'Half the Sky' movement raises awareness on human trafficking

Melissa Bloem/Staff Photographer Michigan Sen. Judy Emmons, republican, answers a question from the audience after the viewing of “Half the Sky,” a documentary highlighting human trafficking in Cambodia during a public forum Sunday afternoon in French Auditorium.

A worldwide, nationwide and now statewide issue has become a global epidemic.

Human trafficking was the topic of discussion on Sunday afternoon in French Auditorium in the Education and Human Services Building by co-sponsors and co-hosts The Honey House Book Group, Zonta Club of Mount Pleasant, Hometown Health and the Chippewa River District Library.

“Human trafficking is such a problem, and we wanted to help support the cause," Zonata member Robin Sabo said. "We teamed up with the other sponsors and came together to develop an event that would bring awareness."

Theses organizations presented the "Half the Sky Full of Hope" Mount Pleasant movement, an event that came to be because of the 2010 book, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

According to book club member Jennifer Fields, The Honey House Book Group began to read this book because the documentary was going to be shown on PBS. While reading the book, they were instantly inspired to act.

“What was so compelling to us was the abject brutality and oppression of women in places around the world that is not being addressed,” Fields said. “The overwhelming need for education and actions and the incredibly inspiring bravery and persistence of the girls and women who fought for their rights and to help other women.”

The “Half the Sky” film was viewed for the first hour of the event, highlighting the gruesome trafficking that occurs in Cambodia.

Directly following the viewing was a question-and-answer panel. The six panelist members included Michigan Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, Kisten Bierlein from the Underground Railroad Inc., Jane White from the Michigan Human Sex Trafficking Tasks Force, Kathy Beebe and Janelle Joslin from the Women’s Initiative of Mount Pleasant and Toni Davis, a representative from Women’s Aid Service Inc.

“Our local agency contributed to the panel, because it is us saying, 'Yes, we see and recognize the issue and will be accessible for services,'” Davis said. “We have been aware of human trafficking taking place, but it is not always labeled as it. As an agency, we are drawing connections and helping to make people aware of the issue.”

Since the question-and-answer was open to the audience, most questions concerned Michigan and human trafficking in the state.

“We realize that we have gaps and have not begun to address all of them. We are aware that there are centers in the state that are associated with trafficking,” Emmons said. “We are going to be working as legislatures to work on solutions, but it is going to be a long process for it to be done right, and it is going to take each one of us to make a difference and bring awareness.”

Donations made at the event will be distributed evenly between the Women’s Initiative of Mount Pleasant, Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force and the Half the Sky Movement.

During intermission, the hallway accommodated 10 organizations that allow students and locals to become involved.

“It was a well-done event. It is hard to get excited about a video like that because of the topic, but it was a good film and panel that should be talked about. People need to be aware of human trafficking,” Suttons Bay senior Sean Riley said. “I know there was a lot of work put into this event, and there was a great turnout. There should be more events like these more often. This should be taking place over Ke$ha concerts.”


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