The Nepali anti-trafficking organisation, Shakti Samuha, has received the annual French Republic Human Rights Award, which is given to only three individuals around the world.
The National Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Paris decided to honour the Nepali organisation with a special mention ‘Liberté-Egalité-Fraternité’ for its program ‘Learn Understand Act’, a joint initiative with the French non-profit, Planète Enfants.
This recognition is the latest in a long list of international awards Shakti Samuha has received in the last few years. “We’re very proud as this medal acknowledges our work,” said Sunita Danuwar (pic), founder of Shakti Samuha at the awarding ceremony last week at Alliance Française in Kathmandu.
‘Learn, Understand, Act’ was started in 2007 to prevent violence against women through education, raising awareness and legal support. But at its creation in 1996, the organisation’s major mission was to empower survivors of trafficking. Shakti Samuha was created by survivors of trafficking themselves who were stigmatised by family and society when they came back from India.
“We knew it wasn’t our fault,” says Danuwar who was herself trafficked, “so we decided to transform our tears into power.” Shakti Samuha means ‘Power Group’ in Nepali.
Since then, the group has built a network of about 2,000 volunteers in 11 districts most at risk where it organises communities to prevent young women from being lured away.
The group also works for the protection and rehabilitation of survivors who return to Nepal.
At Shakti Samuha, survivors are provided with shelter, legal aid, vocational training and counseling for three months. Survivors have two options when they are ready to leave Shakti Samuha: urban reintegration or return to their home village. If they decide to go back, they risk being trafficked again and are regularly followed up with.
Shakti Samuha has to send monitoring reports for each survivor to the partner organisations in India working to free trafficked Nepali women. “This is how we ensure the zero risk of retrafficking,” says Danuwar. Of the 663 women who have returned, not one has gone back to India.
Established by 12 trafficked women, Shakti Samuha today is still run mostly by survivors. “Sometimes it’s hard to talk about our past,” says Danuwar, “but it’s important to tell our story to sensitise people.”
When the founding members of Shakti Samuha were freed and sent back from India in 1996, the authorities didn’t want them back in Nepal. Since then there has been a lot of progress in laws, but implementation is lagging behind.
This week, Sunita Danuwar flies to New York to participate in a conference of the Commission of Status of Women at the United Nations. She sees it as an opportunity to exchange experiences with other anti-trafficking organisations around the world. She says: “Most importantly, I will be coming back from New York with lots of experiences to share with my colleagues in Nepal.”
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