New Walk Free Report Outlines Gendered Nature of Modern Slavery

25 January 2021
Research Innovation

Nesrien Hamid  | Progamme Officer - Delta 8.7

In their latest report, Stacked Odds, the Walk Free Foundation outlines the gendered nature of modern slavery. The report builds on primary quantitative data from international and UN organizations as well as interviews with front-line workers and survivors to illustrate how women and girls around the world are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery from conception to old age. Stacked Odds points to the underlying conditions that make women and girls more vulnerable to exploitation, namely poverty, inadequate access to education and healthcare as well as repressive laws and social norms that deliberately exclude or marginalize women. To be sure, many of these adverse conditions affect men and boys as well. However, these underlying vulnerabilities intersect with and are exacerbated by inequalities related to gender, with particularly disadvantageous consequences for women and girls. At the heart of the vulnerability, the report argues, lies a power imbalance that disfavors women and girls—and which further deepens throughout their lifetimes. And the statistics are damning. According to the report, women and girls constitute “73 per cent of victims [of modern slavery] in the Asia and Pacific, 71 per cent in Africa, 67 per cent in Europe and 63 per cent in the Americas”.

Stacked Odds paints a harrowing picture, but it also provides pertinent recommendations for what can, and should, be done now to meet the objectives enshrined in Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Many of the drivers of modern slavery are broad, deeply entrenched systemic issues that lead directly to gender inequality and the precarious position of women and girls. Addressing modern slavery, therefore, requires a multifaceted, multi-institutional approach that strives to conjointly address intersecting socioeconomic problems. The report offers recommendations that are specific to each stage of an individual’s life, from conception to late adulthood. Those include: ensuring access to citizenship and birth registration; provisioning a primary school education; criminalizing forced marriage; improving labour protections; and reforming inheritance laws that currently disadvantage women. The report’s recommendations, which are geared towards governments and businesses, aim to make women and girls, and their communities, resilient to exploitation.

The report also highlights the centrality of survivors in decision-making. There’s an acknowledged lack of evidence and data to support effective policymaking around Target 8.7. Crucial to bridging this evidence gap is deferring to survivor expertise when crafting policies and programmes to address modern slavery. The path to achieving Target 8.7 is long and arduous, especially as the 2030 deadline draws near, and without the inclusion of the question of gender at the heart of all proposals aiming to eradicate modern slavery and to realize sustainable development, our efforts, however well-intentioned, will be in vain.

This article has been prepared by Nesrien Hamid as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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