Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kudos to Somaly Mam for Liberating Women

Somaly Mam is a legendary human rights worker who shared her experiences with a capacity audience at WAC NorCal this month.  She spoke plainly and from the heart about her work.  Her namesake Somaly Mam Foundation does great work in helping oppressed women escape from captivity.  The International Museum of Women and the Vital Voices Global Partnership helped get her message out.

Today is Fathers' Day in the US, which is an appropriate reason to comment on Ms. Mam's message.  She noted that anti-trafficking programs tend to demonize men, but both genders need to be educated on how to stop trafficking.  Volunteers at her centers in Cambodia teach women skills that will help them escape from trafficking.

Her talk got me thinking about whether captive women would benefit from mobile connectivity to the outside world.  I suspect that Westerners assume that digital technology hasn't penetrated developing nations' rural areas.  That may be incorrect.  The World Bank estimates that mobile phone coverage reaches three quarters of the world's population.  The UN Development Programme has a plan to use mobile technology to accelerate its Millennium Development Goals.  Any non-profit that seeks to reach an underprivileged captive audience would do well to write apps that their beneficiaries can use.  The problem facing women in captive situations is that their captors may confiscate their mobile devices.  I don't have a good answer to that problem.  Perhaps non-profit app writers could encrypt their apps to avoid the captor's detection.

Ms. Mam reports that multinational corporations are getting better at monitoring their supply chains to ensure subcontractors don't engage in human trafficking.  The hospitality industry has developed protocols to ensure franchises in developing countries aren't used for illicit activity.  Unfortunately, human trafficking is also a problem here in the United States.  A web search reveals just how much attention various government agencies give this serious problem.  The US State Department staffs a monitoring office and chairs a Presidential interagency task force.  The FBI investigates human smuggling.  DHS tracks human traffickers and protects their victims.  ICE has tools to track human trafficking as it crosses our borders.  This campaign is a demonstration of American values that the world needs to hear about more often.

Somaly Mam is a modern hero for her tireless work.  Human trafficking is a criminal effort facilitated by the same outlaw groups that distribute narcotics and black-market weaponry.  The rest of the world has a lot more work to do to stop human trafficking.