Firstly, I have a major update regarding my project timeline: although my original projected schedule for the Human Rights Fellowship had me beginning at Promundo at the end of July, unforeseen circumstances led to me changing my schedule and beginning the fellowship last week instead. The change was largely a result of my initial meeting with Linda, a Promundo Program Officer and leader of the new LINEA research initiative (I will elaborate much further on this project in a following post). Even though Promundo’s field work will not be commencing until September, there will be plenty of preparation work in the months between then and now, including formulating the qualitative and quantitative instruments necessary to conduct effective research. Thus I will be starting my project on sexual exploitation of children and adolescents this month rather than next.
Although following posts will summarize the initial workshop from last week as well as Promundo’s research designs for the coming months, I thought it might be beneficial to post my original research outline as written before beginning the fellowship, in order to have a record of my starting point. It should be noted that many of the proposed research directions in this document are already under revision as I learn more about Promundo’s LINEA initiative, and will only change more drastically as I move forward. That being said, here is my original project proposal for the Human Rights Fellowship, including an outline of my research questions, methodologies, and project goals.
I. Project Objectives
As a recipient of the University of California Human Rights Fellowship, I will plan and conduct a research project evaluating the institutional response to human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children in the urban context of Rio de Janeiro. Working in partnership with Promundo, a Brazilian non-profit organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting gender justice across the world, I will learn more about the activities of actors in the field of gender issues and assemble a final project based on my findings. Promundo is involved in a number of initiatives related to gender inequality, violence against women, and female empowerment: these include research, hands-on community programs, advocacy work, and informational campaigns to engage women and men in partnerships that reverse norms of gender inequality in the nation of Brazil. While Promundo conducts programs over a wide scope of issues, I will focus mainly on one aspect of its work; namely, the sexual exploitation of women, adolescents, and children. I will analyze the NGO’s efforts to assess and prevent the exploitation of these vulnerable groups, particularly in the context of the upcoming Olympics, which may catalyze an increase in rates of trafficking of these groups. Because of the NGO’s engagement with a wide variety of gender-related topics, I will also gain broad insight into the root causes of gender inequalities in Brazil that create biases against women and girls, and use this knowledge to contextualize the problem of sexual exploitation of women and children within a larger framework of gender inequality.
By partaking in this fellowship, I hope to learn more about the complex issues surrounding gender and sexual exploitation of women, children, and adolescents in Brazil. In addition to evaluating the response of NGOs to this problem, I also hope to pursue several lines of research related to the topic itself: the first is factors of vulnerability that influence women and adolescents to initially become involved in the sex industry (including both prostitution and sex trafficking). These factors include long-standing cultural paradigms of machismo that restrict and repress women’s social and economic opportunities, as well as racial perceptions, geographic location, economic hardship, and of course the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which many researchers predict will prompt an increase in human trafficking in touristic cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. This fellowship presents the opportunity for an assessment of paradigms of oppression and vulnerability in Brazil, and in turn how these factors contribute to human trafficking. I hope to gain and disseminate knowledge on the causational factors that influence the sex industry and put individuals in traumatic situations of sexual exploitation, as well as the response of NGOs and other actors to the problem.
II. Related Promundo Programs
I intend for my work with Promundo to focus on several of the NGO’s programs, especially its numerous research initiatives. Perhaps the most relevant research project that will relate to my objectives is the upcoming Promundo initiative set to commence in August 2016, which will gather data on the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Rio de Janeiro. This project will allow for the collection of new knowledge about prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation of adolescents and children in the urban context of Brazil, which is well suited to the focus of the Human Trafficking Fellowship. More details about this initiative will be revealed as the project develops and communication continues with Promundo.
Another research initiative of focus is the 2014 campaign “It’s not just fun, it’s exploitation” that was targeted at awareness of the sexual exploitation of adolescents in the lead-up to the World Cup. This campaign, aimed at tourists and Brazilians alike, raised awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents across Brazil’s host cities as international tourism surged during the Cup. By researching this program’s implementation, target goals, and successes, I will glean knowledge about Promundo’s efforts to raise awareness and prevent sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. The program was also tied to numerous Child and Adolescent Protection centers in cities around the nation, connections that I will explore further in my research of the links between different actors involved in preventing sex trafficking.
Another related research project that relates to my developing project is the 2011 IMAGES survey conducted across multiple countries that measured men’s attitudes towards a range of topics associated with gender relations. One section of this report examines prevalent attitudes towards transactional sex and the women engaged in sex work. The survey reveals conflicting attitudes towards the practice of sex work in Brazil; on one hand, men report that sex work is an immoral practice that violates the rights of women, but on the other hand they believe that women choose to engage in the practice, even those who are under 18. By working with an NGO conducting research on these issues, I will have access to valuable knowledge to assemble my project on human trafficking in Brazil.
In addition to research, I am also interested in studying Promundo’s community action initiatives, in particular Violence-Free Childhood, Program H, and Program M. In these campaigns, Promundo actively promotes awareness of issues related to violence, discrimination, and harmful gender norms through direct engagement with citizens. Observing these workshops and advocacy campaigns will give me a window into Promundo’s on-the-ground advocacy work, another aspect of the NGO’s response to problems associated with gender rights and preventing exploitation of women and children.
I will volunteer and conduct research with Promundo over a six to ten-week period spanning August-September 2016. This time period corresponds to the 2016 Olympics and a new research initiative being launched by the NGO on the sexual exploitation of adolescents in the city. During my partnership with Promundo, I will attempt to develop a nuanced understanding of the organization and the structures underlying the NGO’s approach to the topic of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as well as broader questions of gender justice. This entails regular attendance at the headquarters of the organization, as well as accompanying project coordinators and researchers on site visits, field work, and data collection whenever appropriate. I also hope to be present and assist in community workshops whenever it is appropriate in order to enhance my understanding of the NGO’s activities with community groups. Finally, I will conduct interviews of program officials, researchers, and participants in Promundo’s programs, if and when it is appropriate and not harmful to the subjects. These interviews will allow me to collect information about the effects of Promundo upon its target audience, as well as the observations of coordinators and administrators regarding the NGO’s programs. Throughout my time studying Promundo’s response to problems of sexual exploitation, I will also serve as a volunteer in any respect that I can help the NGO conduct its initiatives. This can include writing reports, assisting in communications, documenting initiatives with photography, and aiding in data collection, interviews, or other field work. I have taken over two years of Portuguese language classes at UC Berkeley and have visited Brazil one previous occasion; thus my spoken and written Portuguese currently stands at working proficiency. My abilities will further improve once I am in Brazil and gain comfort conversing with native speakers.
IV. Project Results and Goals
Through my research on Promundo’s activities in the field of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, I will assemble a report on the efforts being made to combat gender-based violence and halt the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Upon my return to the United States, I will write an op-ed or create an advocacy video that will share my knowledge gathered from the field, as well as publicize Promundo and advocate its work in the areas of sexual exploitation and gender justice to an international audience. I will present my findings at a conference attended by other fellows and officials from the UC Human Rights Center, in which I will discuss my topic of focus and the results of my partnership with Promundo. Furthermore, throughout my time in Rio de Janeiro I will maintain a blog documenting my work with Promundo and my experiences in the field, which will allow for regular updates and news to be disseminated to a wide audience. The UC Human Rights Fellowship will be a chance to publicize the valuable work of Promundo on issues of gender equality, as well as an opportunity for research about NGO responses to sexual exploitation of women and children.