such cases, it is not about having a blissful marriage; this becomes is a business transaction, plain and simple. In conservative patriarchal Middle Eastern societies where women have little to no say in domestic affairs and where their lives are controlled by the men ruling the family, girls have no choice but to marry the men their parents seek out for them. 

Child Marriage: To Protect Girls

JORDAN-SYRIA-CONFLICT-REFUGEES

However, in many other cases, as hard as it is to process and understand, child marriage is seen as an act of parental love and a form of protection from sexual violence.

Youth, beauty and virginity in a woman are a prized combination in the Middle East, and parents constantly fear that young girls blessed with this combination are at high risk of being kidnapped on the streets by thugs and raped, before being tossed back onto the streets, forced into prostitution and/or killed and never to be seen again. This is a dismal consequence for many parents, because virginity is a prized attribute in the Middle East. In their conservative society, a woman's virginity is valued more than anything else and to lose her virginity before her marriage is seen as disgraceful and dishonoring the family. The male head of the household may even order a death sentence if he deems it necessary to punish her and preserve the honor of their family. When a woman loses her virginity before marriage. her values diminishes; she is seen as a "second hand commodity" and this makes it hard for her to become married to a good family after. A common practice of newly weds in the Middle East is the presentation of a bloody handkerchief on their wedding night - proof that the woman is a virgin. When the bride does not bleed on her wedding night, she could be divorced on the grounds that she must have had engaged in immoral behavior. Her in-laws may banish her and her own family and community may not even welcome her back for fear of ostracism. In such cases, the social exclusion can become too much to bear and death is considered a desirable route to end their shame and suffering.

This is why some parents desperately seek out men from respectable families to marry their daughters to; to give them away in marriage so that they will not be kidnapped and raped by malicious men seeking to release sexual tension with young virgins. It is not because they want money, it is because they love their daughter and want to protect her. All their parents can hope is that the man they chose for their daughter to marry is respectable, that the marriage will protect their daughter and also give them a life far better life

Child Marriage: A Consequence of War 

syrian girl1

Child marriage is further compounded the spat of conflicts in the Middle East, such as recent Syrian war that has displaced many Syrians. In light of the war, over 600,000 Syrians are now living as refugees in Jordan and this has created an informal trade where men from Suadi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states scour refugee camps who search for young girls to fulfill their sexual desires. These men use marriage as a "disguise" and offer to "rescue" young girls from living in the squalid conditions of refugee camps.

With a desire to protect their daughters from sexual violence and to save them from the emotional, mental and physical traumas of the war, desperate families see no choice but to accept the lucrative monetary offers and readily agree to the marriage. A dowry is given to the family, yet without the family's knowing, this dowry -  meant to secure the bride's security to her groom - is sometimes used by the men as payment for sex for a lesser known practice called "Mut'ah", also known as temporary or pleasure marriages. Jordan's legal age of marriage is 18, yet there exists a a loophole in the Sharia law that permits the marriage of brides as young as 15 years of age. This marriage is temporary and in the eyes of many, a sham marriage and a dishonorable one.

These young girls are promised a good home and better lives when they return to their husbands' home countries. In the meantime, homes are rented near the camp and the women live there where they are told they would be supported until they are brought back by their husbands. However, in actuality, the girls are married for a short amount of time - hours, days or even weeks - whereby the men have sex with them throughout the period of this temporary union before abandoning them and leaving without a trace. This is how many Syrian girls become pregnant and abandoned. Girls spared from the horrors of temporary marriage do not have bleak futures as well, as they are more likely to experience sexual and domestic violence by their husbands and have high-risk pregnancies due to their young age and limited access to maternal healthcare

Is Child Marriage Also a Form of Human Trafficking?

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Child marriage has been happening for hundreds and thousands of years, yet the fates of many young girls and even women - who marry when they are older - who end up marrying a stranger against their will are bleak and filled with much emotional, mental and physical trauma.

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, trafficking trafficking involves the act of recruiting, abducting, transporting, transferring or selling of people within or across national borders through methods such as fraud, coercion or deception that place individual in slave-like conditions, such as sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced prostituion or other forms of debt bondage to achieve the consent of a person have control over another person for the purpose of exploitation . When we read of cases of human trafficking, we hear about people being held captive, about girls being forced into prostituion and of people being held in sweatshops doing work for no pay. However, the reality of child marriage clearly highlights that human trafficking doesn't just come in the form of slave labor and prostitution. Some types of child/forced marriages can qualify as a form of human trafficking.

