IOM empowers female municipal officials in dealing with the dangers of human trafficking

An IOM expert talks about human trafficking with representatives from the Municipal Women´s Offices. Photo by Danilo Valladares

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) together with the Departmental Governor’s Office of San Marcos and the Presidential Secretariat for Women, organized in February and March a series of workshops aimed at raising awareness among and empowering Municipal Women’s Offices (MWO) of the department of San Marcos, bordering Mexico, about the dangers of human trafficking.

"We have 23 women's organizations and through these groups we are now able to inform our communities about the realities of human trafficking," said Alida Miranda, coordinator of the MWOin the municipality of La Reforma.

Access to this information has been very limited for rural women.  In fact, Miranda admitted she had never participated in a workshop where human trafficking was mentioned, but she believes that trafficking has occurred in her community.

"This problem exists in our community but we have not been able to identify it very well. If we look closely, I believe there are cases," said Miranda who considered it “very interesting” to learn about the different methods and means used by human traffickers.

Inocencia Ramirez, coordinator of the MWO in Pajapita, affirmed that without doubt the workshop would be useful to her. "All this information serves me as coordinator because it is our tool to guide women in the communities with facts," she said.

Ramirez has organized women's groups in her locality and trained them in different topics, including human trafficking.

Daily, hundreds of Central American migrants heading toward the United States cross the department of San Marcos as an entry point to Mexico.  Joining them are large numbers of residents of San Marcos who also make the journey to Mexico and the United States. In this border area, many of these migrants, especially women, adolescents and children become victims of sexual and labor exploitation, as well as forced begging.

To raise awareness of the dangers of irregular migration and human trafficking, IOM, the Departmental Governor’s Office of San Marcos and the Presidential Secretariat for Women, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), organized workshops with a particular focus on women.

In February the first three workshops were held in the municipalities of San Marcos, Ixchiguán and Malacatán, and on March 14 and 15 two workshops were held in the municipalities of San Marcos and San Pablo. Fifteen to 20 women participated in each session.

"We teach them through videos, lectures and games about what human trafficking is, how to prevent it and where to go when they are faced with a case, so that they can raise awareness among the local population with whom they work, "said Philip Burns of IOM Guatemala.

Burns tells participants: "Human trafficking includes a recruitment stage in which the criminal is able to control the future victim, generally through deception. Then there is a move from a place to another and then criminals exploit them sexually, in forced labor or forced begging, among others.”

“IOM is delighted to have offered these workshops to the MWO members because they are very strategic figures and very important in the municipalities.  These offices have a lot of social impact, meet women in municipalities and are some of the few municipal offices that spend time addressing social issues," added Burns.

In 2010 an amendment to the Municipal Code formalized the Municipal Women’s Offices as the mechanism responsible for developing and implementing local policy proposals for the development of women at the municipal level.

These offices are responsible for informing women of their rights, formalizing women's groups and organizing training sessions for women in the municipality to strengthen their capacities.