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Deeply Talks: Why 70% of People in Modern Slavery are Women and Girls

Women & Girls speaks with Katharine Bryant, research manager at the Walk Free Foundation, and modern slavery expert James Cockayne of United Nations University, about new figures that demonstrate the vast majority of people in slavery are women and girls.

Written by Megan Clement, Jihii Jolly Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
Mozambiques poor experience modern slavery
The International Organization for Migration estimates that 1,000 women and children are trafficked from Mozambique to South Africa each year.Jeronimo Muianga/dpa

There are 40.3 million people living in slavery today, and 71 percent of them are women and girls, according to a new report on the global extent of modern slavery. Women and girls accounted for 99 percent of people in forced sexual exploitation, 84 percent of forced marriages and 59 percent of the millions trapped in private forced labor.

Katharine Bryant, research manager at the Walk Free Foundation  and author of the Global Slavery Index, and James Cockayne, an expert in trafficking and slavery at United Nations University, joined Women & Girls managing editor Megan Clement for a discussion on how this report was developed and how the issue of modern slavery can be addressed.

“It is a complicated and difficult process to estimate the number of people in modern slavery because they are such hidden populations,” explained Bryant. “Key to this report were the partnerships, both to unite the field around one global estimate but also provide a platform where we can start to share data and our findings.”

Nonetheless, because much of the data collected depended on household surveys, certain groups of people were not accessible, such as those in prisons or refugee camps, or those in certain regions known for a high prevalence of slavery, such as Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

“What’s interesting and unfortunate is that in the last few years, we’ve seen this move from beyond the kind of patterns of sexual violence in war that we have frankly become used to over the last few decades, and see in Syria and northeast Nigeria for example, armed groups that are not only engaging in the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and a tactic of terrorization and intimidation, but openly arguing that it is legitimate and even sometimes legal to engage in enslavement,” Cockayne said.

“They are investing in subsidies for fighters who have slaves. They are providing how-to manuals and services to assist with forced contraception and forced termination of pregnancies and they’ve even in a couple of cases in Syria, organized open-air slave markets in some of the ISIS occupied towns.”

Both look forward to progress that requires collaboration among local actors and U.N. agencies already working on the issue.

Listen to the 30-minute discussion here:

Deeply Talks is a regular feature, bringing together our network of readers and expert contributors to examine the latest developments on issues affecting women and girls in the developing world. To join future Deeply Talks, make sure you are signed up to the Women & Girls newsletter.

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