5 Things you didn’t know about human trafficking

Fake promises, offers of a new “job” abroad and the abuse of someone’s trust. Transporting a man, woman or child across borders, far from their home and pushing them into a life of slavery or even death… This is the reality of human trafficking today.

The Global Slavery Index’s latest statistics estimate that there are 45.8 million people worldwide living in slavery. Trafficking people for the purposes of human slavery is clearly a gross violation of their human rights. Sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ harvesting, forced begging, child soldiers, forced marriage, illegal adoption, benefit fraud and even pornography – these are the abuses which lie behind human trafficking.

Core human rights legislation including The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which falls under The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, calls upon nations to criminalise and fight human trafficking. Today, 88% of countries worldwide have done so, according to the definition outlined in the UN protocol (UNODC, 2016). Yet despite national, regional and global efforts, human trafficking is a daily heartbreaking reality for millions of people worldwide.

So, who are the victims? How old are they? What work are they forced into and by whom? Well here’s 5 key trends in human trafficking, based on figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2016) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons to give you the lowdown on human trafficking at it stands today.

Human trafficking: 5 Key trends

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1. If you’re female you’re (still) more likely to be trafficked

Women and girls are more than twice as likely to be trafficked than their male peers. Women and girls account for 71% of (detected) victims of human trafficking worldwide. At 51%, women are still the biggest victims of human trafficking, with sexual exploitation the most widespread cause. The only exceptions are in South Asia with adult forced labour, Sub-Saharan Africa with boys forced into child labour and North Africa where women remain the biggest victims but are primarily subjected to forced labour. On top of this, domestic servitude (cooking, cleaning etc.) – another factor behind human trafficking – also predominantly affects women.

2. Forced labour is on the rise

The gender gap is narrowing. In fact, the number of men being trafficked – specifically for the purposes of forced labour – is on the rise. Whilst only around a fifth of victims of human trafficking are adult men, if we look at the rate of trafficking for the purposes of forced labour: 40% of human trafficking victims from the period 2007 – 2017 were subjected to forced labour and two thirds of these were men. In fact, trafficking for the purposes of forced labour is so widespread, it’s second only to sexual exploitation.

3. Child victims are increasing

Children worldwide are being trafficked for forced labour, use as child soldiers, begging and sexual exploitation. Over a quarter of trafficking victims are children, with numbers ranging greatly depending on country of origin and gender (20% girls, 8% boys) (2014). As a child you’re mostly likely to be trafficked to Central America and the Caribbean where here, rather shockingly almost two out of every three detected victims are under the age of 18 (2014).

4. Domestic trafficking is becoming more common

Whilst most trafficking involves crossing international borders, this is by no means defines human trafficking. As a victim of human trafficking, you could be moved from one town to another inside your own country. In fact, the sad reality is that now trafficking within the same country is also on the rise. Recent figures (2012-2014) show that 42% of cases of human trafficking were domestic – that’s almost half!

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5. Female traffickers are growing in number

Whilst six out of every ten traffickers are male and most people convicted for trafficking are in fact male (63%), the number of women involved is increasing. What’s more, if we compare the number of women involved within human trafficking to those with other crimes, the number is sadly relatively high (2014). Imagine women exploiting their own gender for money, despite the horrors that lie ahead…

Clearly, human trafficking is a heart-breaking complex issue but the old-age common idea that human trafficking simply constitutes criminal gangs transporting women across Europe for sexual purposes is an outdated reality. Movements are changing, age groups are changing and so are the numbers. It’s crucial we follow these key trends to understand the wheres, “whys”, hows and whos to raise awareness of this terrible crime, lobby governments, spot the signs within our communities and say “no” to human trafficking and “yes” to equality and freedom.

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12 Essential recommendations for UK-based mosques

There was a recent conference held by the Muslim Council of Britain last January called “Our Mosques, Our Future“. The conference was based around the idea of “#morethanaprayerspace” – looking at the role of Britain’s 1,500 mosques today compared to how they were in Prophet Muhammad’s time and examining if they are fulfilling their multi-faceted roles and meeting the needs of their communities.

