Alas, our 10 day Free Her Celebrate Her Campaign, has come to an end. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading stories of survivors, blogs from professionals and learning more about our work. We conclude our campaign with Ashwin Rathod, Freedom Firm Program Associate, India, thoughts on empowering women and men’s pivotal role in this growing revolution.

Q1) In all your years with Freedom Firm, which survivor do you most remember and why?

 Bhavana. She was only15 when we rescued her about 5.5 years back from the north-western part of Madhya Pradesh. Surprisingly, she did not belong to any of the infamous tribes known for selling their young daughters into prostitution. It took our team almost 5 years to really get to know her- Bhavana went of the grid and only resurfaced recently. She formed a quick bond with our social worker. Her gratitude at being rescued from a dera (little cluster of villages in Madhya Pradesh) was overwhelming – she was sexually exploited everyday and every night by multiple men. The biggest blow – she was sold by her sister and brother in law into the sex trade. After her rescue, she remained in protective custody for few months and was released after turning 18 years.

A few years later, she got married to a good man and moved as far away from the dera in the hope of living a free and dignified life which she desperately dreamed of during her enslavement.

Either married when she is barely 13 or tasked with doing all the household chores

Today, she lives with her husband, and they both work in a garment factory. They may not make much money but are truly satisfied and thankful for what they have. Bhavana’s husband is proud of her and has no regret calling her his wife. She is hoping to conceive a child and wishes to pass on the legacy of freedom she is now experiencing.

2) What do men think when they hear the word empowerment

All work and no pay- many wives give their entire wages straight to their husbands

Generally educated men think empowerment of a person is necessary but when it comes to women empowerment they compare themselves with women and don’t think all women are worthy to be empowered especially those who are from unpopular communities. In our country, many oppress countless girls and women for various reasons. In our line of work, we often see men in villages oppressing and selling their own daughters and community women into the sex trade for commercial gain on purpose and in a very systematic manner. This has been going on for centuries. I categorize this as a modern type of oppression that is necessarily not identified as injustice by its victims. What a misery!

Some men ‘allow’ their wives to work and work long hours too. They want full control over what they earn, even what they earn from being sexually exploited.

For me true empowerment is to act justly toward every woman, recognize her real worth in this modern society and give her the respect she deserves.

3) How should women support and empower women?

Every woman should use the power entrusted to her to emancipate other women, especially weaker sections of the modern society we live in. I think professionals and retired women should get involved with the empowerment efforts that are going on. Apart from teaching skills, I think motivational talks and real-life stories would inspire and engage women who are oppressed and help them gain some confidence to try new things they never had a chance to explore ever before.