EU: The European Commission’s second anti-trafficking report: A call to end the “culture of impunity”

By Brianna Hertford, Human Rights Without Frontiers


HRWF (18.09.2019) – On the 12th of September 2019, Dr Myria Vassiliadou, the EU Anti Trafficking Coordinator, presented the EU Commission’s second report on trafficking to the FEMM and LIBE committees at the European Parliament.


Dr Vassiliadou’s core message was clear: in order to truly make progress on the EU’s goal to stop trafficking, we need to end the current culture of impunity. This is especially true for sex trafficking, which the report found to be the most common type.


Sex trafficking is immensely lucrative and only exists because there is a demand for it. These are the true drivers of this issue, not the individuals who are trafficked or their vulnerabilities. An effective prevention strategy must target the “buyers and users and profiters,” says Dr Vassiliadou. If we do not address the business model of trafficking, we will never be able to fully stop traffickers from preying on people.


Dr Vassiliadou discussed individual cases of trafficking and general trends in the data, gaps in current policies and implementation, and ongoing initiatives to combat the issue. She presented recommendations addressing the root of the problem such as: criminalising the knowing use of ‘services’ of victims of trafficking; implementing the 2011 EU anti-trafficking directive in judicial and criminal systems to ensure enforcement; and targeting the “chain of actors” involved in this severe crime. To be clear, this new approach would only criminalise perpetrators who knowingly engage in services with a victim of trafficking, and would not criminalise the victims of trafficking themselves.


The legal framework to eradicate trafficking exists, but the issues lie in the coordination and implementation of it at international, national and local levels. It is imperative that a comprehensive strategy is developed to combat trafficking across all sectors. Another key finding was that there is a lack of resources to properly support individuals who have been trafficked, and so an increase in funding for civil society is recommended.


A final challenge that Dr Vassiliadou raised in this session was the “general fatigue” of policymakers when discussing sex trafficking and exploitation. Although policymakers are indeed addressing a very complex and distressful topic, it is critical to prioritise this grave human rights issue and combat the identified culture of impunity. As Dr Vassiliadou reiterated, “it is only when we stop the money and the exploiters that we stop the trafficking.”


The second report from the European Commission, titled Second report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (2018) as required under Article 20 of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, was published on the 3rd of December 2018. More information on this topic and the recommendations of the EU Commission can be found there.

ASIA: Gender equality and women leaders benefit companies and society: President Halimah

The Straits Times (18.09.2019) – – Companies and society will benefit from increasing participation by women in the economy and leadership positions, said President Halimah Yacob on Wednesday (18.09.2019).


Madam Halimah told the Women’s Forum Asia: “Our society has been built on principles of meritocracy and equal opportunity for all.


“To this extent, organisations in Singapore must continue to embrace diversity in leadership positions, which has been shown to lead to positive impact on business profitability, a more robust corporate governance, as well as fresh and innovative perspectives.”


Madam Halimah noted that female representation on the boards of the top 100 primary-listed companies here has doubled in four years.


She also noted the potential for greater women’s participation in entrepreneurship and science and technology, adding that the common misconception that women do not do well in these fields needs to be addressed.


Madam Halimah cited a study conducted with more than 1,000 Asian firms by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group.


It found that companies where at least 30 per cent of the directors were females fared better than firms with all-male boards.


This presents a strong business case for increasing women’s participation in both workplaces and on boards, Madam Halimah said.


Bursa Malaysia chairman Shireen Muhiudeen said during the opening discussion that new technology means more women could participate in the workforce, especially as it enables them to work from home.


“If you can do something via technology, why not… this would be one of the ways to keep women working and empowered, and part of the ecosystem,” she said.


Speakers at the forum, which is focusing on the importance of female leadership in a changing world, include Ms Agnes Pannier-Runacher, French State Secretary for Economy and Finance, Schneider Electric chairman and chief executive Jean-Pascal Tricoire and former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.


Around 120 speakers and 1,500 people are expected at the three-day forum, which ends on Friday (20.09.2019).

SOUTH AFRICA: In Pictures | Women protest against gender-based violence

By Barry Christianson

New Frame (06.09.2019) – – Women’s voices reverberated in fury as protesters honoured those who have been raped and murdered in South Africa, and demanded that the government take better action against perpetrators.