Not all arranged marriages have unhappy endings. However, there are thousands of girls and women forced or sold into a marriage, sent abroad and then savagely beaten and treated as a domestic slave and not allowed out the house. Some girls and women are forced into a marriage for the single purpose of providing sex for her husband.  Are such marriages not a form of human trafficking? Are these women not being sold and married against their will and exploited to lifetime of domestic servitude and sexual mistreatment?

Sadly, the laws and customs in many such countries do not see this as human trafficking. Yes, the girls have no say in their marriage and they are physically and sexually abused, but because such happens in the realm of a marriage, the laws don't readily recognize it as human trafficking and these unfortunate women continue to be be maltreated. Moreover, marriage for a woman is seen as a necessary step in life, and many individuals fear violating long-held tradition. It is not easy for a woman to divorce her husband in the Middle East, and the laws are typically skewed in favor of the husband. If a woman files a complaint against her husband, the judge or head of her community in more remote regions may tell her that is the right of her husband to do as he wishes to control his wife and then dismissing her.

So what happens now?

speak-out

We need to understand that there are many forms of human trafficking, and that it exists in more than just forced prostitution and slave labor. Forced marriages where girls and woman are beaten and abused are a snapshot for modern slavery in the Middle Eastern region.

Governments should work together to create an organized response to human trafficking which can at the same time, help tackle the intricacies of child marriage. Child marriage will not go away anytime soon; it takes more than just advocating for the end of child marriage and educating local communities about the bleak realities of child marriage. Child marriage is now exacerbated by the growing number of conflicts in the Middle East: Iraqis fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Palestinians being displaced from their homes from Israeli airstrikes and the flooding of Syrian Kurds into Turkey all set the stage for modern slavery and become exploited: families may sell their children to save them from refugee lives, women sold as wives to protect them from rape and desperate men fall prey to offers to unscrupulous labor opportunities in a bid to earn money for their families.

Help with efforts to end child marriage by visiting organizations such as:

too young to wed


Alternatively, click here: 16 organizations that work to stop child marriage, that lists both local and global organizations fighting to end child marriage. 

Help with efforts to provide aid to refugees by visiting:
:

UNHCR


Alternatively, you can Google ways to help refugees in other countries, such as in Palestine, Iraq and even Afghanistan as they too, need international relief.

To read up more on human trafficking, start with:

bloggers

 Bloggers Against Social Injustice, a blog that raises awareness about human trafficking and various social injustices around the world.

Efforts to help end social injustice don't need to be in monetary form! Awareness is an important step and one more person educated and aware of the social injustices happening around the world is enough to initiate change one small step at a time! You can read or write about it on your blog if you have one, sign online petitions and even volunteer at local organizations that advocate fighting social injustices. 

Think about it: girls in the Middle East, and also in other countries such as those in Africa, are married at ages between 12 and 15 - what were you doing when you were 15?

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Thanks for reading! Adios chums. I am currently writing with an elephant of a sore throat thanks to a bout of flu. It feels like there are a thousand devil minions stabbing at my throat. The annual haze that hits Singapore is not making things better. Drink lots of water! 






Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jewelry that Empowers Survivors of Human Trafficking

As we begin to blog more and more on ethical fashion, I thought it was only appropriate to provide you with places that help you shop ethically, but wait, it's more!  I have compiled photo collages and a list of online jewelry companies that empower and provide employment to survivors of human trafficking as a part of their restoration and rehabilitation process. Most of these jewelry lines ship within the US, but some of them also ship internationally. All of the jewelry below is made by survivors of human trafficking, if not noted otherwise with "exclusively benefiting."

When you think ethical fashion do you ever think... "Oh yea, that stuff is ugly."  Be prepared to change your mind. These finds will leave you saying, "Dang, that stuff is so cute! I know what I want for myself and for my friend's birthday present!"  As I went on this treasure hunt to find these companies I realized what a wide variety of styles exist within these companies. Jewelry styles range from earthy to trendy and artsy to chic minimalist jewelry.  Aside from the awesome styles, the best part is that as you shop through these ethical jewelry fashions, for things that you would buy at your local store, these pieces actually help bring freedom and dignity to survivors of modern day slavery. The prices range from $7.50 - $4000, based on the style and organization. If you can make a purchase that will change a life, why not do it? You were going to buy your friend a birthday gift anyways. :)


Listed Alphabetically

31 Bits exclusively benefiting Not For Sale
Made by survivors - India

The A21 Campaign
No mention of who makes the jewelry

Beads of Java
Made by survivors - Indonesia

The Brave Collection
Made by at-risk population, benefiting anti-trafficking NGOs in Cambodia

Bravelets exclusively benefiting Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force
No mention of who makes the jewelry

