Erica Williams

Erica Williams (WOCON – Women’s Consortium of Nigeria): Erica worked at the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Howard University, in Washington, where she organized material for the African Burial Ground Project. Between 1999 and 2001 Erica worked and studied in Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, she conducted historical and ethnographic research at the University of Western Cape. Erica studied for her BA at New York University, where she received several travel and research scholarships and volunteered for several different organizations: Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), WomenCare, Face to Face International, The Center for African Spiritual Culture, InI Performance Club, NYU, Golden Rose Awards Banquet Committee, NYU. She also served as Editorial Assistant, Academic Achievement Program Newsletter, NYU. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for a Master's degree in African Studies at Yale University and preparing to start a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. Erica asked many probing questions of AP’s new fellowship program, in person and through her final evaluation: “At the orientation, I noticed the beginning of a possible conflict of interest when I learned that interns were expected to engage in capacity-building at their organizations. But I questioned my ability as a 23 year-old student to tell a 50 year-old experienced, renowned human rights lawyer and activist how to run her organization. Perhaps this is the cultural anthropologist in me, but AP, myself, and future interns must recognize their position as outsiders to Nigeria and to WOCON. Being in that tenuous position creates a dynamic where it is difficult to tell people what they should do, because as outsiders we’re not even accustomed to living in their environment." “For instance, with my office experience in the U.S., I’m used to organizing files in labeled manila folders and hanging file folders in file cabinets. Thus, I found WOCON’s filing system of long folders in a multi-shelved closet impossible to understand. But it works for them. My work experience in the U.S. has also trained me to write out my daily activities, allot a specified amount of time to tasks, and rely heavily on the computer. This is an unattainable goal in Lagos because of the constant unexpected power outages and the fact that sending two emails can take you upwards of two hours. Future interns should be fully aware of the challenges they will face in Nigeria, and even then they may still have trouble adapting to the environment.” Erica also found Lagos to be hard work: “The daily struggles of life in Lagos were another challenge. Constant power outages, traffic jams, torrential rains and floods, painfully slow internet service, and the week-long fuel strike all conspired to make my work more difficult.”

What to do When the Global Outweighs the Local?

09 Apr

My first introduction to the phenomenon of trafficking in women and children was from a sensationalist news article about Nigerian sex workers in Italy. What I didn’t know before pillaging WOCON’s bookshelves was that internal trafficking of women and children from rural to urban areas in Nigeria for work as unsalaried nannies, shop keepers, and domestic workers was a problem long before the media ever noticed.

After assisting Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi with grant proposals for projects targeting internal trafficking of children, I learned that trafficking also affects children from Benin Republic, Togo, and Ghana who are trafficked into Nigeria for domestic work, sex work, farm work, and other forms of labor.

Trafficking of women in Africa doesn’t only involve women from Southwestern Nigeria who are trafficked to Europe. Women are trafficked from Northern Nigeria to Saudi Arabia, and from Southeastern Nigeria to Central Africa. Furthermore, trafficking of women in Africa is not unique to Nigeria.

One can easily find women from Uganda and Zimbabwe engaging in sex work on the streets of Zurich. Trafficking occurs from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ghana to Mali; from Mali to Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and France, from Tanzania to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kenya, and Malawi, and from Cameroon to Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, and Nigeria.

The outcry over trafficking only came after external trafficking to Europe for sex work began to draw international shame to Nigeria. This raises many questions. First of all, why is it that trafficking only becomes an issue when it involves the sanctity of European borders? Secondly, why is it that trafficking for sex work in Europe has received more international attention than trafficking for domestic work, forced labor and sweatshop labor?

Is it that sex work is truly the worst form of labor or is this assumption based on moralizing judgment calls? Is there a genuine concern for the plight of foreign sex workers who may be victims of trafficking, or are they seen rather as vectors of disease (HIV/AIDS) from whom society needs to be protected?

Posted By Erica Williams

Posted Apr 9th, 2007

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