I unfortunately did not attend the conference but have myself become increasingly fed-up by certain obstacles/patterns of behaviour. At the same time, I have also been inspired by the great examples set in other places of worship such as churches and synagogues. Based on personal and non-personal experiences, I therefore present 12 essential recommendations for UK-based mosques – in no particular order.

1. Childcare facilities 

A mosque should be a community space. At the same time it should allow space for quiet prayer and reflection. Especially during busy periods such as Friday Jummah prayers and Ramadan, something as basic as a crèche would avoid clearly distressed children having to be in the prayer hall and disturbing other sisters.

Childcare services would also ensure that women have easier access to mosques. The choice should be mother’s to either to stay at home and build prayer around child caring duties at home or if they so wish to be able to pray at the mosque without yet another obstacle in their way.

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2. Interfaith programmes 

Interfaith programmes are a must for any mosque, in particular in multifaith societies such as Britain. It’s crucial that Muslim communities learn and reach out to other faith (and non-faith) communities. This is especially important in relation to the Jewish community.

Such programmes should however not simply utilise members of boards/management committees – they should be open for members of the local congregation/community to participate and learn for real maximum effect.

3. Women co-leadership

The sad truth is that some mosques do not even have prayer spaces for ladies. I’ve seen some wudhu (ablution) “facilities” that were so dirty I could not wash. This is abhorrent. Islam is for everyone – men and women. This is just the basic level.

Moving onwards and upwards, women must crucially be more greatly included. They must form part of leadership committees, educational programmes and local initiatives. They must be given a platform to share their voices – and with real roles not simply a token platforms and gestures.

For the sake of equality and to ensure that women’s needs are met, women must be included. The lack of women’s leadership and instead great number of all-male committees is a sad reflection of our community and not representative of Islam.

4. Marriage counselling 

Marriage counselling both before, during and even after a marital split to ensure cooperation and mutual respect is essential. Marriage is a big commitment and cultural barriers, communication issues, family tensions and a number of other potential “problems” can create significant tensions and misunderstandings in a marriage. To ensure that couples know what to expect and what is expected of them, pre-marital counselling must be openly available – and be highly recommended to couples prior to their marriage.

Counselling is an excellent form of therapy for couples experiencing problems but is often expensive, comes with stigma or feelings of failure/shame and may lack religious expertise. Mosques must ensure that they can provide a good quality professional service with staff sensitive to religious needs/understandings. This could be through a referral network and in many cases these services may offer a more professional/adequate service.

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5. Women’s support services 

Girls and women at risk of FGM, domestic abuse or any other issues must feel that they have somewhere to turn to seek confidential advice and support. Women experiencing any forms of emotional, sexual, physical, physiological, financial, spiritual or physical abuse will feel frightened, confused and alone. An additional range of cultural, linguistic and social barriers or simply a lack of knowledge of services out there which can help, means that a dedicated support team for women who (are able to) attend the mosque will ensure that these vulnerable women and girls have a greater support network.

Through either dedicated staff or a strong referral network, safeguarding mechanisms, counselling, protection and reporting, legal support and guidance can be offered and protect women at risk or subjected to these unjust and brutal forms of violence.

6. Social justice initiatives

A mosque should not simply be a place of prayer – we may all know that. It should serve as a community centre which helps both its own and other communities, as part of a wider society. That’s why food banks, charity (sadaqah) funds and a whole range of social initiatives are a must.

Help and support should reach those of all faiths and none, regardless of sexuality, gender, age, nationality or ethnic background.

