Organisations working towards a shared vision – such as ending domestic violence – are a more powerful and legitimate force when they speak with one voice. This is how coalitions, in particular those working at national or domestic levels, advance a shared advocacy agenda.
A groundbreaking study1 which looked at policies to prevent violence against women in 70 countries over four dec- ades, has found that movements have a significant enduring impact on progressive policies – more than strong left-wing political parties, women in government or even national wealth.
"The mobilisation of women in civil society is in fact the critical factor accounting for positive policy changes." - Florence Tercier Holst-Roness Director of the Issues Affecting Women Programme
“This fascinating study reinforced a major underlying belief of the Issues Affecting Women Programme,” says Florence, “namely that many voices working towards a common goal are louder and more impactful than a single organisation working on one issue.
” Networks are extremely important in helping change social norms and raise public consciousness, especially around complex and nuanced issues such as domestic violence or human trafficking. By creating alliances with other social sectors and non-traditional actors such as the private sector, networks help to reinforce and amplify impact. Because of their diverse members, they often have more credibility and reach than a single organisation or activist. In addition, they are usually the best placed to respond to emerging needs to build and strengthen the field.
Oak Foundation funds various national, regional and international networks and coalitions working on diverse subjects through its Issues Affecting Women Programme. Oak’s aim is to gather voices at all levels and to gain momentum on achieving equality for women around the world. In this year's Annual Report, the IAWP highlights a number of these networks – Red Nacional de Refugios, the Freedom Network and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women.
Some 68 out of every 100 women in Mexico between 30 and 39 years old say they have been victims of violence.2 It is against this extreme backdrop that the Red Nacional de Refugios (RNR), a network of 44 domestic abuse shelters, carries out its work.
By striving to improve the national standard of holistic care for women and children who have been victims of violence, the RNR plays a vital role. It works to strengthen the capacities of its member shelters and advocates for better government policy to prevent and address violence against women.
The RNR brings together nearly three quarters of all domestic violence shelters in the country. This enables good communications among the shelters, facilitating RNR’s strategic work at state levels as well as national- ly and internationally. “This translates into rapid and safe responses to women in situations of violence,” says Wendy Figueroa, RNR’s National Director.
In addition, the RNR has been able to make impressive gains for the women’s right movement in Mexico. For example, in Mexico’s Congress, the RNR is now a point of reference when it comes to its General Law on Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence. Following RNR’s many years of tireless advocacy, the law was reformed, mandating the govern- ment to provide funding for emergency and transition homes for women victims of violence. Now, women are guaranteed more holistic responses before and after they enter shelters.
These kinds of wins are made possible in part thanks to the RNR’s national data collection system (SILGE), which generates relevant statistics concerning violence against women – locally, regionally and nationally. “With one unified voice, the reality of life for women in Mexico is backed up with numbers,” says Wendy Figueroa, RNR’s National Director.
In late 2016, RNR opened its first of five centres for women’s empowerment and leadership in Mexico. What began as a dream of building the first centre is now a reality and a testament to the power of working collectively. ‘’Without the network, we could never coordinate the efforts or interests of the shelters, nor of the women and children they serve,’’ says Wendy.
Freedom Network is the largest national coalition of advocates in the US providing direct services to survivors of human trafficking. The Network’s 38 individual and organisa- tional members work with thousands of clients each year – providing many social and legal services to ensure survivors have safe housing, legal immigration status, education, employment and medical and mental healthcare.
Its core belief is that the crime of trafficking is a violation of an individual’s basic human rights and personal freedom. A human rightsbased approach focuses on the empowerment and autonomy of each survivor. Successful prevention depends on addressing root causes.
“Unfortunately, the dominant public narrative around trafficking in the US is ill-informed,” says Medina Haeri, Programme Officer for Oak’s Issues Affecting Women Programme. “Programmes and politicians continue to respond to sensationalised stories of sex trafficking that stereotype those who have been victimised. Much of the focus is on ending demand for prostitution, which will never eradicate this crime.”
