Once upon a time, there was a princess…
…kept in a desolate tower guarded by a ferocious dragon.
This was how most of our childhood stories went. Women were always portrayed as damsels in distress waiting for some sort of rescue, perhaps a knight in shining armor who would valiantly slay the villain and free her.
But this is the 21st century, and those stories are far behind us. With the clamor for gender equality ringing louder than ever, we see women standing up to their oppressors on their own two feet, winning their own freedom and needing no rescue. Even the tales we tell little girls are evolving to match the changes of the times—take Brave, Frozen, and Moana for instance. No one identifies with the damsel in distress narrative anymore, am I right?
Well, we all hope so. But some women continue to live the old tale, and their stories are far from magical.
Even now, in the age of self-made female tycoons and empowered women activists on mainstream television, thousands of women still fall prey to modern-day dragons: human traffickers. These real-life villains shackle up their victims to a life of shattered self-worth and shame, preventing them from being truly free despite the rights and privileges that many revolutions have won for them.
In a society celebrating victories on women’s rights, victims of human trafficking are onlookers trapped in their invisible prison towers, suffering in silence while the world around them dances. And, unlike in our fairytales, their nightmares don’t end with true love’s kiss and happily ever after. They need more than princes and their metaphors and songs. They need people to speak for them and stand for them until they are whole enough to do it—for themselves and for others once like them.
In the early 2000s, the Philippine Information Agency reported that 75% of trafficking victims rescued by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Region VIII are women. Joint anti-trafficking efforts of government agencies and NGOs yield hundreds of rescues annually. However, despite this a lot still needs to be done. And an organization is doing their part to accomplish these one bag at a time.
Bags of Freedom
I have recently been gifted a drawstring bag with an interesting tag. It said that the product helps women rescued from human trafficking set free. Intrigued, I asked more about how a bag can do that much.
The bag was made by the Honor 1000 Movement Inc., or simply “Honor.” The movement was started by Kate Brown, an Australian woman with a big heart for God and for women. Her quest is to help rescued women restore the dignity stripped away from them by the oppression they experienced in the hands of human traffickers. Honor was founded on the belief that everyone, including women who had been victims of human trafficking, is made in God’s image and therefore, should be honored.
In order to rebuild the self-worth that human trafficking has shattered in the women and children they rescued, Honor provides holistic care to them. This includes spiritual counseling, psycho-socio intervention, and assistance in legal and medical needs. On top of these, the organization also helps by giving women the chance to also stand on their feet as free and independent people through education, empowerment, and employment.
Right now, Honor provides employment to rescued women through bags like the one I received. Staff train them to sew a wide variety of bags—totes, purses, drawstrings, shoulder bags, and even backpacks (https://www.facebook.com/pg/honoreveryone/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2223321641327750). These bags are made in a shop near the “Blessed House,” a transitional home where the human trafficking survivors stay until they are ready to be reintegrated into the community.
In addition to sewing training, women in Blessed also sometimes attend “free-to-fly sessions.” Honor welcomes volunteers to conduct these sessions, which are meant to teach the women different skills such as calligraphy, crafting, and gardening, all in hopes of empowering them so that someday, they will be ready to live independently.
Learning more about Honor and the advocacy behind the bags they make was, no pun intended, an honor. It made me realize that supporting great causes can be done with little actions. In this cases, it was in the purchase of a bag; one filled with hope that someday, a woman will find herself restored and ready to live free from an oppressive past.