United We Stand – An International Panel for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2020

UNITED WE STAND - And International Panel on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2020

Check out one of our favourite events of 2020 (over 9000 views on Facebook!) with our colleagues around the globe working to end human trafficking and advance equity in different ways. Thank you to all our co-panelists and tireless activists fighting for the eradication of human trafficking and exploitation in different corners of the world. Big thanks to Ushoshi Sangupta, New Light Kolkata and Urmi Basu!
Check out the full video below or watch it on YouTube.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report is out – and it misses the mark.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report is Out - And it Misses the Mark

The US State Department’s TIP Report has been a useful tool for the past 20 years in global efforts to end human trafficking.

However, it is in dire need of an evolution.

The report must consider new criteria when “ranking” countries other than prosecutions and convictions. Overall, there is a huge focus on a country’s legislation and less on the systemic issues that actually contribute to human trafficking like gender inequality, systemic racism/discrimination, colonialism, homophobia, capitalism and more.

What drives people to migrate unsafely? To seek out a better life even when there are red flags? What makes a person more vulnerable to a trafficker? Why are Indigenous women particularly targeted in Canada and what narratives make it okay to ignore their disappearances? What do gender norms have to do with the sex trafficking of women and girls? Why are the most marginalized people the ones who are being trafficked the most worldwide?

These are the questions that must be analyzed and understood to truly rank a country on their efforts to end human trafficking.

In terms of country rankings (Tier 1 being the best and Tier 3 being the worst), USA has placed themselves in Tier 1 again – despite discriminatory and harmful immigration policies that are contributing to increased vulnerability of migrant workers and further silencing those who are currently being exploited. Would you seek out support as a trafficking victim if there was a risk you would be detained or have your children separated from you and held in cages?

Canada is also in Tier 1, with little mention of systemic issues in Canada that create environments of INEQUITY – which is where exploitation thrives. The Canadian section focuses more on the Canadian Criminal Code and less on human rights. Sadly, there was nothing mentioned about the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, despite the report’s numerous mentions of the connections between Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and human trafficking.

If we are to truly eradicate human trafficking, we must aim to address the root causes of exploitation and advance equity and dignity for all. It’s the only way. Aura Freedom recommends exploring a new way to rank countries that prioritizes human rights, equity and support for survivors.

Read the 2020 TIP Report here:

COVID-19 is new. Gender-based violence isn’t.

COVID-19 is New. Gender-Based Violence Isn't

For women around the world who experience violence in their homes, every day is an emergency. Every day is life or death. For these women and their children, the COVID-19 crisis presents complex health risks that go beyond the disease itself. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently called the global surge in domestic violence due to country lockdowns “horrifying.”

He’s right.

The truth is, gender-based violence (GBV) has always been horrifying. But now, with governments mandating social distancing and self-isolation, countless women and girls are even more isolated as they are asked to remain in the very place that is the most dangerous for them: Home.

Grassroots feminist organizations knew what was coming. For some women, the lockdowns would mean increased frequency and severity of the violence they endure. For others, it would mean experiencing violence for the first time. Fear, anxiety, and economic pressure amount to increased household stress, with women bearing the brunt of that stress while trapped with abusive household members. Moreover, with schools, workplaces, restaurants, and community programs closed, women and their children have fewer places to turn to for refuge. 

In China, police in Jianli County in southern Hubei province reported three times the number of domestic violence incidents in February compared to the same time last year. In France, police have reported a 30% increase in domestic violence and Spain saw an 18% increase in calls to its domestic violence emergency line in the first two weeks of lockdown. Now, we are hearing similar patterns from our community partners on the ground in Canada. 

Gender-based violence is preventable 

Governments could have never predicted the impact of COVID-19, but they certainly could have predicted the spike in GBV that would come with it.  After all, gender-based violence is not a new phenomenon and there isn’t a country in the world that is free from it.  

Before COVID-19 was even deemed a threat in Canada, I called gender-based violence a ‘national emergency’ for Canadian women in Aura Freedom’s Beijing +25 report entitled Relentless Resilience, released in early 2020. I was not being dramatic.  

Many of my colleagues around the world would say the same thing about GBV in their own countries. According to UN Women, 1 in 3 women globally will experience violence in her lifetime. 137 women are killed every day by an intimate partner or family member. That’s 50,000 women killed per year, globally. Pandemic proportions, one might say. 

