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Equality Now: Putting Sex Traffickers on Notice

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Equality Now is an international human rights organization that focuses on the human rights of women and girls. They mainly focus on laws specific to violence against women, and try to make sure these laws are implemented, enforced, and respected. Their hope is that by shaping better laws that treat women and men equally, they can help women see and reach their full potential.

NYMM had a chance to speak with Equality Now’s Global Executive Director, Yasmeen Hassan.

NYMM: What are some of the laws Equality Now been working on in the United States?

YH: There is a law in the United States where men do not have the same right as women to transfer their nationality to their children born overseas if those children are born out of wedlock. Just this past year, we submitted an amicus brief into the Supreme Court in order to change this law.

Other work we do in the United States involves sex trafficking and tourism. The U.S. is a huge destination country for sex trafficking. Twenty-five percent of sex tourists come from the United States. We work at the grassroots level with survivors of various violations – whether that’s sex traffickingfemale genital mutilation, child sex abuse – and make sure that those people are best served by the laws and policies we bring about.

NYMM: Can you give us a specific example of the impact organizations like Equality Now can have?

YH: We have been working to make sure that the U.S. Federal Law not only deals with sex trafficking, but also looks to protect victims in other countries when American sex tourists go there and exploit girls and women there.

We heard about a sex tourism company based in Atlanta, Georgia that was sending men from all over the U.S. to fishing tours on the Amazon River. We heard from our partners in Brazil that this was a front for sex tourism. Indigenous women were brought onto these boats to meet these men who would then have sex with them. We sent a program officer down to Brazil along with the law firm King & Spalding. We interviewed four of the girls who were involved in this and on behalf of these girls we filed the first federal case in Atlanta under the Long Arm Statute. This case resulted in a lot of reform for Brazil. In the U.S. there was quite a lot of attention on this issue. The case settled because the judge found that the events had happened too long ago and the law wasn’t directly applicable to the case. But in that process we raised a lot of awareness and put American sex traffickers on notice.

NYMM: How are human rights organizations like Equality Now harnessing the power of people’s support to bring about positive changes for women and girls?

YH: We start at the grassroots levels, we hear what they are doing, and we elevate them. We take the issues and we bring them to the regional level. If they are European we bring it to the European Union, if they are African we bring it to the African Commission, or we bring the issues to the United Nations. We try to highlight the voices of the most marginalized people and grassroots groups in the international sphere.

Another way is we combine groups who are working on the same issues across international boundaries. For example, on female genital mutilation we bring together groups from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, the U.K., and the U.S. who can share their practices with each other. Working together makes everyone stronger because people can build on ideas.

We are an advocacy organization with a membership base who tries to make people into global citizens and activists. We try to get the world talking about issues, which in a way connect us. Issues that women and girls face around the world have the same root causes, they just have different manifestations.

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