The Butterfly Project not exclusively benefiting Born to Fly International
Not made by survivors
Born to Fly works with organizations in 65+ countries

Daughters Rising co-benefiting Somaly Mam Foundation
Made by survivors - Cambodia


Destiny Rescue
Made by survivors - Thailand


Made by survivors - Asia (countries undisclosed)

Freedom Stones
Made by survivors - Thailand


Global Giving exclusively benefiting Senhoa
Not made by survivors

iSanctuary
Made by survivors - India and United States


Kwagala Project 
Made by survivors - Uganda



Nightlight Designs
Made by survivors - Thailand

Relevee exclusively benefiting and produced by Made By Survivors
Made by survivors - India

Senhoa
Made by survivors - Cambodia
Swarovski crystals used

Starfish Project
Made by survivors - Asia (countries undisclosed)

WARchest Boutique exclusively benefiting Women At Risk International (W.A.R. International)
Made by survivors (non-exclusively) in +40 countries through partner organizations


If you know of a company that should be added to this list, please let us know!
Last Updated: 8.7.14

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons: #igivehope Campaign



Today is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, officially dated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Today, people all around the planet are joining hands to remember those who are currently, at this very moment, trapped in human trafficking. So many organizations work day in and day out to help end human trafficking, either from the abolition, advocacy, or restoration and reintegration side of this international atrocity. Today, we all come together to become an even louder voice for the voiceless!

I am currently an intern for International Princess Project, an organization that provides above fair-trade wage employment opportunities for women survivors of human trafficking. International Princess Project sells PUNJAMMIES™, which are made my women survivors of human trafficking in India. Today in our office, we got together to snap photos of our hearts, so we too could join in the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.  As I was writing their blog post today, I thought of all the ways people could not only help end human trafficking, but how simple conversations with friends can also make a difference! Ans so, I encourage you too to join in! You just need to form a heart with your hands, and if that's not possible, hold up a heart! Don't forget, you can use your camera phone. Just be sure to add #igivehope when you post your photo on social media! After that, please share it with your friends and with our social media to help raise awareness of human trafficking. Never forget that you are integral in ending the cycle of human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery. 

Please Find out more about the #igivehope campaign below. :)



Prayers for Freedom,
Christine


Co-editor & Freedom Fighter

Friday, June 13, 2014

Syria as I See It: A Brief Summary and Critique by Joe Jessee


Hey everyone! It's your co-editor Safra here! It has been way too long since I last published something. I am so sorry for this, but hopefully now that it is summer I will be able to update the page on a more regular basis.
For starters, this was an email a colleague of mine wrote to another in order to explain the war occurring Syria. Currently, we are in a club that is trying to raise awareness about the people that are being displaced from their homes as well as the casualties of war and the workings of the government. Surprisingly, many people we have tried to reach out to -even among some of the most educated- have little to no understanding of the events taking place. This was written by his point of view and contains tidbits of his personal opinion, but taken from months of consistent self-updating through various news sources. And despite having personal opinion his descriptions are accurate and hold much truth.
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Syrian refugees carry water containers as they walk through the Northern Jordanian Zaatari refugee camp

From this point on what is being published is directly from the forwarded email he sent our colleague weeks before. It starts with:

“My friend asked me to give him my input on the Syrian conflict. This is an amalgamation of the messages I sent him edited into an abstract of sorts.”
A few things you should know about the status quo of Syria before the revolution started:
1. Military police strolled the streets and were feared greatly by all civilians. They had basically complete free range to do whatever they wanted. They frequently beat people, mostly men and occasionally women, up simply for uttering anything anti-government, or simply to establish dominance and set an example. If our police in America did what they did on a proportional scale, the people of the US would already be on the verge of riots. Even when one black man got assaulted on video tape, L.A. went up in flames.
2. Bashar Al-Assad, the then and now "president" of Syria was "democratically elected". This election took place exactly fifteen minutes after his father ceased to be the president, and the voting booths were closely monitored by the aforementioned military police. The votes were not anonymous, and the ballots simply said "do you want Assad to be the president? Yes or no?". There were no other options. It seemed pretty obvious to the "voters" that they would be signing away their livelihoods and their families’ safety were they to refuse him. And thus, Bashar Al-Assad was hailed as a democratic leader in the Middle East.
3. The taxes in the country were more than crushing to the local economy. A doctor in Syria after taxes would make less than a hallmark employee in America.
4. Bashar Al-Assad's father, Hafez Al-Assad quelled a rebellion from Hama, a city in Syria simply by killing 42,000 protesters outright with brute military force. Think Bush Sr., Bush Jr. Personally, it seems to me that Bashar is refusing to give up because he doesn't want to disappoint his father's name.