Marginalized women are at an even higher risk of GBV, including Indigenous women, racialized women, women living with disabilities, women living in poverty, rural women, migrant women, single mothers, and others facing inequities. 

So, if we already know that GBV is an urgent issue in every country and studies around the world have shown that women and girls are even more vulnerable during emergencies, then why weren’t countries prepared for these surges in domestic violence? 

For governments to effectively prevent GBV during times of emergency, they must be actively preventing GBV at all times. Moreover, plans to address gender-based violence in times of emergency must precede national measures like lockdowns to avoid what is happening around the world right now. 

The problem is that in many countries, women’s organizations, domestic violence shelters, and sexual assault centers are hanging by a thread at the best of times. Chronically underfunded and overworked, grassroots organizations addressing GBV rarely receive what they need, even though they are doing some of the most important work in the world.  And now, they are up against even more.  

Immediate gendered responses are needed, but so are long-term solutions 

When responding to global health crises, it is imperative to do so with women and girls at the forefront. This doesn’t just mean considering women, who comprise 70% of the global healthcare workforce. It means bringing them to the table, listening to them, and employing them to create sensitive and powerful responses that will not only flatten curves but tend to the unique needs of women and girls during uncertain times. Partnerships and collaborations across sectors are key and funding for grassroots organizations responding to GBV must be adequate at all times – not just during emergencies. 

The current global trend of increased domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdowns also points to a dire need for long–term solutions that reach beyond this pandemic. Education to tackle the root causes of gender-based violence must be prioritized by leaders. Gender inequality, misogyny, systemic racism, colonialism, ableism, homophobia, and harmful gender norms must be addressed to create an equal world that is finally free of gender-based violence.  

This will take long-term, robust investments, and proactive planning. It will take courage, resilience, and patience. And although governments might not be able to ‘see’ the changes happening in real-time, it is the only way to truly end the violence for good. 

In a world that has collectively mobilized to respond to COVID-19, from finding a vaccine to softening the blow to the economy, can we not mobilize in the same way for the millions of women and girls who have experienced violence at pandemic rates for centuries? 

 Of course, we can. All that is needed is political will.  

 Ending GBV will benefit everyone 

 When women and girls are healthy and safe, their families and communities thrive.  When countries consider the rights of women and girls a national priority, those countries flourish.  

  • Ending GBV will bring the world increased health, wealth, peace, and climate justice.  
  • Ending GBV will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  
  • Ending GBV can help get our post-COVID world back on track.  

 When will women and girls matter enough?  Gender-based violence is a global pandemic.  Act accordingly. 

Written by Aura Freedom’s Executive Director Marissa Kokkoros for Women Deliver 

See original article here:

Toronto Counter Human Trafficking Network (TCHTN)

The TCHTN is a grassroots community network composed of various organizations and individuals within the Toronto area, reflecting the racial and cultural diversity of Toronto’s communities.

 The TCHTN works towards the elimination of human trafficking in Canada and abroad, and to address the plight of trafficked persons through a holistic, human rights-based approach, focused on the needs of trafficked persons as opposed to the crime of human trafficking itself.

Aura Freedom is an active member of the Network, involved in many sub-committees and activities. Members of the Network have collaborated on numerous occasions to address human trafficking in Toronto and beyond. We have met with Municipal, Provincial and Federal government officials, hosted awareness events, consulted on strategies at all levels of government and assisted countless survivors. We have designed a human trafficking response model for Toronto and consulted on the development of a data collection tool with Find Help/211 to collect data on the prevalence of human trafficking in the city.


Aura is a member of the NGO-CSW/NY network. NGO CSW/NY is a global network that ensures that the voices and leadership of feminist and women’s rights organizations all over the world are included in UN deliberations such as the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). They facilitate the largest gathering of civil society at the UN in support of women by hosting 10,000 women from around the world, coordinating and scheduling 400+ parallel events. Along with civil society around the world, NGO-CSW/NY advocates for the governments of UN Member States to meet the commitments they make via declarations, resolutions, and treaties including:

Women Deliver

Deliver For Good is a campaign of Women Deliver and an advocate for high-level change regarding the rights of women and girls. Deliver For Good is a global campaign that applies a gender lens to the Sustainable Development Goals and promotes critical investments in girls and women to power progress for all. Aura Freedom is an ally and contributor to this campaign (Link to https://deliverforgood.org/partners/) Deliver For Good has thousands of subscribers and frequent engagement opportunities to amplify Aura Freedom’s work.

