You are here:

Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: We need to talk about gender

Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: We need to talk about gender

Guest Blog from Walk Free Foundation

The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery estimate that at any given point during 2016 there were some 40.3 million people in modern slavery. That is 40.3 million men, women and girls in forced labour or forced marriage. I spoke about these latest global estimates at an event organised by Plan International UK this month, highlighting the ways in which women and men, boys and girls, experience slavery differently. This is a summary of my intervention:

Working together to drive change on modern slavery

The estimates are ground-breaking for a few reasons, not least the fact that they represent the first collaborative effort to measure modern slavery. Representing the work of the International Labour Organization, the Walk Free Foundation and the International Organization for Migration, the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery are the first time that leading global organisations developed a common measure of modern slavery. It is the culmination of several years’ work, including face-to-face surveys with over 71,000 people in 48 countries conducted through the Gallup World Poll. At the Walk Free Foundation, we are proud to participate in the development of one number.

Global estimates and collaborative efforts are all well and good, but common estimates must drive evidence-based global policy. This is the thrust behind the global estimates and Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.7 under which they are released – from the trends in these estimates we are able to devise informed global policy.

A woman grinds grain for a meal in South Sudan
In South Sudan 2 years ago, Yari was married off as her parents needed the cattle dowry to support their family. Now 17 and 4 months pregnant, Yari works from dawn to dusk doing chores and finding food for her extended family.

The gendered nature of modern slavery

The statistic that deserves greatest attention from policy makers is the fact that 71% of the 40.3 million people in modern slavery are women and girls. When broken down into different forms of modern slavery, females are overrepresented in forced labour (59%), forced marriage (84%), and forced sexual exploitation. Of those in forced sexual exploitation, 99% were female.

The sectors where exploitation occurs are highly gendered, with men and boys more likely to be exploited in construction, manufacturing and agriculture, and women more likely to be exploited in domestic work and sex work. Means of coercion are also dependent on whether the victim is male or female. Female victims are much more likely to be subjected to sexual violence, whereas male victims are subjected to other forms of physical violence, threats of violence, or use of threats against family.

Using evidence to shape policy responses

What does this tell us about policy responses? At its most basic interpretation, the global estimates reveal that prevention and protection efforts need to reflect and prioritise the higher risk profile faced by females. More specifically, policy responses should look to existing work focused on promoting women’s rights and achieving gender equality, such as women’s empowerment initiatives and programmes that provide education for girls. These initiatives which address the discrimination women and girls face should be the cornerstone of any response to modern slavery.

This is not to forget that despite the overrepresentation of females, males are also affected by forced labour and forced marriage. Any gender sensitive approach should tackle the specific experiences of females and males, and provide options for women and girls, and men and boys who are vulnerable to, or have directly experienced, severe exploitation.

Research, Policy and Influencing

Latest stories for you