Now fast-forwarding to the current conflict:
March 15, 2011: A group of disgruntled Syrian students who were from Daraa (a small hick town in Syria), many of them college-age and on their way to inheriting an oppressed nation with zero financial opportunity, grafitti'd the symbol of the Arab spring (the consecutive uprisings of Tunisia, Libya, and then Egypt). The elite police responded to the behavior violently by torturing those found guilty of the vandalism, which many say was what the catalyst that started the country wide movement.
It gained massive momentum through the use of social media and other methods and spiraled into a series of massive protests in the streets - I'm talking hundreds of thousands. Government forces were ordered to control the riotous protest and did so with less than a gentle hand. Six to eight months later, the attempts to control and eventually stop the protests spun out of control into incredibly violent encounters. There were reports of groups of Shabeehah, elite military police, literally taking machetes and attempting to cut through the unarmed protesters like shrubbery. Many protesters and strong believers in the need for change begin to form a faction called the "Free Syria Army" or the FSA. Now with the two parties ultimately and staunchly dedicated to absolute victory, the protests spun out into a full on civil war: Bashar's Regime VS the FSA rebels.
The FSA unfortunately was hilariously outgunned. The government was dropping cluster bombs onto crowds of people protesting, and the FSA was basically in survival mode. Start with a pistol, kill an officer, use his ammo until you run out, ideally you kill another before that. Meanwhile, civilian casualties are piling and piling up; tens of thousands and escalating. The military had set up checkpoints and would routinely assault/kill anyone who had potential ties to the rebels, or did not have a convincing enough tie to the government. In a few reported cases the military had set up rape checkpoints in which the only way a family would be able to pass through and out of the country was to give up a daughter or mother. The other option was that they could all be killed. (That's one specific story I read, I'm not sure if that is an extreme, but I’m convinced it is more of a median.
Here's where things get really sticky. The FSA has close to nothing as far as firepower to defend themselves. Along came the boogieman, the Al-Nusra front (whom the UN has delineated as a terrorist organization) comes along and says "Hey, we want Bashar dead as well." They presumably want one of their own in office. The Syrian people don't want an extremist in office, but they are between a rock and a much harder place adorned with spikes. So a limited amount of military cooperation begins with the Al-Nusra front, mostly because they have no other option.
Meanwhile, the global community starts taking notice and begins to lobby against Assad. He is a dictator committing genocide, so the lobbying is a good thing. Assad, very cleverly might I add, decides to buy his news network and force them to constantly run exaggerated and skewed stories to paint the entire FSA as terrorists. He turns the entire narrative publicly into "the government is fighting terrorists" because he knows the American public will be extremely apprehensive not only because of its twelve year "war on terror" but because the American people are going be hard to sell as it is. So he successfully runs a smear campaign against the FSA and conservatives and democrats alike eat it right up. Nobody wants to "give money to terrorists." So effectively, one desperate decision has temporarily undermined the clarity of the situation and unfortunately the public credibility of the movement.

Now, let’s take a step back and look at the global scene. Obama wants intervention and is begging for a strong enough reason to garner American support to aim at Bashar. He sets his (apparently fake) red line at chemical weapons. Meanwhile, Russia has been allies with the Syrian regime for decades. They have a variety of natural gas, arms, and other diplomatic arrangements. Russia has also thusly provided a massive financial crutch to the Syrian regime throughout the conflict, as well as hardy military contributions. Everything from guns and bombs to tanks and air planes. Saudi Arabia, a reliable companion of the US, had attempted diplomatic resolution with Russia and offered them massively cheaper oil to dial back their support of Bashar. Russia politely declined. Saudi Arabia then stretched a surprising and unprecedented offer to the US. They offered to pay entirely for any military intervention we would commit so as to appease the American people's minds. Brilliant right? Hang money in front of our faces. It has worked every other time. Plus, it assists us in gradually making money back from our massive military investments paid for by China, assists us in de-proliferation of our weapons stockpile, and allows us to look humanitarian without paying for it. However, this offer didn't make so much as a ripple in the pool of nonsense and rhetoric flying around congress because they were so caught up on the whole terrorism thing as well as fear of tensions with Russia.
       Here is a slight disambiguation of the Russia debacle. Russia and China both vetoed intervention at the UN repeatedly since the very beginning of the conflict. If we were to violate the UN's international laws on military intervention which require a one hundred percent consensus, we would be labeled war criminals (officially) and would be indirectly committing acts of war against Russia. Putin referenced this specifically in his op-ed piece that the NEW YORK TIMES published for him. However, his point is extremely and laughably hypocritical since he has been militarily assisting a dictatorship and completely complicit in the act of slaughtering over 200,000 people. Also  one million people are missing or internally displaced, two million people have taken refuge in surrounding nations and they are burdening those countries as well. The refugee camps are in awful conditions and have a critical scarcity of food. To then call us on what comparably seems like a technicality is sort of moot. The UN however is still having pointless banter, the American people lost an info war through FB and news outlets to an insane dictator, and even after France proved Bashar was the one who ordered the use of the chemical weapons, the US backed down like a scared white boy who talked too big of game.