7. Khutbahs in English 

I think it’s rather sad that in my entire experience of attending khutbas in the UK, I have only ever understood the sermons in one mosque/community centre. The khutba should serve to teach Muslims about important issues. However, I see two problems here:

  1. Most are not in English (instead in only Arabic or another language)
  2. They generally are repetitive in nature and do not address a wide enough range of (current) issues

We need to engage people to take action against injustice, to utilise the wisdom of the Holy Qur’an and to do good as Allah wills. This is not simply through “religious ibadah” (worship) but through taking action against injustice, giving in charity and building bridges amongst other communities. Khutbas should therefore be accessible to everyone in terms of language and content, regardless of age and ethnic/linguistic background. The use of interpreting headsets/subtitles is one way to address the linguistic challenges. I also urge leaders to reflect upon their sermons and further reach out to the younger population.

8. Adequate facilities for the disabled

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It has been pointed out to me by the Open My Mosque initiative something which I sadly failed to notice for myself – and this speaks volumes: the lack of facilities for and measure to promote inclusion for Muslims with physical disabilities.

We must ensure that sign language interpreters are available as well as hearing loops, ramps for wheelchair users and adequate disabled toilets and parking. Consultation with communities, families and service providers should ensure that peoples voices are being heard and their needs are being met in the best, most professional, sensitive and inclusive way possible.

9. Youth clubs

It is critical that younger members of the community (especially teenagers) have creative and social outlets, such as craft clubs and sporting initiatives to offer space, productive and inclusive spaces to make friends, spend free time and learn new skills or simply get some exercise!

Having a stable community network with respected role models, people to turn to in times of trouble and meet like-minded young people is important. Mosques must offer this community element, not simply a prayer space for religious purposes.

10. Social clubs

As with youth clubs, social activities to bind the community together are essential. This is particularly important if we consider new arrivals to the UK/refugee communities, converts, stay-at-home or single mothers and other groups to whom we should be offering a strong social community network. The mosque should offer a home, a safe space of understanding to come together and enjoy being Muslim! The greater the cultural diversity the better!

11. Intrafaith inclusion

I’ve talked about interfaith work and bringing different cultural communities within the Muslim community together but here’s one essential critical need which is simply a “no-go” for some people. However, it cannot be escaped. Prejudice, discrimination and intolerance must be broken down and dismantled. We must unite as a community. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ahmadi Muslims must work together.

If you cannot work together as a religious community within Islam (and yes Ahmadis are Muslim and who are you to question!), then how can you reach out and build stronger bonds with other religious communities (e.g. churches, synagogues and gurdwaras) and the wider community? It’s hypocrisy. Plain and simple. Harsh words but this needs to be said. No one is saying you have to have exactly the same beliefs and practices, but you should be welcoming to others, share dialogue, shared events and never turn people away. Simple.

12. Good referral network of NGOs and service providers 

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No one can expect each and every mosque to have an infinite amount of financial and professional resources. That is why it’s crucial to build good referral networks with local and national charities, governmental and non-governmental organisations and services providers.

Some of the organisations/local government departments with which mosques need to build, strengthen or maintain links include:

  • ESOL services: Refugee, asylum seeking and migrant communities may need linguistic (and cultural) support. Local refugee organisations and colleges often offer (free) English classes, whilst the Refugee Council can offer advice and support
  • Hate-crime reporting bodies: Islamophobia (as with anti-Semitism) is on the rise and Muslim women in particular are experiencing the brunt of this. Mosque committees need to know what constitutes hate crime, how to report it and how to support their community members by building links with organisations such as Tell MAMA and the police
  • Mental health services providers: We need to end the stigma and reach out to people in need of support – but with professional qualified counsellors and therapists from organisations such as Mind and local community providers
  • Financial advisors: Free debt support services provided by charities such as the Citizens Advice Bureau can offer critical practical advice to families in crisis, greatly impacting upon their physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Immigration advice: Visa worries, asylum claims and anything immigration related can be very confusing, worrying and at time incredibly complicated. Local charities specialising in immigration advice and support can be a lifeline for community members – including people who are undocumented
  • Crisis housing: Homelessness is becoming an increasing problem across the UK and can affect anyone who has fallen on hard/uncertain times. By having the right networks with local councils and organisations such as Shelter, mosques can help an individual/family off the street or falling into homelessness
  • Local foodbanks: For smaller mosques who may not have the resources, local foodbanks will be able to assist members of their congregation and/or offer critical advice/signposting

