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March 8, 2017

International Women’s Day: A Look at JICA’s Work to Support Women Harmed by Disasters and Human Trafficking

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As International Women’s Day is observed March 8, women everywhere still face unmistakable disadvantages. And particularly in developing countries, they confront difficulties related to poverty, education, health care and natural disasters.

JICA is carrying out projects around the world to help ensure equal opportunities for all people, and to empower women. A recent successful example is the opening of eighteen girls' junior high schools in villages in southern Pakistan where many girls, because of their gender, give up hope of going to school. In Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, women are demonstrating their abilities through an initiative to use local resources to create products that can sell well domestically and internationally.

JICA is getting results with its assistance that protects women from crime and violence, views women as reformers, listens to their voices and uses their ideas to improve society. Here we consider two areas in which JICA provides assistance that helps women — human trafficking and disaster risk reduction.

Human Trafficking:

In the Greater Mekong Sub-region of Southeast Asia, countries share long borders and many people and things move across those borders. Many women go away from home to work to support their families and fall victim to human trafficking.

JICA’s “Project on Strengthening Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDT) for Protection of Trafficked Persons” began in Thailand in 2009. In MDT, experts and organizations of various fields cooperate to support people in difficult situations or people who have been abused. Members of the MDT for Protection of Trafficked Persons in Thailand include police officers, social workers, shelter staff, NGOs, lawyers, medical personnel, immigration control, prosecutors, and staff of the Thai ministries of Labor and Foreign Affairs.

Thailand needs labor because of its remarkable economic development, and so it is a destination for trafficking victims. Because of its location, it is also a source and transit point for them. JICA's efforts to strengthen the capacity of the MDT have had a large effect. Those efforts were based on a strong cooperative relationship with the Thai government, and the whole of the country has made efforts to eradicate human trafficking. To protect victims, provide them with medical and economic support and offer rehabilitation and vocational training to help them start new lives, cooperation must be formed beyond the framework of government agencies and NGOs. In the MDT, social workers play a key role in making cooperation among the stakeholders. To strengthen that cooperation, the project helps open dialogue among stakeholders through training, and it helps create guidelines used for protecting victims.

In addition, the project continuously supports the activities of “Live our Lives (LOL),” a local NGO established by former women victims. The members of LOL acquire counseling skills for closely caring for and communicating with other trafficked women. They also engage in such awareness-raising activities as organizing workshop and teaching as lecturers.

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As a follow-up project, JICA is now carrying out the "Project on Capacity Development on Assisting Victims of Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-regional Countries." It aims to strengthen the network to eradicate cross-border human trafficking by partnering with Myanmar and Vietnam — to which JICA has provided human trafficking-related support — as well as with Laos and Cambodia. The project held its seventh Mekong Regional Workshop in February 2017. The project encourages stakeholders from each country to learn from one another and share information on initiatives and problems in each country, including about what has been achieved through JICA's assistance in Thailand.

It may be difficult to provide assistance related to the issue of human trafficking because of its sensitivity, even if the donor is one of the world's leading aid agencies. One strength of JICA's is it has the trust of the various countries where it has worked closely with local people on various kinds of cooperation. JICA will continue its assistance to help keep women safe and help them have better futures.

Disaster risk reduction:

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It is a fact that in many cases, more women and people with disabilities become victims when natural disasters occur. During the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, around 1,000 more women than men lost their lives during the disaster in the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.

Nevertheless, the voices of women, people with disabilities, the elderly and others particularly vulnerable to natural disasters were not heard enough by the national government and local governments, and the local people affected by the disaster couldn’t participate in the drafting of disaster risk reduction plans. On this point, Japan is by no means more progressive than other countries. To tackle this issue and for mutual learning, representatives of government agencies and citizens’ groups from Asian and Latin American countries have been in Japan for training in the Tohoku region since February 2016 at JICA’s invitation.

One of women who participated in the training from Sri Lanka was motivated to act after returning to her country. After careful consideration of what actions could actually be implemented, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Women and Child Affairs has recently agreed to allocate funding for initiatives that reflect the needs of women. These included holding an international symposium organized by the Disaster Management Centre of Sri Lanka. While following up on Sri Lanka's disaster risk reduction plan — which was created thanks to the passion of her — JICA will continue this training for two more years.

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