 I am pro-intervention for the following reasons:
1. The U.S. has bought the largest military in the world by 2,500 percent. It would be exemplary of American incompetence and a horrible waste if it could not be used to stop people like Bashar Al-Assad.
2. The Syrian people protested for democracy. We must protect American values around the world if we are to call this country great by any means.
3. Women, children, babies, men, many of whom were the brightest hopes for the future of the Middle East are being shredded to pieces by a government they didn't want, and nobody is helping them. Meanwhile, those who are fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in are growing up and living in a world where the country that could end their suffering could not come to a decision to help them. Their situation is quite simple to them. They are being killed ruthlessly by their government and the world could help them if they wanted. Meanwhile, we get viral videos, we get stoned, we get fat, we b**** about Miley Cyrus, and we don't help them. We look inconsiderate to the point of absolute evil. We need to help them so as to have influence in post-Assad Syria, and to ideally create some stability in the region, if not to just stop the genocide.



4. Syria borders Israel. There needs to be consistency in our policy. As much as I am anti-Zionism, it does not make sense for the US to allow the revolution there to go however it wants to. To be more specific, we have a diplomatic responsibility to Israel to ensure that extremists don't take hold in countries neighboring them. We have a responsibility to our allies to provide international protective measures.
5. Most importantly, the US people have the power to do something, and they have made themselves look weak, stupid, and easy to sway. I for one will not be represented by that. I want to be represented by a country that puts its money where its mouth is and intelligently kicks ass and takes names. I want the US to stand up for human life and be the best country in the world. But right now, it is acting like the worst.

So there's basically everything I got.
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I wrote that a few months ago^.

UPDATE- Decemeber 2013
The rebel forces seemed to gain ground a few months ago. Our continuous inaction has managed to allow the tides to turn back against the rebels and now the situation has gotten more toxic. Sketchy organizations have been trying to capitalize on the instability of the situation in order to put their guy on top. There are a few extremist groups gaining speed in Syria. Basically, if the secular rebels aren't supported or don't win within a year, the entire idea of post-Assad influence is out the door, Israel will now be neighbors with an extremist government that has a history already of back and forth conflicts with them, and we will have forsaken foreign policy goals for the Middle East entirely. We will quickly lose all influence and as 9/11 is evidence of, that is the only thing that protects us in those situations. Even worse, Saudi Arabia, our biggest supplier of oil, is already extremely mad about how we've handled the situation so far, and God forbid we lose them as an ally. Our entire economy will crumble under crippling gas prices, and the only working arm of the United States will be the military and we will be back at war for "some reason".

UPDATE-January 2014
Hunger is becoming an increasingly fatal problem amongst the besieged Syrian population. People have had to resort to eating cats and they could in some ways be considered lucky. People are dying of starvation now at a rate of one every ten hours. The deaths from hunger are less than the number of general regime-caused fatalities (1 every twelve minutes roughly), but when you take into account how slow of a killer hunger is, and how many are on the edge of death from hunger still trying to fight this war, it is a more staggering issue.
In conclusion, that pretty much sums up the Syrian rebellion as far as history is concerned. It is perhaps most important of all to note that this is an ongoing conflict, and that the numbers of internally/externally displaced, casualties of all ages, and shockingly incidences of unchecked chemical warfare are steadily on the rise. It unfortunately has fallen out of the national lexicon and must be brought back to the forefront of discussion as it is still being described as “the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our times.”

-Joe Jessee


That is it of Joe's account of the war. I found myself completely mystified at how I didn't know all of this even though newspapers, online organizations, and news stations were blasting the occurrences taking place for weeks at a time (although most of them do have a bias). The sad part is that much of what is going on is being ignored. It's time to make the effort of being aware. I thank Joe for giving me this short rendition. Hopefully, you took something out of this too even if you did not agree. 


Syrian children who were killed by chemical weapons are laid down on the floor with blocks of ice.





Your Co-Editor, 

Safra




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