Now, I’m not saying that all mosques lack these facilities, approaches and services, nor am I saying that all mosques – no matter how small – must have an endless supply of resources – financial or otherwise. However, all mosques must be inclusive, approachable and welcoming for everyone and offer as much help as possible. I do however believe that these recommendations can offer a good conclusive set of guidelines for British mosques.

Through direct service provision and better networking with service providers, facilities can be made available. And when it comes to gender, age, cultural and religious inclusivity and welcoming those with extra access needs, there must be no excuses. Islam is for everyone and mosques must represent that. Mosques – as many are already calling for – must also work as a community centre not an “in and out” prayer space.

Salam

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Misogyny in North Africa: My experiences as a British Muslimah

In a previous post I talked about sexism in the British workplace and in keeping with the theme of sexism, I’d like to talk about my experiences as a British Muslimah in relation to North African culture. I’m married to a North African man and I’ve travelled to, worked and lived in a variety of North African countries both pre- and post-conversion and before and after getting married. In this post, I’d like to look at the issues I’ve really noticed since converting to Islam and travelling to the region including first, second and third hand experiences of blatant discrimination, sexism, hypocrisy and misogyny that women in the area face. Now, I’m not saying these things happen across the board and I’ve certainly not included examples from very traditional circles but I’d like to talk about some experiences which I’ve found difficult, confusing, frustrating, upsetting and in some cases have made me feel utterly trapped and powerless – all of which are against (moderate) Islamic teachings. For more on the issue of sexism and Islam, see my previous post on gender jihad which has already touched on what is and isn’t Islamic when it comes to women and the unfortunate way some are treated.

Primarily, the overriding problem and any example of misogyny I can think of (mostly) seems to be related to the following overarching concept:

“A woman’s place is in the home”

First of all, not all women in the region are at home every second of the day. However this concept really underpins the problems I’ve encountered. It affects every aspect of women’s lives. There are many many women with jobs – most of the doctors I’ve met are in fact women and many women do hold roles outside the home. What’s more, women and girls can also enjoy being at home relaxing in their free time but the reality is that I’ve faced gossiping, backbiting and criticism for “leaving the house too much” (women sadly do this too folks!). Whilst on holiday, being busy organising and getting married and taking my father out so we could enjoy a holiday, I’ve been subjected to wagging tongues trying to control  my life. The manipulation of Islam to the extent that women are told they need to stay at home in safe places to extreme lengths (for obscene periods of time) is wrong and unhealthy yet it is used to perpetuate a deeply ingrained misogyny.

Inside the home: No need for a man’s input

On a practical level, this means that the home is the woman’s domain and most men don’t lift even a finger at home. The kitchen is out of bounds to male guests who may want to cook as the kitchen is for females – of all ages – and females only. No men allowed! Men generally will not learn to cook but will boil an egg, fry chips or make an omelette if hungry and their wife/sister/mum is not around. In restaurants however, all the waiters and chefs are male. It is generally seen as shameful for women to serve men in public but to serve men in the home is viewed as normal. If a man does cook, this will be kept quiet to save face.