HRWF comment: This protest was sparked by the murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a student at the University of Cape Town (for more information click here). The following are statements from women at this protest. Click here to view their photos.

Khanyisile Welani, 17, from Nyanga East (centre) is a high school student at Rhodes High in Mowbray.


Khanyisile is also the cousin of Uyinene Mrwetyana. “I’m here to protest against women being raped,” she says. “I’m also a survivor and I’m here to stand for every woman who never had a word to speak out. I’m here to stand for every four or five-year-old child who isn’t capable of standing up for themselves and saying, ‘Enough is Enough!’ The police are not doing anything. I’m here to stand for Uyinene.”


Bonita Barnes from Tafelsig in Mitchells Plain is studying human resources management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.


“About a year and a half ago, a neighbour of mine, her daughter passed away,” she explains. “She was raped and murdered by the guy who had a crush on her mom. So I felt obligated to be here on her behalf.”


Bukiwe Sidini from Langa is studying safety in society at Northlink College in Bellville.


“I’m a woman who’s concerned, a woman who does not feel safe anymore in a democratic society,” she says. “I decided to come out here as a woman first because we’re being violated so much. It needs to stop. It’s been happening for years, but we haven’t been speaking out and doing so much about it.


“But the time has come now for us to act and react as the youth, as the people that gives these votes to our government. We need to stand up today and we will not be deterred. We will not stop until we see change. We will come tomorrow and the day after. We will come until the government hears us. Until they do something that is tangible. Something we can see. Because currently we’re not seeing anything.


“People rape children and at the end of the day, they still come out. Correctional services is not working right now. The rehabilitation process that they have in the justice system is not working. The person who raped Uyinene and killed her already had some other violations, so the justice system is not rehabilitating. So that’s why we are here today.”


Jonique Pietersen is a student at Stellenbosch University.


“Honestly, I don’t want to leave my legacy knowing that I didn’t make an impact,” she says. “I’m not gonna stay silent anymore. This has been going on for way too long. So I actually went to the statue [of Louis Botha, outside Parliament in Cape Town]. I painted my hand red. That represents our blood that has been shed. I wanted to make my mark on the statue so it can be there and I know that I did something to make a change.”


Shanlen Ishmail from Elsies River works at a call centre while studying education part-time.


“I’m here because I want justice for women,” she says. “I have two little sisters, one goes to high school. They’re definitely vulnerable and I am, too. And not just for my family but for everyone else. It’s been going on for a while, we’ve been silent and it’s just been escalating. So we are literally done being silent. It’s close to home. We are all vulnerable. It’s not happening because of what we wear, where we go … It’s happening any time, it’s happening with people close to us. We can’t trust anybody. It doesn’t matter what we wear, it doesn’t matter how old we are. Old people are getting raped, babies are getting raped. It’s everywhere.”

 Abigail Bolisiki from Gugulethu goes to Sans Souci Girls’ High School in Newlands.


“The most infuriating thing is that the men who are supposed to be protecting us, according to patriarchy, are the ones that are killing us,” she says. “Why do we have to survive and not live? … Why do we have to fight more than men for our space on this land, whereas men are entitled to their own space and way of living, and it has to always affect us because we are inferior to them? I won’t say it has been a success because not all the rapists and perpetrators have been caught. When we fight we die, when we don’t fight we die. So we might as well fight and die trying, so we know we did our part.”

Robin Jones, 21, works in the film industry.


“What frustrates me is the fact that people are still not taking us seriously as a gender,” she says. “We have to fight to have a voice and, still, people are disregarding it.”


AUSTRALIA: Hospital hierarchies are fostering sexual harassment against young doctors

In a stressful workplace where life-and-death decisions are taken, blatant sexual offensiveness can be dismissed as letting off steam


By Louise Stone, Christine Phillips and Kirsty Douglas


The Guardian (10.09.2019) – – As issues of sexual harassment and toxic workplace cultures are gaining more coverage in the media, it has surprised people to read such accounts by doctors and surgeons.


People may wonder if these accounts could possibly be true, and if so, why highly trained professionals put up with being demeaned and sexualised at work.


