Sylvia Friedman is a Hong Kong-based Canadian journalist, book author, documentary producer and advisor to philanthropists. She has won multiple awards for her work, including the International Human Rights Press Award (TV Special Merit) in 2013 for her series on slavery and human trafficking in China, Hong Kong and Thailand. Dedicated to anti-trafficking initiatives and activism, Sylvia founded the 852 Freedom Campaign, a campaign focused on mobilizing people in Hong Kong to end global sex trafficking and slavery. Since 2005, she has directed more than US$9 million to humanitarian and non-governmental organizations and projects that have impacted at least 1 million people.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Sylvia Friedman: I’m a journalist, author, filmmaker, advisor to philanthropists and have directed more than US$9 million to NGOs; and wife to an amazing man.
Women LEAD: You are currently a founder and leader of the 852 Freedom Campaign, a campaign dedicated to mobilizing people across Hong Kong to fight human slavery. What inspired you to found the 852 Freedom Campaign (852FC), and what are your hopes for this project?
Sylvia Friedman: I’ve been directing funding to NGOs for 10 years now and I’ve met dozens of NGO leaders in the region. I co-founded the 852FC because I felt it was filling a void in the counter-human trafficking space not only Hong Kong, but in Asia. The 852FC is a fast growing mass movement and it’s empowering housewives and stay at home mothers, teachers, bankers, artists, creative directors, communications and technology specialists and so on to donate their time and talents to help end human trafficking and modern day slavery in our lifetime. We will soon be campaigning with a TV channel and more doors are opening for ordinary people to get involved in ending modern slavery.
Women LEAD: On a personal level, what motivates you to continue fighting for social justice, specifically in the anti-trafficking movement?
Sylvia Friedman: I’d say it’s in my blood. My great-grandfather fought for justice in politics in South Korea back in his day. My great-grandmother was a wonderful humanitarian and fed the poor every week in her home. My mother grew up watching their example and naturally followed in their footsteps. She’s been helping low-income families for more than 30 years in Vancouver. Another reason why I’m fighting slavery is that I could not forget the faces of the slavery victims and people in exploitative situations I have met over the years. It’s surprising when I learn that people working in anti-slavery NGOs have never met a single victim.
Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Sylvia Friedman: Women by nature are catalytic influencers. If you empower a woman, you can not only transform her family, but influence many. It still boggles my mind that about 100 years ago, Chinese women had bound feet and were not considered a person until they were married (another man’s property really). (Thank you for initiating this blog. You’re doing an inspiring work of empowerment yourself, Megan!)
Women LEAD: What are some of your most memorable experiences in your years as a journalist?
Sylvia Friedman: My near death experiences. I’ve been blessed to have some extraordinary adventures early on in my career. I have been surrounded by angry gangsters and mama-sans in a red light district in the middle of no where in Yunnan province. I’ve walked by gun wielding Burmese soldiers. Some of the Cambodian children’s faces I’ve met in Poipet have stayed with me. These kids are at risk of exploitation and of being trafficked. I also cannot forget the emaciated heroin addicts near the Myanmar border.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Sylvia Friedman: My mother has been an extraordinary example of a classy humanitarian with the finesse of a Madeleine Albright. Being raised by her was like attending a finishing school led by a football coach. She literally would rebuke me whenever I was slouching or standing with one foot out. Her ability to inspire and coach is amazing and she has mentored many young people over the years. I admire her integrity and the way she has had no enemies in her life. She has class.
Women LEAD: Are there websites, books, or films that are inspiring you right now about gender equality or individual empowerment?
Sylvia Friedman: I’ve just finished my second book “Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women” and I am embarrassed to admit it was a project that took me 14 years to complete! I kept my promise to the comfort women survivors who asked me to tell the world about their experiences and the book came out last week on Amazon.
Interview by Megan Foo, Women LEAD Blogger