If a husband works full time and his wife is at home with the kids, you’d expect that she would take care of domestic matters but that shouldn’t exclude men from helping out and taking responsibility. For women who work full-time – let’s not forget that we all need a decent standard of living and many many many girls go to university and want a job – she can generally not expect the housework to be divided. I’ve been told that women are apparently “happy” to have a full-time job and do all of the housework (and essentially have two jobs). Of course, if you live with in-laws/parents, there is help but domestic duties – cooking, cleaning etc. – are carried out by women/females only. ONE thing however: men will often do the shopping. Some markets are also off limits to women due to apparently “dodgy behaviour” in such areas fully saturated with men, which are deemed inappropriate for women. To be fair, by the sounds of it I’d not want to go but there’s something ironic there about only men being able to buy food that they’re never going to cook themselves…

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In the home, cooking is seen as a woman’s job – even if she works full time (Photo: Elizabeth Arif-Fear – CC)


Outside the home: Ignoring women’s needs 

What does all of this mean outside of the home? As I’ve already explained, it means being judged based on your movements and being subject to gossip for being “outside the house too much”, even if you’re simply shopping, meeting friends, eating out etc. This concept of a women’s place being the home really does have much wider ramifications. It essentially dictates to society that the public sphere is male – in other words: “leave it to the males” as “things are best run by men”. This translates to needing men’s permission to do anything and women’s issues requiring male validation. Here comes the unfortunate dichotomy of public (male) and private (female) spheres. We’ve heard it all before but it’s true!

On a social level, I found this meant I was often excluded within my own personal circles – even when I was with men. Imagine you’re in a busy tourist agency and as the only female you’re ignored in a three person conversation. Out of respect due to culture/religion? Well…the man in question booking your trip is told you speak French in an attempt to include you in the conversation. You have to butt in and take charge in order to be included in your own activities, obviously feeling very very frustrated. Or, in another scenario: a male stops talking to his wife without a word of warning to hold a conversation with an incoming male. She’s the second class invisible third party…

This also means that facilities prioritise men and that there is a severe lack of public facilities for women. For example, the local coffee shop is the men’s “palace”. Yes, everyone needs a place to chill out with their friends or to get some time on your own but why are there no coffee places for girls? The Gulf for example has plenty of women-only facilities. The response is “girls belong at home” and “girls want to stay at home”. One question comes to mind though: all the time…? In terms of dividing public money, I’ve seen male sports facilities but nothing for girls. If money is an issue, why not scale down the buildings? It would appear that women don’t need and/or deserve a gym and that men come first. This is no trivial matter folks. If the public sphere is dominated with men, then half the population are both under- and misrepresented. If there’s a problem, the women tend to suffer and I have indeed found that it seems to put the women at a disadvantage. Imagine this: “illegal sexual activity” is going on in public toilets. What action is taken? The women’s toilets are closed. So, we have functioning male toilets but nothing for the ladies. Whilst the men have toilet facilities, ladies are left with nothing. Not exactly ideal during that time of the month…

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Local cafés: a men’s world… (Photo: Xuoan Duquesne – CC)

This leads to another point. The lack of female representation also means that the women are not only under-represented in terms of opinions and facilities but that women’s specific needs are not met. Who understands women better than women themselves? For example, going back to the topic of toilets – do not expect there to be a sanitary bin in a public toilet. If you need to dispose of used personal sanitary items you need to take a mini plastic bag and your own pads (no vending machines). This may sound like a small issue to some guys out there but it really shows a complete lack of thought and understanding of women and women’s needs. As a foreigner, when you’re faced with all the frustrating other “norms” and you’re missing simple basic sanitation facilities, it just gets too much!

Whilst there is plenty of room for women in the public sphere to shop and buy shoes, scarves, handbags etc. (no problem with that – I love shopping!), what about recognising their needs and giving them real outlets to have a voice? Even when buying underwear, you should also never expect to a female sales assistant. Lingerie is often sold amongst other generic items of clothing in clothing and accessory shops. I don’t know about you but I’d not want to buy intimate items from male sales personnel with no women around for sizing advice. Women need the care and assistance of other ladies when buying their undergarments. In short, women need to be more visible and taken into greater consideration.

