As we move into the final day of campaigning for the crucial general elections on Monday, the major parties in their manifestos or plans have made many promises to empower women and work towards giving them equal representation or leadership in areas ranging from politics to business.
Political leaders make all sorts of promises varying from the sublime to the ridiculous and as our columnist in the article on this page says, most promises are not kept. Thus when these politicians come before the court of the people on Monday, one measure of judgment could be on who told more lies or less lies at previous elections. Civic action movements also need to push for some kind of process or law whereby politicians could be held accountable for the promises they make. Sri Lanka’s women also need to make such proactive moves to empower themselves and play an equal and responsible role in vital areas of society.
By way of a model example, today we would like to portray the story of a famous billionaire woman who is showing the United States and the world the ‘model’ way to fight the horror of slave labour. We hope women and girls in Sri Lanka will be inspired to go beyond catwalks and fashion shows, not only to empower themselves but also to address vital social justice issues.
As Chief Executive Officer of one of the world’s most famous model agencies, the 60-year-old Katie Ford had travelled the globe searching for fresh-faced young men and women and turning them into stars on the catwalks of New York, Paris and Milan. Now she is using the skills she developed in her decade at the helm of Ford Models to help fight human trafficking and slavery in the U.S. and around the world, the Cable News Network (CNN) reported this week. Ms. Ford admits she had never even heard of trafficking until the United Nations invited her to a conference on the subject eight years ago. She was stunned to discover the similarities to her own industry. “How people are trafficked, it was parallel to how we scouted models around the world -- we spoke with mostly young women, but also men, about the opportunities to work in New York in the fashion industry. Of course, modelling comes with fame and other benefits and a high salary, but the hope and the dream that a model has for a better life is the same thing as a field worker who comes here from Mexico -- they are hoping to build a better life for their family back at home... and then they get duped into situations that are not what they expected,” Katie Ford says.
Inspired, if not horrified, by what she had heard, Katie Ford was convinced she could put her talents to use in helping those who found that moving to the US did not turn out to be the happy ending they had expected, CNN says. So she set up a foundation, Freedom for All, which aims to support the victims of modern-day slavery, and to convince companies to eliminate forced labour from their supply chains.
One of those Katie Ford has supported is financial analyst Shandra Woworuntu, who moved to the US in search of work in 1998, after losing her job at home in Indonesia. She paid a recruiter $3,000 to secure what she thought was a six-month seasonal job at a hotel in Chicago. But once her plane landed, things quickly went wrong. She was met at the airport by a man who told her she would have to stay in New York overnight. “He drove me to a place and exchanged me for money,” she explains. “I was sold to five different traffickers and forced into the sex business the same day, within three or four hours.” Katie Ford has rescued hundreds of women from these hellholes.
Sri Lanka has the proud distinction of having produced the world’s first woman Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike who though first portrayed as a ‘weeping widow’, went on to rule Sri Lanka with distinction for more than 12 years. Her daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga became Sri Lanka’s first woman Executive President and ruled the country for 11 years. Despite these notable achievements at the top, women’s leadership at the political, business and other areas is far below what it should be and we have the crisis where more than 1.5 million of our women and girls, including mothers, are in virtual slave labour and are sometimes even sexually abused in some Middle Eastern countries. We hope that without just being the bride of an unfaithful groom or politician, Sri Lanka’s women and girls would act on their own to provide leadership or guidance similar to what a mother lovingly gives to a child.