Women and modern slavery: an everyday, hidden reality

Temps de lecture : 5 minutes

Women and modern slavery: an everyday, hidden reality

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Illustratrice Yona. Instagram : @welcome_univers

05.24.2020
Written by Aline Nanko Samaké
Translated by Thomas Desdouits
Modern slavery covers a wide range of situations. Any condition in which a person is exploited without being able to leave or quit can fall under this denomination, whether through threats, violence, coercion, lies or abuse of power. The phrase therefore encompasses practices similar to slavery, such as forced marriage and labor or human trafficking. In 2018, 71% of the victims of modern slavery were women and girls[1]Walk Free Foundation, The Global Slavery Index – 2018, 2018
28.7 million women and girls are subjected to servitude
Women and girls are specifically affected by modern slavery. Gender disparities are characteristic of migration schemes and working environments, making sex-specific ratios variable for every category of exploitation. As a matter of fact, the exploitation of women is particularly evident in private sector industries such as domestic labor, sex work and forced marriage[2]International Labour Office,Global estimates of modern slavery: forced labour and forced marriage, Geneva, ILO, 2017.

Source: International Labor Office, Global estimates of modern slavery: forced labour and forced marriage, Geneva, ILO, 2017

Modern slavery is present in all regions of the globe. Prevalence rates are higher, however, in Africa, Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in the Middle East and Europe[3]Ibid. The global character of commercial exchanges has made this a worldwide issue. More specifically, industries that are subject to higher exploitation risks are those that use high numbers of electronic components. These include computer and phone manufacturing, but other industries such as textile and fishing, or agricultural productions like cocoa and sugarcane are also to blame. This means that everyday products worldwide are subject to exploitation. Women make up to 58% of the victims of this forced labor[4]International Labour Office,Global estimates of modern slavery: forced labour and forced marriage, Geneva, ILO, 2017. Put bluntly, part of everybody’s food and clothing is produced by modern day women slaves.
Considering slavery with a gender focus, it is necessary to raise the issue of commercial sexual exploitation. This form of modern slavery encompasses all types of transactions, in money or in kind, in exchange of sexual intercourse or services. It includes pimping, forced pornography, as well as child prostitution and pornography. 99% of the 4.8 million victims of this sexual exploitation worldwide are women and girls. More than 70% of the cases are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Europe, Central Asia, and Africa[5]Ibid.
Women and girls are also disproportionately targeted by forced marriage: 88% of the victims are women, of which 37% are younger than 18. Forced marriage is considered modern slavery, as it involves the loss of sexual autonomy but also forced labor (specifically domestic labor). This is particularly present in Africa and the Asia-Pacific[6]Ibid.
Finally, slavery does not spare men and boys, who are more likely to be exploited in many industries such as agriculture, mining, and construction. State-imposed forced labor mostly targets men (59.4%). This comprises citizens recruited by public authorities to execute farming or construction community work for economic development, as well as prisoners forced to work outside of the International Labor Office’s accepted framework[7]Ibid. This form of exploitation is specifically present in North Korea: children work in the fields, either on a daily basis or for a month during harvest season, and it is the school that gets the revenue, not the children[8]Walk Free Foundation, The Global Slavery Index – 2018, 2018.
Feminization of modern slavery: a symptom and a cause of gender-based violence (GBV)
Modern slavery dynamics are part of socioeconomic and cultural systems that disadvantage women and girls. These discriminatory gender relations result in gender-based violent situations, be they sexual, economic, physical, or symbolic, which are self-sustaining and self-reproducing.
Women’s forced labor originates, in part, in gendered social roles. Women are not considered fully-fledged economic agents: they are to remain within the borders of their household, whereas men enjoy full economic legitimacy. Consequently, girls have less access to education and to the job market. Without access to education, to good working conditions, to financial resources and to individualization, women are more vulnerable to manipulation and more exposed to forced labor. Feminine forced labor constitutes mostly in domestic and sexual exploitation because of sociocultural structures that reify women and keep them enclosed within the private sphere. This exposes women to risks of sexual and physical abuse, with dire consequences on their health: unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, mental frailty, and more.
Forced marriage is also tightly linked to cultural and customary habits. In some countries, parents will try to marry their girls before they have sexual intercourse that could result in illegitimate pregnancy. As a matter of fact, premature marriages linked to illegitimate pregnancies are not unusual and can even follow rape cases. Some early marriages can also be the result of young women being a financial burden for their families, whereas wedding them can, on the contrary, generate revenue through dowry or debt forgiveness. This is particularly true in conflict areas or after natural disasters that tend to increase economic pressure on households. In conflict ridden zones, women may also be kidnapped by militias, forced to marry fighter and to work in armed factions[9]“Causes et conséquences du mariage précoce et forcé”, Plan International, 29 September 2020, available on: … Continue reading. This has been seen in Syria where forced wedding of children was used as a weapon of war. The refugees from Kobane have stated that “protecting” their girls from sexual violence and forced marriage with armed fighters was one of the principal reasons for their flight[10]CARE International, “To protect our honour” : Child marriage in emergencies – the fatal confusion between protecting girls and sexual violence. CARE International UK, 2015.. Young girls may however be presented for marriage because their families consider the sacrament to be the best way to ensure them a sound future. Forced wedding still exposes women and girls to further forms of violence, including sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and other forms of forced labor.[11]Walk Free Foundation, The Global Slavery Index – 2018, 2018.
An international legal framework does exist to limit modern slavery. Some countries are taking measures, such as reducing their imports of goods and services that might be the fruit of forced labor. Modern slavery persists nonetheless and keeps flourishing on discrimination against women and girls. It also persists in its being a vector for gender-based violence, although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”[12]United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human’s Right, Paris, UN. Perhaps will it be through a language based on universal rights and through a broader use of gender-neutral writing in international documents that women and girls may exit their invisibility. Perhaps also is it through gender-specific looks on modern slavery that we might fight this plague in an efficient and adapted way. Modern slavery cannot be considered as a standalone issue. It must be studied in the context of the traditions and systems that reproduce gender-based discriminations, in order to break the cycle of inequality and fill out the holes in judiciary protection of women and girls on national, regional and international scales.
Bibliography 
CARE International,”To protect our honour” : Child marriage in emergencies – the fatal confusion between portecting girls and sexual violence.”, CARE International UK, 2015
International Labour Office,Global estimates of modern slavery: forced labour and forced marriage, Geneva, ILO, 2017
Plan International, “Causes et conséquences du mariage précoce et forcé.”, 29 September 2020, available on: https://www.plan-international.fr/info/actualites/news/2016-09-23-causes-et-consequences-du-mariage-precoce-et-force
United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Paris, UN, 1948.
Walk Free Foundation, The Global Slavery Index – 2018, 2018
To cite this publication: Aline Nanko Samaké, “Women and modern slavery: an everyday hidden reality”, 05.24.2020, Gender Institute in Geopolitics

References

References
1 Walk Free Foundation, The Global Slavery Index – 2018, 2018
2, 4 International Labour Office,Global estimates of modern slavery: forced labour and forced marriage, Geneva, ILO, 2017
3, 5, 6, 7 Ibid
8, 11 Walk Free Foundation, The Global Slavery Index – 2018, 2018
9 “Causes et conséquences du mariage précoce et forcé”, Plan International, 29 September 2020, available on: https://www.plan-international.fr/info/actualites/news/2016-09-23-causes-et-consequences-du-mariage-precoce-et-force
10 CARE International, “To protect our honour” : Child marriage in emergencies – the fatal confusion between protecting girls and sexual violence. CARE International UK, 2015.
12 United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human’s Right, Paris, UN