Standing Tall in the Face of Extraordinary Adversity on International Women’s Day

AAFSW was cordially invited to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2019, at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill. Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, engaged the audience to discuss the main challenges women face around the world in the areas of human trafficking, health, Gender Based Violence (GBV), economic participation and entrepreneurship, harmful cultural practices (such as Female Genital Mutilation – FGM), and forced or child marriage. CWA is committed to challenging the ever-increasing prevalence of pornography, prostitution, forced-sex labor, and all forms of commercial sexual exploitation at the root of a multi-billion-dollar industry exploiting thousands of girls and women in the United States, and millions around the world. At the forefront of continued advocacy, CWA has been lobbying for many years for legislation without loopholes to increase prosecutions against exploiters, and mandate consistent strict enforcement of laws regarding pornography, prostitution, and sexual slavery.

Under the leadership of Dr. Shea Garrison, CWA’s Vice President, the panel addressed the many efforts led at the U.S. level and foreign policy level to ensure that human rights for all women are respected. Dr. Garrison introduced the panel to the audience, stressing her commitment to stand against gender-based population imbalance from sex-selection, plain neglect, or forced sex trafficking among others. She recognized the dedication of each woman in their respective field, to make a difference, and invited them to comment on their concerns and achievements.

Political Consultant Andrea G. Bottner, former Director for the Office of International Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State, created the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award. Ms. Bottner reiterated the strength of women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Ms. Bottner recognized the current lack of a criminal justice system or public support to protect women in many parts of the world, as well as the continuous effort of the U.S. to address these issues globally.

Amanda Parker, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Director of the AHA Foundation, oversees AHA’s women’s rights programs. She develops federal and state policy proposals to protect women and girls from harmful cultural practices. She is working with the State of Michigan to put in place the most comprehensive anti-FGM legislation in the country. Ms. Parker has trained over 600 professionals likely to encounter cases. She supports survivors of these abuses so they can find protection and the services they need. Ms. Parker stressed that domestic violence predates religious doctrines, and that 200,000 women are victims of FGM each year, as well as 40,000 women in the U.S. Unfortunately, forced child marriage and spousal abuse are on the rise worldwide.

A former investigative officer for the Child Protection Unit with the Mexican Consulate General in San Diego, CA, and founder and President of International Network of Hearts (INH) based in San Diego, CA, and Tijuana, Mexico, Alma Tucker has over 20 years of experience assisting victims of human trafficking. She provides training and education at an interdisciplinary and binational level to authorities, civic groups, church organizations and public/private schools, while serving as an academic honorary member of the National Commission of the Ministry of Interior to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Human Trafficking, in Mexico. Ms. Tucker commented that human trafficking, the illegal trade of human beings, or modern-day slavery, is one of the worst forms of human rights violations. She remembered little girls being traded over the U.S.-Mexican border as young as ten years old, and their suffering. Ms. Tucker explained that victims of human trafficking often suffer from severe forms of violence as they may experience sexual and physical assaults, imprisonment, gang rapes, torture, threats to themselves and their families—and the degradation of being sold like cattle. She concluded by saying drugs can be sold only once, but some girls and boys are being sold over thirty times a day, victims of forced-sex labor. It happens in Mexico. It happens in the U.S. Ms. Tucker concluded her testimony by saluting the U.S. Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003, also known as the Sex Tourism law. However, she lamented that while many federal laws address the protection of children from American tourists, more public awareness campaigns and cooperation between authorities in the U.S. and Mexico were needed to help prevent these types of sex crimes against children from happening.

Founder and Executive Director at International HELP, Monterey Starkey, MPH, has been working with underprivileged people, using this experience and knowledge in the public health field to empower people to live healthier lives through community outreach and health education. She started International HELP from her experience working with a poor community in Nicaragua, partnering with a clinic in Nicaragua and training local people to be health workers. All over the world she provides the skills, resources, platform, and group structure necessary to positively influence the health of low-income communities in Asia and Latin America. Ms. Starkey restated that local communities’ beliefs were often sustainable and effective, and programs run by the local people most effective. She reproduced the same methodology in many places throughout the world, transforming one community at a time.

Dr. Ludy Green, an expert on U.S. domestic violence and human trafficking issues, is the Director for The Economic Empowerment System for Women at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Ms. Green reiterated the importance to help women at risk finding stable employment, assisting them in achieving financial independence. She also works to end preventable diseases in underprivileged areas globally. Ms. Green emphasizes educating and empowering local people to be health care leaders, as she saw the impact of this training changing the course of underprivileged communities. Ms. Green successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass national legislation protecting the rights of domestic violence victims and their dependents.

L-R: Dr. Shea Garrison, Amanda Parker, Sheila Switzer, Dr. Ludy Green, Alma Tucker, Celine Erickson, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos, Monterey Starkey.

Quality and mastery but also a lot of emotion and many intense moments were shared by all during this panel. Seeing that the standards and all of the hard work of the panelists had generated such success in raising the standards of women all over the world generated a moment of joy, offering a privileged space for dialogue and reflection among the audience. To further support these extraordinary women and their efforts, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW President, together with Sheila Switzer, AAFSW Program Chair and Foreign-Born Spouse State Liaison and Celine Erickson, AAFSW Transition Liaison and Board Member, INH, invited some of the panelists to an event on Women Awareness Month at the State Department in October 2019.

We hope to see you then!

Celine Erickson
Spouses in Transition Chair