We are three doctors who have studied the phenomenon of sexual harassment and abuse of doctors and medical students, by doctors. As clinicians we have worked with survivors of sexual abuse by fellow medical professionals.


The experience of being demeaned and sexually harassed while performing their work is commonplace for female health professionals. Internationally, 59% of medical trainees experience bullying and harassment, with 33% experiencing sexual harassment. In a large survey by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, 30% of female surgeons reported experiencing sexual harassment, in most cases by a male surgical consultant. Junior doctors are over-represented among recipients of sexual harassment.


Surgery is a discipline which requires intensive training, feats of physical endurance and rapid and complex decision making. Neurosurgery is a particularly high-stakes profession where health and disability rely on millimetres of decision making and skill. In Australia, entry into this elite tribe is through an apprenticeship model that relies on senior staff selecting, training and mentoring junior staff. Training and mentoring can shade into “beneficial mistreatment”, the idea that hierarchy, harsh feedback and feats of physical endurance (like brutal hours) will prepare their junior doctors for the difficult life ahead.


Hierarchical hospital cultures which support high-profile specialists make it difficult to protest offensive behaviour, particularly when the progression of one’s career relies upon the support of one’s supervisor. In a stressful workplace where life-and-death decisions are taken, blatant sexual offensiveness can be dismissed as letting off steam, a professional coping strategy. For juniors that do choose to report there are confusing, unconnected and at times conflicting pathways via their employer, their training bodies and/or the legal systems.


Holding doctors to account for their behaviour has proven extremely difficult. Although some surgeons are remarkably reflective about their humanness and vulnerability, many are not. Senior doctors can see themselves as invulnerable, and recent high-profile cases suggest they are correct. John Kearsley, a senior radiation oncologist convicted of drugging and indecently assaulting his registrar, pleaded guilty to this crime but his sentence was reduced to nine months imprisonment on appeal due to his “outstanding medical work”. Chris Xenos, a senior neurosurgeon, was required to pay damages to his registrar when the Victorian civil and administrative tribunal found he sexually harassed her. Despite this, he was promoted to acting head of department and continued to work at Monash Medical Centre because of his “exemplary record as an employee”. The complainant, Dr Caroline Tan, has not worked in the public sector again.


Clinicians who call out the behaviours of doctors at the peak of their profession are rarely embraced by their colleagues. Whistleblowers experience personal cost and risk their careers, even if they are senior in the hierarchy. For junior doctors who are victims of toxic behaviours, the risk of losing their careers after reporting harassment and bullying is high. In our research, we also found that doctors are also silenced by long-standing beliefs around professionalism. “Being professional” is equated by their colleagues – and sometimes by themselves – as keeping knowledge of the behaviours within the tight circle of the ward, the operating suite, the emergency room or the clinic.


Those who do report often suffer the indignity or being cast as villains themselves. Despite winning her case, some sectors of the media treated Dr Caroline Tan as the whipping girl for victim feminism. “Clearly, the surgical training system which has served Australians so well must be destroyed to advance the causes of gender feminism,” Miranda Devine wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “Just pray you don’t get a brain tumour.”


If we are to manage the complexity of the dilemma of toxic cultures in our workplaces, we must grapple with some difficult realities. Hierarchical workplaces sometimes exist in places where hierarchy is necessary. There is no time for democracy when surgical dilemmas unfold rapidly in an operating theatre. Sexism and sexist power structures are not unique to surgery. The groundbreaking Operating with Respect program by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons offers one model for other professions on a coordinated long-term approach to countering entrenched culture, but progress is slow.


These initiatives will not succeed without changes in hospitals. Unsustainable overtime and profoundly unhealthy working hours are encouraged by institutions, not just professions. Exhaustion makes doctors vulnerable, and we cannot expect the junior doctors to manage the complexity of entrenched bullying and harassment alone. Whistleblowers need to be protected, not by written policies, but by enacted processes that prevent harm to them and their families. And finally, we cannot expect our heroes to work in unsustainable jobs with little input from life outside of the artificial glare of the surgical lights. Their patients and colleagues deserve better, and so do they.

