Media Release08 Oct 2020

Global campaign turns spotlight on women and girls in modern slavery

A breakthrough report which reveals one in every 130 women and girls is currently trapped in modern slavery has sparked a global campaign, with human rights advocates calling on all governments to ban forced and child marriage, and to end state sanctioned exploitation of migrant workers*.

Rajasthani women and also children often walk long distances through the desert to bring back jugs of water that they carry on their heads. Photo Credit: hadynyah via Getty Images.

Walk Free’s report, Stacked Odds, the most comprehensive evaluation of the female experience of modern slavery and exploitation to date, reveals almost 29 million women and girls are victims of modern slavery.

The global campaign to expose the modern slavery risks facing women and girls around the world will kick off on International Day of the Girl, driven by human rights organisation Walk Free, the United Nations’ Every Woman Every Child and creative agency Leo Burnett Australia.

Females account for  99 per cent of all victims of forced sexual exploitation, 84 per cent of all victims of forced marriage, and 58 per cent of all victims of forced labour.

Walk Free Co-founder, Grace Forrest, said the findings detailed in the Stacked Odds report were a wake-up call for governments ahead of the UN’s 2030 deadline to eradicate modern slavery.

“Our report, and this new campaign, shine a light on the insidious reality of modern slavery,” Ms Forrest said.

“Today, at least one in every 130 women in the world is living in modern slavery. That is more than any other time in human history.

“Eradicating modern slavery and empowering women and girls must go hand in hand.

“Stacked Odds breaks down how and why so many women are systematically held back and proposes attainable solutions.

“This report seeks to initiate policy discussions with global lawmakers, to remove the roadblocks facing women and girls around the world.

“It is not good enough that 136 countries still fail to legislate against forced and child marriage. We must do better. We need to ensure the pervasive cultural and legal inequalities hindering the progress of women and girls are eliminated.”

Ms Forrest said the report examined the life cycle of inequality endured by women and girls, and the complex web of social systems that intersect to disadvantage them.

“The battle to beat the stacked odds that predetermine a girl’s risk of abuse and exploitation is a lifelong challenge – and one that is exacerbated by characteristics acquired at birth, including sexuality, gender identity, race, caste and culture,” she said.

Executive Coordinator of Every Woman Every Child Vivian Lopez said:

“Walk Free’s new report Stacked Odds, and the campaign it has inspired are critical to building awareness of the too-often ignored crime of modern slavery,” Ms Lopez said.

“It is shocking, but unfortunately unsurprising, that women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery and exploitation.”

“Ahead of the International Day of the Girl, we are urging people to use their voices and share the campaign, to shine a light on the risks women and girls face every day around the world.”

The campaign, which will run on social media, aims to drive home the reality of modern slavery by taking the popular concept of consumer product reviews and instead giving a voice to the exploited women and girls who work in abhorrent conditions to deliver these products.

Survivors and anti-slavery organisations from around the world contributed to Stacked Odds, which provides a roadmap for change to address the systemic inequality confronting girls and women. The report notes that although work to improve the situation for women and girls is underway, action to date is falling short of promised outcomes and that the problem is made worse by  the impacts of COVID-19.

Reports of gender-based and domestic violence, child marriage, and child sexual exploitation, among other forms of exploitation, have significantly increased because of a reduction in economic opportunities in the aftermath of the pandemic and restrictions placed on movement to manage the rapid spread of the virus.

Walk Free,  and human rights advocates and organisations from around the world are calling for united global action to address the disproportionate risk of modern slavery facing women and girls.

They are demanding governments legislate against forced and child marriage, and calling for the eradication of systems such as kafala, (where a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor for their contract period), which normalises the exploitation of migrant workers.

They also call for governments and businesses to prioritise supply chain transparency to ensure workers are protected, and to guarantee a living wage including protection mechanisms in crisis situations.