Women and girls

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery, accounting for 71 per cent of the 40.3 million people living in modern slavery.

Photo Credit: Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Modern slavery is a gendered issue

One in every 130 females globally is living in modern slavery. In fact, women and girls account for 71 per cent of all victims of modern slavery. Although modern slavery affects everyone, there is no escaping the fact that it is a gendered issue. Females account for a staggering 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. Females also outnumber males as victims of modern slavery in four of five world regions.

Why does modern slavery disproportionately affect women and girls?

Modern slavery is driven by power imbalances which, for women and girls, is exacerbated by gender inequality and discrimination. Unfortunately, gender inequality and discrimination are deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives and society – the laws and social norms we live by, the different expectations imposed on daughters as compared to sons, the biases that constrain what women and girls can and cannot achieve. In most countries, fewer girls attend school and have access to medical care than boys, and women are more likely to end up in poverty, to work in high risk sectors of the informal economy – and ultimately, become trapped in modern slavery – than men.

Our approach

Addressing modern slavery among women and girls is a challenge that will require governments, faith leaders, and businesses to work with a greater sense of urgency with the international and nongovernment organisations who have long been at the frontline of these issues.

What can governments do to fight modern slavery affecting women and girls?

Although most governments have pledged to end all forms of discrimination against women by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, more action is needed to criminalise all forms of modern slavery especially those affecting women and girls. Our research has found that only 52 countries have criminalised forced marriage, 30 have ratified the ILO Domestic Worker Convention, and only 12 countries have set the minimum legal age of marriage at 18. Governments must reform and overturn laws and policies that strip women of their rights and agency or exacerbate their vulnerability to sexual violence and exploitation.

What can businesses do to fight modern slavery affecting women and girls?

Businesses have the ability to prioritise supply chain transparency and accountability over profit, to make sure that workers are protected, taking specific action to understand and address the vulnerabilities experienced by women, including protection mechanisms in crisis situations.

What can faith and community leaders do to fight modern slavery affecting women and girls?

Faith leaders can challenge cultural norms, such as male preference, restrictions on freedom of movement outside the home, and lack of control over finances and assets, which allow harmful and exploitative practices to continue. It is also key to value and prioritise education for girls as a critical circuit breaker to a lifetime of vulnerability.

Our targets

  • Increase criminalisation of forced marriage.
  • Increase ratification of relevant conventions such as the ILO Domestic Worker Convention.
  • Increase the minimum legal age of marriage to 18.
  • Reduce prevalence of modern slavery among women and girls.
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1 in 130

Females globally are living in modern slavery

71%

Of people living in modern slavery are female

4 out of 5

World regions have more female victims of modern slavery than male

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In collaboration with Leo Burnett, we created a series of powerful, emotive films that subvert popular YouTube formats to highlight the insidious nature of modern slavery – which is often hidden in plain sight.

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Call to Action to address the risk of modern slavery for women and girls

One in 130 women and girls globally are living in modern slavery. To turn this around, civil society, academic institutions, business, investor groups, and faith groups have come together to call on governments to end the structural disadvantages and modern slavery risks that women and girls face.   

Government, business, and faith must unite in a global effort to end the vulnerability to enslavement of women and girls. We are ten years from the deadline that global leaders set to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, yet we are far from achieving many of them. Walk Free’s report illustrates modern slavery and gender inequality are inextricably linked with poverty, education, healthcare, and many other factors. We need to take a broader, collaborative approach to ensure we address the immediate socio-economic disadvantages that change the trajectory of a girl’s life.

We are calling on governments to remove all legal roadblocks that prevent women and girls from fully and freely participating. This should include:

  • passing legislation to prevent women and girls from being forced into marriage, or systems, such as kafala, which normalise the dehumanisation and exploitation of migrant workers, 
  • challenging cultural norms, such as male preference, restrictions on freedom of movement outside the home, and lack of control over finances and assets, which allow harmful and exploitative practices to continue, and
  • together with business, to prioritise supply chain transparency to ensure workers are protected, and to guarantee a living wage, including protection mechanisms in crisis situations. 

We will work with key actors across business, government, faith and civil society to ensure change can be both built and brokered by the people on the front lines and delivered to the highest levels of decision making.  

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The undersigned organisations call on

ALL GOVERNMENTS TO END THE VULNERABILITY TO ENSLAVEMENT OF WOMEN AND GIRLS BY REMOVING ALL SOCIO-CULTURAL AND LEGAL ROADBLOCKS THAT PREVENT THEM FULLY AND FREELY PARTICIPATING
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WF-Partner-Logo-Devatop Centre for African Development
WF-Partner-Logo-Educate Girls
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WF-Partner-Logo-Engage Now Africa (ENA) Ethiopia
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Related resources

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