How Survivor Leadership Can Enable Voices Of Human Trafficking Survivors

Survivor leadership aims at enabling the voices of survivors of human trafficking to stake claim to their narratives. It's rooted in the philosophy that survivors are uniquely qualified experts of their own experiences.

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History bears witness to the fact that major social changes through the ages have been shaped by the struggles and lived experiences of those affected by the issues that lie at the very core of such instruments of social change. Women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement are examples where participants leveraged their lived experiences to bring about a change in their circumstances. 


Similarly, discourses on gender empowerment are geared towards breaking the circles of oppression built around female identity and social position. Engagement, and participation by women from every stratum of society, including the grassroots, is fundamental to shaping the discourse on empowerment and progress. In a similar vein, female survivors of trafficking are a major component of women who are isolated and alienated, not only socially but also economically and deserve an opportunity to create favourable circumstances for themselves in their journey toward rehabilitation and independence. 

The theme for International Women’s Day, 2024, ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’ demands that the voices of women survivors of trafficking are taken into consideration for their rehabilitation and development.  Women-led survivor leadership is critical in focusing on the all-encompassing issue of women’s empowerment while taking the survivors of human trafficking within its fold to lead the movement from the front. 

Breaking Circles Of Oppression

Survivor leadership aims at enabling the voices of survivors of human trafficking to stake claim to their narratives. Survivor leadership is rooted in the philosophy that survivors are uniquely qualified experts of their own experiences. They can utilize their struggles, knowledge, and insights directly to curate solutions in the governance and policy-making domain for the eradication of human trafficking. Leveraging their lived realities to initiate conversations on trafficking is the stepping-stone of a survivor’s journey to leadership. 

The menace of trafficking disproportionately affects women on account of the subsisting gender inequalities in society, including but not limited to factors such as poverty, lack of employment opportunities, limited access to education, and minimal control over financial and monetary resources. Skewed sex ratio, cultural norms and gender-based violence that perpetuate the vulnerabilities of the female population, also exacerbate the exploitation of women at the hands of the


Empowerment Through Survivor Leadership


Acting as a tool of empowerment, survivor leadership encourages women survivors to recognize their capabilities and identities beyond the label of a survivor. By creating avenues of awareness generation, sensitization and advocacy around the issues of trafficking, it crafts spaces where they are confident to exert their agency. It also exacerbates the feeling of inclusivity and belongingness by establishing safe spaces in the survivor networks. Unshackling the chains of trauma, abuse and oppression experienced at the hands of traffickers is the endeavour of every such survivor leadership program. 

In the given scheme of things, ILFAT (Integrated Leaders Forum Against Trafficking)  is a case study on survivor leadership that has united female survivors of trafficking across the country. As the narratives in the anti-human trafficking space change from rescue and raid to a more survivor-centric discourse, as India’s first pan-national survivor forum, we are working towards putting survivor voices at the forefront. The forum was conceived as one of the first spaces for survivors of human trafficking to congregate, share their stories and engage with stakeholders across the spectrum in leading the charge of bringing about a change in existing procedures and regulations. 

Over the years, we have acknowledged that the struggles of women left on the peripheries are yet to be recognised in their entirety. The initiative has encouraged its women members to exercise their agency for decision-making. It aspires for the prevention of trafficking in women to focus on legislative and regulatory reforms. 

We believe that the process of self-independence for female survivors entails that they are rehabilitated and accorded necessary skill-based training in vocations that would help them seek respectable livelihood opportunities. This would result in financial control through opportunities for inclusion and employment. Similarly, basic healthcare, including mental healthcare, needs to be made affordable and accessible for the survivor to lead a dignified life.

The journey toward achieving gender equality and equity in social and economic spaces has been long and arduous. Together, we can enable tales of equal opportunity where women can write their futures, and build communities and networks of support.

This article is authored by the Integrated Leaders Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT)

human trafficking Survivor leadership