Watch: Protestors mark 100 domestic violence deaths in France in 2019

100 deaths and counting: France’s femicide problem

By Vincent Coste & Lindsey Johnstone

Euronews (03.09.2019) – – A demonstration was held in Paris on Sunday to denounce the 100th femicide in France this year, at which people held signs showing the names of the women killed by their partner or ex-partner between January and September 2019.

On Monday, a 92-year-old woman became victim number 101, when she died after being beaten by her husband with his cane.

In 2018, 121 women were killed in France by their partner or ex-partner, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Protesters on Sunday called on the French government to act, ahead of a meeting on domestic violence on Tuesday.

The national forum on domestic violence or “day of dialogue” – an initiative led by Marlene Schiappa, the French Secretary of State for Equality – was attended by police officers, lawyers, representatives of women’s associations and the families of victims of femicide, with domestic violence prevention and victim support workshops planned.

Schiappa last week pledged €1 million for organisations tackling domestic violence, but the announcement has been met with criticism from such groups, who deem it inadequate.

Sunday’s demonstration was organised by the feminist organisation Nous Toutes (All of Us), which is demanding the government prioritise the issue and allocate more funds to tackle it.

Chief executive Caroline De Haas tweeted: “They are [the] 100. Murdered because they are women. This evening, with Nous Toutes, we have named them. We are asking the state to wake up. We need funds and public policies that are up to the task.”

Schiappa on Tuesday announced the creation of a new helpline 3919 – after the date of launch, 3/9/19 – and encouraged people to share it. She tweeted a message beginning “I’ll be taken seriously when I’m dead” and went on to say: “Today, 3/9/19, at the coffee machine, at lunch, at the school gate, on the phone, on social networks… share 3919. You never know who might need it.”

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced after the summit a raft of new measures including the creation of 1,000 additional places in emergency accommodation for women who are the victims of domestic violence and an audit of police handling of domestic violence. From November 25, women will be able to file domestic violence complaints at the hospitals where they have been treated for injuries inflicted, and legal powers to limit fathers’ parental rights in the case of domestic violence, while still allowing the mother to receive alimony, will be introduced.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer also announced the creation of a working group focused on the prevention of domestic violence through education.

According to the NGO “Femicides par compagnons ou ex” (Femicides by partners or exes), a woman is killed by a partner or former partner every two days in France. The collective told Euronews last month that among those killed this year, many had already gone to the police about domestic violence issues but that their concerns had not been taken seriously.

The group also called on French authorities to take a new approach by removing violent men from their partners and families, rather than women and children being the ones to move to shelters. “They come out of a conjugal hell and are plunged into another kind of hell, while their violent partners are at home and can continue to harass them through the children because they retain their parental rights,” they said.

According to a study by the Victims’ Delegation of the National Police and National Gendarmerie, in 2018 21 children were also killed in the context of domestic violence. The study showed that the vast majority of domestic murders were carried out using a weapon and that 83% occurred in the home of the couple, the victim or the perpetrator. The most prevalent motive was non-acceptance of the separation of the couple.

NPR: Afghan women still being imprisoned for failing virginity tests

RFERL (28.08.2019) – – Afghan women are still being imprisoned for failing virginity tests, despite a nationwide ban on the unscientific practice, U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) reported on August 27.


Farhad Javid, an Islamic policy adviser for Marie Stopes International, a U.S. global family planning organization, told NPR that she and Afghanistan’s first lady, Rula Ghani, visited a prison in January where many of the women were being held.


As a result, 190 prisoners were released between January and April, yet more have since been jailed, Javid said.


“Many are kept inside the jail for a year and a half – for nothing,” Javid told NPR in a separate interview.


In 2018, the UN banned the tests, which don’t accurately prove if a woman has had sex.


They are “medically unnecessary, and often times painful, humiliating, and the traumatic practice must end,” according the UN.


Afghan families force daughters to take the tests for a variety of reasons.


They are administered as rape tests, or used to determine whether someone can attend school, get married, or hired for a job.


If a daughter fails the test, the police are usually alerted, and the incarceration process begins.


To reduce the practice, Javid this month rolled out training programs that target police and members of the legal community, including judges and the Prosecutor-General’s Office.


In May, similar sessions were held in the health-care community to educate medical workers.