FTS Nepal Director Neelam Sharma flew half way around the world last week to represent Free the Slaves at the InterAction annual forum in Washington.
Her mission: build consciousness among human rights professionals that they have a role to play in eradicating modern-day slavery.
InterAction, a “united voice for global change,” is an association of more than 180 organizations working toward a “peaceful, just and prosperous world.” Free the Slaves has recently joined the coalition.
We asked Neelam how her interactions went at the conference.
How did people react at the InterAction forum when you told them that you fight modern-day slavery?
Just our organization’s name, Free the Slaves, was very new and surprising for many participants. They asked: ‘Oh! Does slavery still exist in this world?’ When I said: ‘Yes slavery exists and we are fighting against it’ they became very serious, curious and ready to listen and learn about it. They started asking questions about the various forms of slavery how that is degrading human lives. The reaction was almost same from everyone, saying: ‘The work you are doing is very important.’
What did you tell people at the InterAction forum that they could do to help the fight against modern-day slavery?
First, I simply asked: ‘What are you doing to fight modern-day slavery?’ And most conference participants didn’t have any answer. They replied: ‘This is a very serious issue, we should do something, however we are not doing anything at present.’ I followed the question by saying: “So you can help us to fight against modern-day slavery by starting to think about what’s going on in your own backyard, starting to address the problem through your existing programs, integrating a ‘slavery lens’ in your broader efforts so that you see and address slavery.” People took that with genuine appreciation.
Why is it important that international development professionals join the fight against modern day slavery?
It is crucial because this is something going on throughout the world, not only in a few specific places. It will require a joint effort by organizations that are operating globally to fight modern-day slavery on a worldwide scale.
What did you learn at the InterAction forum that will help you fight modern-day slavery?
I learned that even though people accepted the reality that modern-day slavery is a critical human rights problem, very few organizations are fighting directly against it. It was an important lesson. We must not only continue our own work against modern-day slavery, but we must work to bring others into the effort and the issue of slavery into the mainstream.
Are you hopeful that other types of organizations will join with the anti-trafficking movement?
Yes, I am hopeful that other types of organizations will join hands in the future to strengthen the anti-slavery movement. However, I felt a lot of awareness-raising is still needed.
Editor’s Note: Our thanks to InterAction for providing a scholarship that allowed Neelam to attend the group’s 30th Annual conference.