A story of two girls fighting for women's rights

Talikala, a partner of AWO International in the Philippines, is combating sexual exploitation and abuse in Davao City, where the numbers of girls and women in illegal prostitution are alarming.

 A (17) and S (14) seem like typical Grade 8 school girls, all smiles and sharing jokes when we meet them. However, both are extraordinary at their young age. S helped a child neighbor who was sexually abused, while A is a survivor of sex trafficking. Both live in Davao City, and are actively advocating for the rights of women and girls as part of organized groups in their community. S is a member of CUACA (Children United Against Child Abuse), and A is a member-officer of Lawig Bubai - an organization for the welfare of current and former prostituted women and children.

Davao City is a highly urbanized city- as with many urban centers- experiencing extreme poverty. Many women, and even young girls, are pushed by their circumstances to engage in sex work. Talikala aims to reduce the cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation and abuse through advocacy, education, and organizing communities, especially prostituted women and girls, as well as those who are vulnerable to sexual trafficking and exploitation. AWO International supports Talikala through funds of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

S lives in one of the communities identified with high numbers of prostituted women and children based on Talikala’s data. In addition to organizing and training adults on women’s and children’s rights and protection, the project provides life skills trainings to girls in these communities. S has attended sessions covering topics on self-awareness, children's rights, relationship with others, and planning their lives for the future. S shares, "I am able to apply what I learned from the trainings in school. I relate better now in groups -both as a leader and follower.”  It was also from the project that S knew what to do when she heard that a neighbor was raped - S spoke to the child’s mother and encouraged them to reach out to Talikala for assistance and to report to authorities.

Meanwhile, A tells us how she met Talikala at a crucial time. "There was a time I was desperately worried about my reproductive health and I did not know where to go. I thought I was seriously ill. I heard about Talikala from a friend and decided to look up their Facebook page. I sent a message to them at midnight and was surprised to receive a reply right away. The next morning, I went to the Talikala office and received assistance." She was 13 years old, driven into sex work by poverty and parental neglect.

Since then, A has joined trainings tackling women's rights, and other similar topics. She stopped engaging in sex work shortly after, with continuous counselling and support from Talikala. A tells us, “I have learned many things from joining the activities of Talikala, but my favorite learning is on gender equality: that men and women have equal rights, and that women should not be objectified, no matter what their backgrounds are. My dream is to be an empowered woman, just like the women I have met in Talikala. I want to be able to apply everything I have learned, not just for now, but for when I grow older, and for when I have my own family”.

We asked S and A of their dreams for the future, and the huge impact of their engagement with Talikala and the project cannot be denied: S says she dreams of being a writer, and being able to help people - she tells us she finds it impossible to just watch when she sees that something is not right, especially that she knows what to do. A plans on being a social worker, she says, "I know that other professions are also noble - such as being a teacher or a policewoman, but I have seen how much social workers (of Talikala) has made a difference in my life and the life of girls like me, who faced sexual exploitation and abuse, and I wish to pay the kindness forward by helping others."

Foto 1: Talikala is combating trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.

Foto 2: In the therapy room, Talikala offers child victims of sexual abuse the psychological support they need.