Freedom Network is strongly committed to decriminalising the consensual sex trade. It enthusiastically supported Amnesty International’s recent policy decision to advocate for the decriminali- sation of all aspects of consensual adult sex – sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse.
Freedom Network works to create an informed and unified narrative on trafficking that is grounded in the human rights of trafficking victims. It seeks to expand the definition of trafficking to include labour exploitation, rather than focusing only on sex trafficking. Its members are on the frontlines of innovative prevention efforts. These include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking – a crucial voice in the Supply Chain Transparency Act in California.
These efforts by Freedom Network and its members are slowly changing how the crime of trafficking is understood and addressed. As well as the White House’s 2014 Federal Strategic Action Plan, former President Barack Obama also pioneered a new US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. It is comprised exclusively of trafficking survivors and provides them a formal avenue for providing input on federal anti- trafficking policies. Many of the survivors serving on the Council have been supported by Freedom Network members to overcome their trauma and become advocates in their own right.
Ima Matul, a member of the US Advisory Council, believes that there is a growing commitment to finding innovative solutions to make sure that this generation of survivors will be the last.
"There is a growing awareness about the devastating impact of human trafficking. There is a growing embrace of survivors – in our communities and businesses and churches." - Ima Matul Leader of National Survivor Network
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a network of over 100 non-governmental organisations from all around the world, who share a deep concern for the women, children and men whose human rights have been violated as a result of human trafficking. The International Secretariat is based in Bangkok, Thailand, and coordinates the activities of the Alliance, collects and disseminates information, and advo- cates on behalf of GAATW at regional and international levels.
GAATW was among the first actors to draw attention to the fact that anti- trafficking initiatives can often do more harm than good. Its landmark 2007 report “Collateral Damage” highlighted instances where initiatives have not only failed to protect the rights of trafficked persons and migrating people, but in some instances have also justified stringent border control, deportation of undocumented migrants and atrocities against certain groups of migrants. This work reinforced one of GAATW’s core principles of inclusivity and participation, advocating strongly for the self-representation and organisation of those directly affected by trafficking into anti-trafficking discussions.
As the majority of GAATW’s members provide direct support services to victims of trafficking, GAATW has also worked toward ensuring that its members’ assistance programmes are likewise informed by the insights and analysis of trafficked persons. From 2013-2015, with support from Oak, GAATW piloted a new model of participatory monitoring for anti- trafficking initiatives among 17 of its members across Latin America, Europe and Asia, increasing their capacity to “listen” to the post-trafficking experiences and insights of trafficking survivors to inform and improve their services.
After interviewing 121 women, men and girls who lived through trafficking to find out about their experiences, the participating organisations were better able to see the impact of their work from a survivor’s perspective. They gained many new insights about ways to improve their services or mobilisation and awareness-building interventions. Many have already begun applying these insights through concrete programmes or approaches. “The research enabled us to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both our own inter- ventions and those of others,” said one GAATW member. “Previously, we had always taken our clients' need for security, food and transport into account. But thanks to the interviews we realised that we'd concentrated on their basic needs, and had only occasionally gone further, mainly because of our limited capacity to respond to additional demands.
With Oak support, GAATW will continue sharing the research results and methodologies with its broader membership. Its aim is to transform how its members engage with their beneficiaries, recognising the rich insight and feedback that trafficking survivors can provide to improve services and policies.
1. ’Mala HTUN and S Laurel Weldon,The Civic origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against women in Global Perspective, 1975 – 2005, American
Political Science Review, Vol 106, No3, August 2012
2. OECD (2017) ‘Building an Inclusive Mexico: Policies and Good Governance for Gender Equality’, OECD, Paris
of women in Mexico
between 30 and 39
years old say they
have been victims of
violence. The Red
Nacional de Refugios
supports these women
through its network
of 44 domestic