Saturday, May 16

Fulbright Project

Amanda Fxxxxxxx, Bangladesh, Anthropology
The Effects of Grassroots Programs on Women Victims of Trafficking

In my research project, I will investigate the different rehabilitation initiatives of non-governmental and community based organizations’ anti-trafficking programs in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Reviewing the progress of their after-care programs will identify successful components of model programs for the autonomy of the women and girls they serve. Through sponsorship of Dr. Rxxxxx (letter forthcoming) from the Development Studies Department at Dhaka University, I will conduct structured interviews with various anti-trafficking advocates to explore their opinions on the programs. These interviewees will include members of NGO organizations, activists of women’s rights, and the women themselves who are living in post-trafficking shelters. To gain more access into the lives of these women, I intend to volunteer in local shelters to observe firsthand the value of the academic, vocational and therapeutic developmental programs available. My final evaluation will highlight extensively the approaches that best support women’s autonomy after commercial sexual exploitation.

My work in the All Bengal Women’s Union in Kolkata, India allowed me to spend personal time with Bangladeshi girls who were sexually exploited. Their stories haunt my mind, and pushed me to promote awareness of sex trafficking and to identify the best methods of rehabilitation and prevention. According to the United States’ Trafficking in Persons Report 2007, Bangladesh has made progress in prosecuting trafficking offenses and in creating awareness campaigns geared towards vulnerable communities, but it relies on NGOs to provide medical and psychosocial care to victims. Illegal migration is a governmental issue, as is the immediate arrest of those who threaten human security through trafficking, as defined in the United Nations’ Report of the Secretary General High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2004). However, I will focus on the role of community based organizations and grassroots campaigns to not only provide the rehabilitation of these females, but also to empower their voices to increase the efficacy of prevention programs.

Surrounded by Bangladeshi girls in the shelter, I pushed myself to learn more of the staggering history of Bangladesh. The last 100 years have been unstable for the nation, including several tyrannical leaderships, liberation wars, and economic insecurity. The Bengali woman has struggled to maintain her identity, which has often been crushed by the marginalization of sexual exploitation. An article called “A Tale of Two Cities,” written by Smarajit Jana, argues that the most horrific effect of trafficking is not the nature of the labor, but the outcome that leaves a woman with little or no option to voice herself (2002). With no place for self-expression, many women fall back into the vicious cycle of exploitation. However, yet another trait of Bangladesh is its strength and creativity during adversity. A country with a great academic history and pervasive political activism, Bangladesh has made progressive strides due to grassroots organizations. These shelters offer a freedom that allows victims to discover their roles in society.

I am currently reading articles on this topic in a course I am co-teaching at Pace University entitled “The Impact of Conflict on Women and Children.” With the Critical Language Enhancement Award, I will spend June to August learning Bengali at the University of Wisconsin’s South Asian Summer Language Institute to strengthen my Bengali needed for the interviews. Upon my arrival in Dhaka around September 7th, I will investigate important organizations and shelters within the community that deal with the issues of sex trafficking. Working with local communities and shelters, I can observe the women’s responses and progress from program initiatives. After informally meeting with at least 10 anti-trafficking shelters and at least 8 anti-trafficking activists and experts in the months of September to December, I will develop structured interview questions with Dr. Rxxxxx. During the months of January to April, the interviews will be conducted with advocates and the women involved, to determine the goals and effectiveness of the programs. I will also do brief interviews with women within the shelter I work in and follow their progress throughout their time at the shelter, observing their progress in programs made available to them. With my knowledge of Bengali and a student translator, I will be able to conduct the interviews in the women’s native tongue, allowing them to feel more comfortable. From the months of March to May, Dr. Rxxxx and I will analyze my recordings and notes to outline messages and strategies for a guideline for NGO’s rehabilitation programs. I plan to have my notes cataloged before my departure in June.

This project will investigate the paths of women’s development after their tragic commercial sexual exploitation. Leading to unique insights, messages and strategies, my research can help local organizations further aid the after-care programs of reintegrating females into society. While government based prevention campaigns and enactment of laws are an important step towards elimination, they are not the end all. The demands factors of sex trafficking occur on many levels, such as global injustice, gender and class discrimination, poverty, and a lack of education. Therefore, there needs to be a multilevel approach towards its eradication. Studying the rehabilitation programs can spread awareness to the Bengali community to understand the importance of after-care, as well as teaching Western institutions that “saving” these women from their sexual bonds is not the final step. Reviewing the efforts of local programs from my Western perspective in Bangladesh will allow for a cooperative understanding between Western activists and Bengali advocates, as well as assisting the women in need. The empowerment gained by the women will not only guide them towards self-sufficiency, but to take on leadership roles to disseminate information on the deception and cruelty of sex trade.

The research through this scholarship will provide me with the academic knowledge necessary to produce action. Tying the local communities to global citizenship will be an excellent experience for my career aspirations. I will leave for Bangladesh in September 2009, and upon my return in the summer of 2010, I will work with non-profit organizations to apply my understanding of small focused groups creating change. In fall 2010, I will apply to graduate schools with programs in public and social policy so I can take my appreciation for local organizations and help give them more power at the legislative level.