Women and Girls

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery. As they transition through childhood, adolescence and adult life, the impacts of discrimination multiply and gender inequality grows.

Photo Credit: Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto. Getty Images.

Modern slavery is a gendered issue

Although modern slavery affects everyone, there is no escaping the fact that it is a gendered issue. Women and girls are far more likely to experience forced marriage or forced commercial exploitation. Gender stacks the odds against girls from before they are born, to the end of their life.

Practices such as sex selection during pregnancy, combined with infanticide, reduce the birth rates and survival of infant girls in societies that consider them economic burdens. As they transition through childhood, adolescence and adult life, the impacts of discrimination multiply and gender inequality grows. In most countries, fewer girls attend school and have access to medical care than boys, women are more likely to end up in poverty, to work in the riskiest sectors of the informal economy and ultimately, become trapped in modern slavery than men.

Why does modern slavery disproportionately affect women and girls?

Modern slavery is driven by power imbalances which, for women and girls, are 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, and the biases that constrain what women and girls can and cannot achieve.

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 that 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. 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 the prevalence of modern slavery among women and girls.

Subscribed to Slavery

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.


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


WF-Partner-Logo-Anti-Slavery Australia
WF-Partner-Logo-Centre for Research on Modern Slavery
WF-Partner-Logo-Children of Maasai Educational Program
WF-Partner-Logo-Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
WF-Partner-Logo-Crime Stoppers International
WF-Partner-Logo-Devatop Centre for African Development
WF-Partner-Logo-Educate Girls
WF-Partner-Logo-Empowerment Collective
WF-Partner-Logo-Engage Now Africa (ENA) Ethiopia
WF-Partner-Logo-Every Woman Every Child
WF-Partner-Logo-Footprint to Freedom
WF-Partner-Logo-Free the Slaves
WF-Partner-Logo-Freedom United
WF-Partner-Logo-Fundacion para la democracia internacional
WF-Partner-Logo-Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS)
WF-Partner-Logo-Global Institute for Women’s Leadership
WF-Partner-Logo-HAART Kenya
WF-Partner-Logo-Heal Trafficking
WF-Partner-Logo-Humanity United
WF-Partner-Logo-International Justice Mission Global
WF-Partner-Logo-Justice and Care
WF-Partner-Logo-La Strada
WF-Partner-Logo-Liberty Shared
WF-Partner-Logo-Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor
WF-Partner-Logo-Mission for Community Development Ethiopia
WF-Partner-Logo-Museo Internacional para la Democracia
WF-Partner-Logo-Nomi Network
WF-Partner-Logo-Pacific Dialogue
WF-Partner-Logo-Plenitude Partners
WF-Partner-Logo-Rights Lab University of Nottingham
WF-Partner-Logo-Rona Foundation
WF-Partner-Logo-Secretariat KWAT
WF-Partner-Logo-Survivors’ Network (SN)
WF-Partner-Logo-The Anti-Slavery Collective
WF-Partner-Logo-The Five Foundation
WF-Partner-Logo-The Freedom Fund
WF-Partner-Logo-The Future Society
WF-Partner-Logo-The Mekong Club
WF-Partner-Logo-The Wikirate Project
WF-Partner-Logo-This Is Lebanon
WF-Partner-Logo-UNICEF Australia
WF-Partner-Logo-Uyghur Human Rights Project
WF-Partner-Logo-Winrock International

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