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The Beginnings of Anti-Trafficking Network, former ASTRA Network

Before I begin a story about the beginnings of ASTRA Network (now Anti-Trafficking Network), I would have to mention the initial work of ASTRA.  ASTRA began as an initiative of a group of women, feminists, who had acquired their knowledge and experience in various women's non-governmental organizations. Each and every one of us was well acquainted with the problems of domestic violence in all its forms. Also, each and every one of us was aware of the growing problem of women and children trafficking. Unfortunately, the public neither knew about it at the time, nor was it talked about. Neither citizens, nor institutions could identify women trafficking. We realized that we had to take certain actions that would draw the public's attention to the problem.

Precisely because of the previous experience from different non-governmental organizations, we knew from the start how important it is to network and associate organizations in order to make a greater impact on the wider community and raise awareness about women trafficking. What was important to us was to gather organizations that hold the same or similar values as we did – respect for human rights in accordance with international standards, tolerance and acceptance of differences, aspiration to the highest work standards, dedication and professionalism.

The three of us that used to work on SOS helpline and in the Center for Girls (Centrić) started working in ASTRA. Since Centrić founded one of the first networks in Serbia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at that time, the Network of the Centers for Girls "Puella", it was a natural "outcome" of this to invite, during the process of including women's non-governmental organizations in ASTRA Network, a significant number of those organization to join us (due to our exceptional cooperation).

At the time of the first campaign called "Open Your Eyes", which ASTRA launched in 2002, first actual actions of the organizations from ASTRA Network also started to be organized. The cooperation up to that moment was ad hoc, communication was maintained mostly by phone and e-mail, and the meetings were held with individual organizations when it was needed. In 2002, all together we went out into the streets, put up posters in our cities, gave interviews for local media, organized and held panel discussions across Serbia... Simply, each organization gave its contribution (within its capacities) to make the problem of human trafficking more visible.

Soon after this campaign, when the conditions were favourable, the first official meeting of ASTRA Network was held in Belgrade. The representatives of all organizations attended the meeting. The basic principles of the Network were laid down, the objectives were defined and we started planning future joint actions.
The following organizations made up the Network at that time: ASTRA − Belgrade; Center for Cultural Affirmation − Dimitrovgrad; SOS for Women and Children Victims of Violence − Vlasotince; Ana − Novi Pazar; Human Rights Committee − Vranje; Center for Girls − Užice; Women in Action − Velika Plana; Center for Girls − Niš; Women Rights Center − Vršac; Esperansa − Novi Sad....

The Network was put into action and it still exists, expands, learns and grows.