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Don’t expect to find sanitary towel bins in the ladies’ toilets… (Photo: Wrote – CC)


Public and private spheres: Male attitudes dominate

On a more serious note, the above really points to a deeply ingrained patriarchy that goes beyond an inability to go out for a coffee or find a female shop assistant when you want one (they do exist though btw!). No, what it means is that women have to accept the social standards set by men – which are hypocritical and clearly point to a double standard in favour of men. For example, divorced women are “a thing”. The stigma is decreasing from what I’ve heard and whilst divorce should never be taken lightly, neither should a woman be defined/pointed out as “divorced” in a conversation… A woman is actually “left on the shelf” when she’s “past her younger years” but for men this is not a problem. When a slightly older lady does marry, she is seen as a very lucky exception!

Such sexist double standards also translate to the way in which men feel they have the right to regulate women’s clothing, as well as overall general behaviour. Extreme interpretations of Islam have led me to be told I should not even talk on a mini-bus. Yes, women should remain modest but they do not need to (and must not) be silenced. Women in earlier Islamic years were scholars, teachers and architects – and still are! The men often shout and bellow down the phone but a woman cannot sit and talk on a bus. It also makes me so sad and angry to have to say this but some women and girls are forced to cover their hair and bodies. This is totally un-Islamic but happens. Parents and spouses have been known to force their daughters/wives to wear a headscarf (khimar/hijab) and other longer outer garments (jilbab). This is an insult to God, our right to free will and the women who freely choose to cover themselves in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, risking Islamophobic hate crime and discrimination in the workplace, street and even within their families. Yes, sadly it works both ways. Some girls in the Muslim community also face difficulty in wearing a scarf or face veil. Why can’t women just be left to make their own choices? What is in the heart is personal.

If we look at men’s behaviour though, there are clear double standards and hypocrisies. Smoking is haram (forbidden in Islam) but many many men smoke. I’m not here to judge though. My point is this: fathers, husbands and brothers would have a fit if their daughters, sisters and wives started smoking yet they carry on and puff away…

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The home: “a women’s place” (Photo: Groundhopping Murseburg – CC)


Social brainwashing: Male and female perpetrators

So, I’ve given you a few of my experiences and insights. When I’ve expressed some of my frustration and disbelief at these issues, my concerns have been acknowledged. Women themselves have agreed that this is down to culture, not religion. However, women – as well as men – also perpetuate these habits and enjoin in gossiping about women who “go against the grain” in perfectly moral, decent ways. The fact that some women acknowledge that restrictive norms are cultural (not Islamic) but also enjoin in or do not stand up to this this is what makes the reality of such misogyny really truly tragic. Many women have been brainwashed to follow these sexist norms which deem women and girls who are outside of the home more than deemed acceptable etc. as “behaving inappropriately” and the top end could seem them branded as “wh****”. By gossiping and backbiting away about the social activities of other women and girls, such females are “accepting” and keeping alive such outdated misogynistic values which can mean that any girl who does fight back or ignore these rules, risks her reputation and that of their family and ultimately her (and even her family’s) ability to marry and live a happy socially integrated life.

If you don’t believe in the poisonous power of social brainwashing in leading women to accept sexism and misogyny watch this video, showing one Algerian woman’s attitude to domestic violence. As you can see, women – as well as men – in believing in and accepting, rather than standing up and speaking out against these issues, are perpetuating sexist outdated and dangerous gender norms, stereotypes and even violence. From gossiping about women, to the very top end of the scale where some are even “happily accepting” domestic violence, it’s the same problem. On the one hand the report was made by an Algerian TV channel shows that awareness has been raised from the inside but if you watch the video, you’ll see that there is some severe social brainwashing and normalising of immoral sexist practices. Looking at the statistics in the video, domestic violence is a huge issue in itself, accepted by a large section of women.

These women are victims but will live on to victimise future generations of women and girls if things don’t change. Such men and women will be teaching their sons and daughters to carry and accept these practices. Misogyny in North Africa exists on micro and macro levels but remember this: no matter how small the incidents or examples are, do not underestimate the negative impact they can have on the lives of women and girls – it all comes from the same source…

Photo credits:

Babak Fakhamzadeh (feature image) (CC)

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