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We must empower women and girls to fight modern slavery

Press release
March 8, 2018

London – On International Women’s Day, the Freedom Fund urges the international community to listen to the voices of women and girls and to empower them to respond to modern slavery, a crime that disproportionately affects them.

Of the 40 million people trapped in modern slavery today, over 70 percent of them are women and girls. Every day across the globe, millions of women and girls are used, controlled and exploited for commercial or personal gain.

Globally, more research and sharing of knowledge is needed on the most effective frontline strategies to address the gender dimensions of slavery. In an effort to contribute to this knowledge, the Freedom Fund’s report “Her freedom, her voice,” draws together lessons from interventions we have supported in countries with a high burden of slavery. Our report identifies promising approaches to tackle this scourge and highlights priorities for further research and investment.

“Women and girls should be at the heart of efforts to fight modern slavery,” said Nick Grono, CEO of the Freedom Fund. “This crime disproportionately affects them, and we must all work to empower women and girls to fight extreme exploitation.”

Anti-slavery programs must engage the whole community to combat gender inequality and harmful norms. This includes parents, community leaders, and also men and boys. Exploitation doesn’t happen in isolation. It feeds on vulnerable populations in vulnerable communities.

NGOs in high-prevalence countries also need to acknowledge that they function within deeply patriarchal societies and hence need to make very conscious efforts to enable female leaders and managers to emerge. A shortage of female leadership is holding the sector back.

Strengthening women and girls’ “agency” – their ability to influence and make decisions that affect their lives – is key. Impactful programs teach women and girls life skills that allow them to make informed decisions that affect their lives. Creating peer groups of adolescent girls is a powerful means of building their confidence to challenge social and cultural norms that underpin gender inequality.

Many organisations that we support engage in awareness-raising activities to inform women and girls about trafficking risks. Our research suggests that these activities are unlikely to be effective unless messages are highly tailored to the real and specific pressures that women face in the local context.

“Women migrating abroad for work may be well aware of the risks but nonetheless embark on dangerous travel out of economic necessity and often unprepared and vulnerable to abuse during their journey and upon arrival,” said Audrey Guichon, the Freedom Fund’s deputy director of programs. “One promising strategy is to engage those previously exploited to talk about their experiences, as they are more likely to be listened to and to provide actionable advice.”

Regarding raid and rescue operations, while those being enslaved need to be liberated from their places of exploitation, these operations can cause unintended harm. When possible, providing support services such as drop-in centres, shelters, counselling and job training can encourage a more gradual and informed exit, aiding survivors’ recovery and helping to prevent re-exploitation.

And of course, women and girls who have been subject to horrendous abuse are highly likely to suffer from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. More research is needed on how to best deliver the most appropriate mental health support for these female survivors of exploitation.

As the Freedom Fund incorporates these lessons into our own programs and investment decisions, we hope they will also contribute to the work of other anti-slavery organisations and researchers.

About the Freedom Fund:
The Freedom Fund is a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery. We identify and invest in the most effective frontline efforts to eradicate modern slavery in the countries and sectors where it is most prevalent. Partnering with visionary investors, governments, anti-slavery organisations and those at risk of exploitation, we tackle the systems that allow slavery to persist and thrive. Working together, we protect vulnerable populations, liberate and reintegrate those enslaved and prosecute those responsible.

Photo credit: Alice Smeets, Legatum Limited, 2018

Written by
The Freedom Fund