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Listen to survivors

The voices of the survivors of slavery have largely gone unheard in the creation of antislavery policies and programmes - The Survivor Alliance is redressing this
Vision Politics and Society Listen to survivors

Minh Dang, a University of Nottingham PhD student, is leading a new international network that is helping to turn anti-slavery into a survivor-led movement.

As Executive Director of the Survivor Alliance, an NGO incubated by the Rights Lab, Minh is dedicated to empowering survivors to be leaders in their communities. 

At the core of the Rights Lab’s mission is the belief that the voices and input of slavery survivors are essential to informed, effective antislavery programmes and policies: no longer silent or tokenised, they can help to change history. 

The Survivors Programme, led by Associate Director Dr Andrea Nicholson, works in close partnership with the Survivor Alliance and has created the world’s largest database of contemporary slave testimonies. Fused with its geospatial, supply chains and slavery prevalence data, this collection of thousands of stories is equipping policymakers with unprecedented insights into the nature of slavery. 

It was through the mentorship of the world-leading antislavery academic and campaigner Professor Kevin Bales, that Minh realised she could combine academia with activism. Due to her own experiences as a survivor, Minh is keen to ensure that academia is relevant and applicable to the pressing social injustices that surround slavery. 

She joined Professor Bales at the University of Nottingham and is combining a PhD with her work leading the Survivor Alliance. 

“We are connecting survivors digitally and in person, we support them to build and lead communities in their own geographic area,” she said. 

Survivor Alliance events in Nottingham recently included a public Survivors in Conversation event; a workshop where survivors and early-career researchers shared insights; a film screening; and a key presence during Antislavery Day at a business summit examining slavery and supply chains.

This activity runs alongside a series of survivor community meetings, bringing together survivors from around the UK to build leadership. 

“We are changing the narrative of antislavery and liberation strategies,” said Minh. “Our membership includes judges, NGO leaders, key business figures, lawyers, journalists. We’re bringing together people who will share not just their experience but their expertise.

“The Alliance aims to unite and empower survivors around the world.”

Minh made an impassioned case for policymakers to more fully acknowledge the contribution of fellow survivors in her essay, Survivors are speaking. Are we listening? for the Global Slavery Index report of 2018, and attended the GSI’s launch at the UN headquarters in New York earlier this year.

Minh’s essay shares insights into how new and survivor-led research can help to consign slavery to history.

Our stories are crucial. But we have so much more to offer.

“As some of the best interpreters of modern slavery, survivors’ insights are wasted when they are restricted to telling personal stories.

…It is time for the anti-slavery movement to focus on developing and deepening opportunities for survivors that are not centred around sharing their trauma narrative.

The Survivor Alliance unites and empowers survivors of slavery around the world… it focuses on developing a global network of trained survivor leaders. In addition to empowering survivor voices in the anti-slavery movement, the Survivor Alliance shifts the focus from the moment of emancipation and the immediate aftermath, to the long journey of (re)building a life in freedom.

Until we actively support the development of survivor leaders, there will be a dearth of such leaders to call on to support anti-slavery efforts. We believe the wider movement has a moral obligation to help make this happen.”

From Survivors are speaking. Are we listening?

Read Minh Dang’s essay at www.globalslaveryindex.org/resources/essays

Minh Dang

Minh Dang is Executive Director of the Survivor Alliance, member of the Rights Lab, a Beacon of Excellence at the University, and doctoral researcher within the School of Politics and International Relations. Her PhD is exploring how survivors of slavery define wellbeing and how this matches the definitions used by governments and NGOs. Better alignment of the two should improve policies and the effectiveness of interventions.

Vision magazine front cover - Issue 4, Autumn 2019

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