In 2019, Aura Freedom participated in the 2019 Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, Canada. Aura Freedom was a Bronze sponsor with a gorgeous booth in the Fuelling Station showcasing our work.

Over 4 intense days, our team attended countless sessions and workshops with over 8,000 activists and feminists from 169 countries. Our Executive Director was also featured at the ‘Expert Desk’ as an expert of sexual exploitation and human trafficking and was available to answer questions for media channels and other stakeholders. 

We were also a a partner of the Women Deliver Mobilization Canada team, which connected Canadian organizations attending the conference and called for action on gender equality and women’s empowerment in conjunction with the Government of Canada. As a result of our participation, we attended several high-level events with the Mobilization Canada team and advocated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Honourable Maryam Monsef and other Canadian officials.

In 2016, Aura Freedom attended the Women Deliver conference in Denmark, joining nearly 6,000 women’s rights advocates and leaders from around the world –including Graça Machel, Melinda Gates, and Annie Lennox. At the conference, our Executive Director Marissa delivered a short presentation on our work preventing gender-based violence in post-earthquake Nepal.

Girls Not Brides

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 1,000 civil society organizations from over 95 countries, all committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential. Girls Not Brides members bring child marriage and gender inequality to global attention with high-level advocates involved in their efforts. Girls Not Brides works with Aura Freedom to share initiatives and build the feminist movement to end early/child and forced marriage in Canada and beyond.

For a list of publications featuring Aura Freedom on Girls Not Brides: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/?s=aura+freedom

For a Girls Not Brides case study on Aura Freedom’s work in Nepal: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/content/uploads/2016/09/Case-study–Empower-girls-Aura-Freedom9-1.pdf

In 2016, Aura Freedom represented the Girls Not Brides partnership and delivered a presentation at Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa with other dignitaries and heads of state as Canada led the development of new UN resolutions on child marriage.

Gender-Based Violence Across the SDGs – A Beijing +25 Initiative


Gender-based violence is affecting every single aspect of life in Canada and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Grassroots groups have been advocating for change for a long time. We can’t wait any longer.

Gender-based violence is impacting families, communities and entire countries. While global heads of state convene to discuss struggling economies, migration, poverty, disease, and climate change, we at the grassroots level know that the eradication of gender-based violence and the empowerment of women and girls can bring increased wealth, health, peace and climate justice to our communities.

In fact, gender-based violence is destroying the world, and we can prove it.

Visit our GBV And The SDGs segment of our Relentless Resilience movement to explore the connection between gender-based violence, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and life as we know it.

Relentless Resilience – A Beijing +25 Canadian Parallel Report

Relentless Resilience - A Beijing +25 Canadian Parallel Report

The Grassroots has spoken. 


In February 2020, Aura Freedom submitted an official Beijing +25 Canadian Parallel Report with a focus on gender-based violence entitled ‘Relentless Resilience’.

Relentless Resilience is a report that calls for holistic change to address the root causes of gender-based violence (gender inequity, systemic racism, colonialism, ableism, trans/homophobia, capitalism, etc.) and societal power imbalances that uphold the status quo. Our guiding framework is rooted in human rights activism, grassroots excellence, trauma and, of course, resilience. Relentless Resilience aims to highlight the most marginalized women and girls in Canada and the resiliency of them in response to violence, oppression, and indifference. 

Through interviews with frontline social workers and survivor stories from grassroots organizations in the City of Toronto, Canada, our Beijing +25 Parallel Report demonstrates how gender-based violence is impacting all 12 Areas of Critical Concern of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and hindering the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Relentless Resilience can be considered a point of reference for advocacy efforts that call for the eradication of gender-based violence throughout the entire year of Beijing +25, including CSW64 and the Generation Equality Forum taking place in Mexico and France in 2020, and beyond.

Aura Freedom was accepted to present Relentless Resilience at the NGO Forum of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March 2020. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, this event was cancelled, but with support from various donors, Relentless Resilience went on to become a powerful multi-media campaign and movement to end gender-based violence in Canada.