“In nature there is no such thing as a purple rose. They are cultivated for the enjoyment of the elite few,” said Joy Sioson, the chair of the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario. For a new campaign, the purple rose represents the use of Filipino women as commodities to be bought and sold in the brutal underworld of sex trafficking.

Like the designer rose, women from the Philippines are reguarly moulded-physically and mentally-to fit the desires of their buyers. For example, the Phillipines are the only predominantly Christian Asian country, and many men troll websites trafficking Filipino girls they feel are likely to honour traditional Christian family values.

On Thursday evening, a concerned group gathered to view Say I Do, a documentary chronicling the experiences of Filipino mail-order brides. The event was one of many put on by the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario, in conjunction with Concerned Students of POL 108 and SAC, as part of the Purple Rose Campaign, an international movement against the sex trafficking of Filipino women and children.

“A lot of [the men] have been divorced and don’t want to go through that again, and they know divorce is not acceptable [in the Filipino culture],” said SAC VP student life Camille Cendana. “It’s this perception of the Philippine women that drives the industry.”

The websites in North America are privately run, and connected with recruitment centres in the Philippines.

“They arrange tours to the Phillipines and also operate a group of women you can meet while you’re there,” said Sioson.

Some men will write letters to ten or more girls a year. They then book a tour to meet each of them and decide which potential wife they would like to sponsor. The immediate problem with Canadian law is that there is no limit to the number of women one man can sponsor.

“There’s no way for the women to screen the men, to find out that the man has already sponsored three wives,” Sioson adds.

Roughly one in nine Filipinos currently live abroad, sending home a total of US$12 billion in remittances each year. The increasing influence of globalization has made the Phillipine people themselves some of the most valuable exports that the country has to offer.

“Ultimately the problem is so much bigger than mail-order brides,” said Francis Kiromera, a member of the Concerned Students of POL 108, a class that took it upon themselves to expose this issue to the campus community. “It seems overwhelming, but one must try to support the little groups and NGOs to make a difference one step at a time.”

Stay up to date. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required