American Women's Club of Zurich

Did you know that at least 27 million women and men worldwide are held in slavery, part of them being trafficked? Of trafficking victims, 43% are forced into commercial sexual exploitation, 98% of these are girls and women. These are some of the facts presented at a February event organized by FAWCO & PhASE along with ZIWA’s Global Concerns last February to 60 women who gathered together in the spirit of enquiry and support for some of the most vulnerable women here in Switzerland and beyond. Paula Daeppen, FAWCO UN representative in Geneva reminded us of the words spoken by Hilary Clinton in conclusion of her now famous speech on women’s rights to the United Nations in 1995: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

The news that more people than at any other time in history are now trafficked and held in slavery, despite slavery being officially abolished by the 19th century by many, if not all countries, is shocking. Switzerland is one of many European locations to which women, usually aged between 18-24, though sometimes younger, are trafficked and forced into prostitution. Members of AWCZ, AWC Basel and ZIWA came to find out about vital services for women who are victims of trafficking in Zurich and several other cantons.

Lucia Tozzi of FIZ (Advocacy and Support for Migrant Women and Victims of Trafficking) based in Zurich delivered an excellent presentation on the work of this organization, explaining how modern human trafficking operates and what happens when women manage to escape the slavery into which they have been forced, often by people they know and previously trusted. A central part of FIZ is the Makasi counseling and support centre, the only one of its kind in Switzerland, which offers these women comprehensive support, regardless of whether they file criminal charges against the offender or not and assists those who denounce the perpetrators up to their court proceedings.

As part of the team work, the attendees had been asked to bring along toiletries and feminine hygiene products to donate to FIZ. When women are rescued, they often have nothing more than the clothes they stand in, and having a small ‘care pack’ of their own toiletries, is one small way we can help them with the long and difficult journey to rebuilding their lives. The generosity of the ZIWA and AWCZ attendees in donating toiletries was immense. The large box set out for collection was overflowing in a short time! In addition, The Baur au Lac Hotel, Zürich, generously donated many packages of bathroom amenities. An AWCZ member also donated a large flat screen TV, which came at just the right time for the FIZ shelter that operates as a safe house. In addition, CHF130 in cash was spontaneously donated to FIZ. Lucia Tozzi expressed her thanks for all these donations and has followed up by letting us know of other items that are needed for their safe shelters for trafficked women. These include 3 vacuum cleaners for the small shelters, single bed linens plus computers or laptops. In addition, FIZ is fundraising to repair a damaged floor for the larger shelter. Lucia pointed out major difficulties in Switzerland to identify and help victims. One problem is not knowing the actual numbers of trafficked women as there are no standard practices or policies due to the federal system. Currently FIZ works in close cooperation with a limited number of cantons which means that women who are held in slavery or manage to escape elsewhere in Switzerland do not have access to the support and services of an organization like FIZ. FIZ seeks to educate policy makers about the need for more such vital services.

After Lucia’s very informative talk and a wide range of questions from the audience, we took a break to enjoy coffee and cakes baked by volunteers. The break was also an opportunity for the women to shop at the FAWCO boutique selling beautiful items for the ‘Backing Women’ campaign. Items to the value of CHF487 were sold. ‘Free the Girls’ is the current target project for the FAWCO two year fundraising campaign. Those signing up to attend were asked to help a ‘Bra Drive’, donations of gently used bras to be sent to Free the Girls. FTG is a US based program that provides an opportunity for sex trafficking survivors (in Mozambique, Uganda and El Salvador) to build their own business selling second-hand clothing while going to school, establishing a house, and caring for their families. ‘Free the Girls’ began in 2010 and is steadily growing to help more women. The call for Bras was a huge success. Over 200 Bras were donated! This included some brand new bras generously donated by Jelmoli and Calida in support of this event. ZIWA member, Lisa Bond, generously offered to transport all 200 bras to a collection point in the USA, thus enabling the CHF85 raised on the day to be used for a second shipment. The Bra drive continues throughout the month of March.

Following the break, Marie-Bénédicte Luxem, the AWCZ FAWCO representative introduced a short film that illustrated just how effective the ‘Free the Girls’ program is. The donated bras provide a start-up inventory. Cash donations support the training of local workers who train and support women survivors of sex trafficking to start their own business and rebuild their own lives as well as that of their children. Once the women have managed to sell their first inventory of bras they can buy their next inventory to build their business. The donated bras work as a form of micro-credit empowering self-sufficiency. Second hand clothes are in demand in the target countries and bras in particular are small ‘luxury’ items. FTG recognized that by focussing on selling bras, trafficked women can build a woman to woman business, which is very important in the recovery from forced prostitution. www.freethegirls.org

You might think that gathering together to hear about such tragic cases and the facts and figures of modern slavery around the world and more specifically in Switzerland would make for a subdued and depressing afternoon. However every woman in the room was keen to know more about how such dreadful practices happen, what help is and can be given and equally important, what can we as individuals do. All agreed that it was important to know about modern slavery on our doorstep, and while this is a very sad fact, we can be very positive through our practical support for these vital organizations that offer essential services to survivors.

Most important, just spreading the word can make a difference.

In addition, Free the Girls is currently looking for a European base for bra collections. Should you be interested in starting a bra collection depot and forming a FTG team in Europe, please find out more and go to: www.freethegirls.org/get-involved/become-a-drop-off/

In the coming months we will keep you posted on the work of FIZ in Zurich and update you on donations that will help their work. Likewise, we will let you know how the FAWCO Backing Women campaign and Free The Girls support work is going.

Please visit the Backing Women online boutique! The items make beautiful gifts for friends and family. www.fawcofoundation.org

Our heartfelt thanks to our special guest Lucia Tozzi from FIZ. She gave hours of her time to prepare and deliver her excellent presentation for our wonderful audience. And thanks too to all volunteered to make this event happen, as well as all those attended, donated and participated to make this a very positive Women helping Women event! Last but not least, thanks to supporting sponsors Hotel Baur au Lac, Jelmoli and Calida for their generous donations to both FIZ and FTG.

Update September 2015:

ETH has kindly donated 2 laptops to FIZ. Many thanks to Elaine Vautier and Simonetta Zysett for organizing this donation.

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