by Francesca Romita
A couple of weeks after moving to London, while browsing the web I came across the Central America Women’s Network (CAWN) website and find out about the conference “Images of exploited and trafficked women: the role of the media and campaigning in women’s empowerment”, organised by CAWN and Frauensolidarität. I thought the event could be interesting and it certainly matched up with my expectations.
The conference was of great value to me. One of the things I really appreciated was the variety of viewpoints to treat complex themes such as the trafficking and exploitation of women. Speakers and workshop facilitators, academics, representatives from the government and from a number of NGOs delivered relevant information about the issues. Moreover, a feminist framework guided their analyses and facilitated the understanding of the matter, its origin and development across the world.
After listening to the talks, I confirmed my idea that discrimination against women occurs in many ways, from the obvious to the subtle and sometimes in very different and unexpected ways. For example, Dr Rutvica Andrijasevic presented her research on governmental campaigns against trafficking and sexual exploitation in Eastern Europe, warning against the risk that these campaigns might end up targeting potential victims instead of ‘consumers’, thus shifting the blame for trafficking and exploitation to women. This kind of representation reproduces a stereotypical vision of women and spaces: women mustn’t cross physical and mental boundaries. “They want to say that home is the only safe place for women, while often home is a place of violence”, Dr. Andrijasevic said. This attack on women’s autonomy is also perpetrated by the media that often present women as victims and responsible for the situation they are involved in, as Sarah Jackson from WomenKind argued. Representation of women is violent itself.
In my opinion, one the most relevant advocacy strategy proposed in the conference is to incorporate the voices of women involved in prostitution, trafficking and exploitation into future campaigns. I agree that this specific approach would counteract one of the most ominous strategies of patriarchy, i.e. to cut women’s words off and hush their voices up.
Workshops were useful to focus attention on the experience of feminist organisations and the tools they employ to empower women they work with. For example, women right’s activists Yamileth Chavarria and Helen Dixon fromNicaraguaexplained how their organisations work on sexual and reproductive rights that are under threat from the resurgence of Christian fundamentalism and violence against women, two of the most urgent issues in the feminist agenda.
In the conference, theoretical analyses and experiences from the ground stimulated reflection and debate. Different viewpoints and strategies about advocacy and campaigns were discussed with the public in an exciting atmosphere that facilitated the interaction among participants. Eventually, the conference offered a good opportunity to share knowledge, insights and ideas to promote dialogue and coordinate actions to achieve women’s empowerment.