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Tackling the sexual exploitation of girls and young women at work in Uganda

Tackling the sexual exploitation of girls and young women at work in Uganda

In 2015, world leaders agreed on a collection of 17 global goals, to help create a sustainable future by 2030. These Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, have a critical role to play in creating a better future for girls and young women in Uganda.

For instance, Goal 5 commits the government to achieving gender equality, while Goal 8 commits them to eradicating forced labour and modern slavery, as well as ensuring all young people can find safe and inclusive employment opportunities.

Overcoming inequality and exploitation

In Uganda, girls and young women – especially those who have grown up in poverty – face a number of challenges, from sexual exploitation in the workplace to economic inequality and exclusion. 

For many young women, finding work is a struggle. They face an unemployment rate of 27%, compared to 9% for young men, with rates of unemployment higher in urban areas.

For those that find work in the informal sector, such as bars, restaurants and lodges, the conditions can be exceptionally challenging – pay is often low and unreliable, and they are expected to work long days with no breaks.

In addition, as many as one in ten girls in Uganda have been affected by sexual abuse and exploitation*, and girls tell us that this is a real issue for them at work.

Youth advocate Fiona

Fiona, youth advocate

Fiona, 23, is a youth advocate in Kampala. She’s a member of her district Gender Advocacy Team and a youth advocate for the Girls Advocacy Alliance, and is working to create change for girls in the workplace.

“We are advocating for a stop to the sexual exploitation of girls at work,” she explains.

“It’s very important because many girls are affected. As an individual, as a girl, I am asking for this to stop.”

Localising the SDGs

In Uganda, important work on ending the exploitation of girls and young women in the workplace is already underway.

The government’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has taken several key actions, including:

  • Ratifying all eight International Labour Organisation conventions – four of which relate to ending forced labour and slavery. These have been domesticated through the country’s Employment Act (2006) which is now being reviewed to strengthen this regulatory framework.
  • Working with Parliament to make sexual exploitation in the workplace illegal, recognising that this is a human rights violation.
  • Recruiting Labour Officers in communities across the country to conduct workplace inspections, to help ensure employers are meeting minimum standards. Labour Officers have a crucial role to play in addressing workplace issues, from exploitation and human rights abuses to protection from inhumane treatment, slavery, servitude and forced labour.
  • Collaborating with civil society organisations and partners to raise awareness about the sexual exploitation of girls and young women.
  • Improving coordination across agencies, including immigration and the police.
  • Establishing a youth livelihood programme, which aims to reach young people living in poverty with employment opportunities.

Ensuring girls’ voices are heard

While the government of Uganda has made significant strides, sexual exploitation at work remains a key issue facing girls and young women across the country.

It is essential to consult with communities to understand what is happening on the ground, and what the barriers are that are still preventing girls from accessing safe and inclusive work, free from abuse and exploitation.

To fully realise the SDGs, we must listen to girls and young women like Fiona, who are keen to see real change in their communities.

“I am empowered and I can speak on behalf of those who are being exploited,” she says.

“When you are an advocate you are a role model. They know ‘Fiona is there for us’ – I have decided to be that champion.”

We must all work together to stand with girls and raise their voices, so that we can end the sexual exploitation of girls at work in Uganda.


Overseas Development Institute, Sexual exploitation of adolescent girls in Uganda (2014) (last accessed 18.01.19)

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Patterns and predictors of violence against children in Uganda: a latent class analysis (2016) (last accessed 18.01.19)

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