ATLANTA—Womenetics was the brainchild of businesswoman Elisabeth Marchant, who wrote, “Womenetics believes in women. We believe in their innovation, their creativity, and their collaboration.”
The second annual Womenetics conference on Sept. 30 drew international leaders in business, law, and human rights. The group spoke of solutions for slavery, economic exploitation, illiteracy, and poverty.
Swanee Hunt, former U.S. ambassador, founder and president of Hunt Alternatives Fund, talked about heartbreaking issues, yet managed to impart a sense of hope and energy. Her topic: abolition of human trafficking. A program of the Hunt Fund is “Demand Abolition,” which focuses on “johns” who purchase women and children.
“If there is no demand there is no supply,” she said. “The question is, how to address the demand?” She said a group surveyed young people in Sweden, where prostitution is illegal, and in Amsterdam, where it is legal. Only 10 percent of Swedish youth said it would be acceptable to purchase sexual services. In Amsterdam, 70 percent said it would be acceptable.
Hunt said that some people argue that legalization allows for safer working conditions and benefits for the workers. Though in the abstract that would be good, in fact the vast majority of workers are coerced. Almost no one freely chooses to work in that field. No one would hope that his child would work in that field, she said.
She said the mayor of Amsterdam shut down half of the city’s legal facilities after learning that the staff were kidnapped from other countries and held against their will.
A solution to human trafficking is to increase the respect for women, to make it completely unacceptable to buy them, she said. Nobody thinks it’s ok to buy children. She wants to make purchasing women unacceptable in a way that does not demonize johns. The phrase “Demand Abolition, is better than “Arrest Demand,” said Hunt. “We get into dehumanizing guys as we think of saving girls.” But that is not right. “I don’t want to hate.”
Demanding abolition is possible, according to Hunt. She laughed and said she was so old (“but I look pretty good, don’t I”) that she could remember when people went to the Dairy Queen, ate a burger, rolled up the wrapper, and threw it out of the window. Littering was normal. With a national “Don’t be a Litterbug” awareness campaign and fines, the social climate completely changed within five years. It can be changed about prostitution, too.
“We can do this,” said Hunt.
Bill Livermore said, “We need to go home today and tell two or three people” about human trafficking. “Conversations need to happen not just in universities but in shopping malls and streets.” He is the former executive director of the Somaly Mam Foundation; and a member of the NYC Human Trafficking Task Force.
The Somaly Mam Foundation funds groups that rescue girls that have been enslaved. It operates shelters where girls receive education, medical care, and learn work skills. The girls, too, became involved in ending demand, and began to visit boys’ schools to tell them about their experiences. At first the women were hesitant, but they found it had a powerful effect. “It was transformative. The young men understood,” said Livermore. “Prostitution is not ‘Pretty Woman,’ not ‘Moulin Rouge.’”
He said the artist Russell Simmons, “a great humanitarian,” was working to raise awareness of the problem and to reduce demand. “I’ve seen so much growth.”
Livermore quoted the English abolitionist William Wilberforce, “You may choose to ignore this problem but you can never again say you didn’t know.”