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Preventing trafficking and protecting vulnerable young women through economic empowerment

March 9, 2021

Economic empowerment in the form of having a “good job” plays a central role in tackling human trafficking. A “good job” offers women and girls a viable alternative to exploitative work and improves the effective reintegration of survivors of trafficking. Reflecting on the Freedom Fund’s own experience, we noticed that many of the economic empowerment projects tended to channel women towards traditionally “feminine” occupations, including sewing and tailoring, jewellery making, hairdressing and beauty, and food processing and selling. These jobs are often insecure, low paid and unregulated, and not seen as an aspirational employment pathway.

In response, we commissionedthis study, “Preventing trafficking and protecting vulnerable young women through economic empowerment,” to explore what non-traditional employment options exist, what support services are available and what else is needed to support vulnerable young women in securing and thriving in more lucrative and rewarding jobs. The research team spoke with 226 stakeholders (including 147 young women and survivors of trafficking) across three deliberately diverse settings: in urban Ethiopia, urban Nepal and rural Tamil Nadu, India.

The study explores what a “good job” means. What we heard from the young women is that a good job is defined not only as offering a living wage and the absence of exploitation, but it also needs to have other constructive qualities, such as providing dignity, offering a supportive environment and fitting into their longer-term aspirations with the potential to progress.

To improve the effectiveness of economic empowerment programs that focus on supporting young women who are at risk, or survivors of trafficking, this study recommends a series of actions:

Anti-trafficking organisations

  • Work to transform gendered expectations in the wider community that can limit girls’ aspirations as well as what they choose to pursue later on as young women.
  • Continue to address underlying vulnerabilities, especially by helping families secure identification documents and access critical government services such as education and healthcare.
  • Continue to draw attention to and help reform existing industries where a large number of young women end up in exploitative employment.
  • Work with, rather than duplicate, the services of local training and employability providers.

Training and employability providers

  • Undertake more deliberate outreach to marginalised populations, especially by leveraging existing networks of community organisations that can facilitate access to a more diverse pool of applicants.
  • Involve local employers in formulating and delivering programs, which should include greater emphasis on soft skills and in-work training.
  • Be more selective with supporting young women into self-employment, focus on those who are most prepared for the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship rather than treating this as the default option.

Local governments and private funders

  • Continue tackling underlying vulnerabilities that lead to human trafficking, especially by addressing policy implementation gaps where preventative social welfare schemes are not reaching the intended beneficiaries.
  • Take a more active role in guiding businesses towards better practices through incentives for model employers as well as penalties for those violating the law.
  • Public-sector commissioners and private donors should consider more complementary coordination of training and employability programs, including shared admission processes and providing progression route from one course to the other.
  • Move towards outcome-based contracting to boost the impact of public and private funding. This model – if priced carefully and then managed well – has the potential to incentivise a more personalised, flexible scheme that maximises outcomes for young women and survivors.

Read the full report here. 

Photo credit: Lord R. / ILO / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Written by
The Freedom Fund