Last week I broke bread with a delegation from 15 countries across the globe, 16 women and one lone man. The visitors came to this country to participate in the U. S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
What I learned from these visitors is invaluable. I heard how they have been working on behalf of women and children in their countries to combat violence against women, counter human trafficking and address child sexual abuse.
At the dinner event, sponsored by the Center for Women and Democracy, I was lucky enough to be seated next to Daniella Misail-Nichitin from Moldava, a small land-locked nation between Romania and the Ukraine. Daniella is a well-spoken young woman and co-founder of the NGO La Strada (“the road”). Since 2012, she’s been that organization’s executive director and is regarded as the leading expert in the field of human trafficking prevention.
Her principal role is to assist Moldavan women and prevent them from falling victim to trafficking. Her agency fills that role since, as she noted ruefully, “Moldova’s law enforcement and judicial systems are underfunded, poorly trained and corrupt.” Although young and slight, she shoulders heavy responsibilities. Not only does she direct counter-trafficking work in her country, she is also an international trainer on issues related to trafficking and domestic violence.
During our meal, she leaped up frequently to photograph speakers who included three international visitors as well as Seattle women who have been active in working for women’s rights. All of the speakers provided insights into the remarkable work that’s being done, sometimes under adverse circumstances, to protect women and children.
I was especially impressed by Freshta Karimi, who came here from her native Afghanistan. She directs Da Qanoon Gshtunkay, a non-governmental organization that works to assist women and children in her country. She told of some of the hardships she has faced. Local Talibs forced her office in Kandahar to shut down, despite her urgent calls to local and national leaders. She has continued to work in Southern Afghanistan while looking for ways to reenter Northern provinces
She mentioned one recent case involving a young girl who had been compelled to marry at the age of five. The youngster had been beaten and badly mistreated by her inlaws and, eventually, was sent off to an orphanage. It was from there that Freshta, over protests, managed to rescue the child.
During the question period, Freshta was asked if she had received personal threats. She readily admitted that she had and said that she often is the target of threats. However, she brushed aside the risks as part of the price of her calling. She said that she “balances” safety with the urgency of doing work on behalf of women and children.
Over and over, those of us at the dinner heard stories of the foreign visitors’ remarkable determination. The work they have been doing parallels Seattle efforts. But, whereas areas like Seattle see women trafficked from poorer nations, the international visitors are working to prevent their women from being caught up in the web of trafficking schemes.
The rescue efforts are mostly mounted by women. But it is not exclusively women’s work. The one man in the delegation was Parneet Singh, a passport officer from India. He has made it his mission to improve the lot of women and girls in his district, working with women who have been abandoned by husbands residing overseas. To help the women left behind, he started a “Women’s Grievance Cell,” finding legal justification for his action in a little-known portion of the Indian Civil Code. He denies passports abroad to men until they resolve their wives’ claims.
The evening with the State Department visitors gave the Seattleites in attendance a sense of how important working internationally has become. It’s also gave them an appreciation for the courage and determination of those who work to help women around the world.