Why are women and girls so disproportionately affected by exploitation?

While we have come a long way, we are still far from reaching gender equality. The drivers behind much of the exploitation we witness across the globe are rooted in discrimination and structural gender inequality.

In many ways, in 2024 it is a wonder why we still need to celebrate International Women’s Day. While we have come a long way, gender equality is still an unrealised prospect. International Women’s Day offers us an opportunity to recognise the achievements of women and recognise the advances made to achieve gender equality. However, it also allows us to reflect on inequities that persist and to inspire action to combat discrimination.

This couldn’t be more relevant in the context of modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT).

MSHT is a massive global industry that generates billions of dollars in annual revenue. Currently, the illegal business of MSHT is low-risk and high-reward for human traffickers. The revenue generated through these crimes intersects with legitimate business and is cleaned through many of the institutions that we use in our daily lives. And it is made possible in part due to the prevalence of structural gender inequality. 

MSHT is a highly gendered crime.  

We know from the raw data that MSHT has a disproportionate effect on women and girls. By some estimates, 70% of all victims of MSHT are women and girls. Perhaps unsurprisingly, women and girls make up almost all victims of sexual exploitation across the world, with estimates ranging from 97-99%. This does not discount the experiences of men, boys and gender diverse individuals who experience a range of exploitation, including sexual exploitation.

While the data shows the disproportionate impact of these crimes on women and girls, the stories behind these statistics go far deeper. Discrimination and structural inequalities have created conditions globally that drive vulnerability and strip women and girls of their agency. Pervasive gender stereotypes and gender norms; perceptions of a lower social status of women and girls; normalisation of gender-based violence; lack of autonomy over financial resources; inequal access to education; and lack of representation of women in decision-making processes all contribute to a culture of vulnerability for women and girls to MSHT, to name a few.

And these vulnerabilities are visible in the data. Across the world, women account for approximately two thirds of all illiterate adults. Gendered poverty continues to make women and girls more vulnerable, with 388 million estimated to be in poverty in 2022 as compared to 372 million men and boys estimated to be in poverty. In developing regions, three quarters of women engage in the informal economy. Poignantly, the World Health Organisation has estimated that one in three women worldwide are subjected to either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

We cannot tackle MSHT without understanding the gendered aspects of the phenomenon.  

STOP THE TRAFFIK is part of the movement to change the story – to capture and utilise the unique stories and experiences of people with lived experiences, including women and girls, to disrupt trafficking globally. In 2023 we led projects in various regions across the world – from the West Midlands to Istanbul to prevent the exploitation of women and girls.

Traffickers continue to find new and innovative ways to target women and girls. In particular, traffickers are increasingly using technology to target victims, to remain anonymous, and to avoid persecution. Traffickers are using technology, and so should we.

At STOP THE TRAFFIK we harness the power of data, technology and stories to drive change. By uplifting survivor stories and their lived experience, combined with our intelligence work, our aim is to alter the landscape of trafficking, making it a high-risk and low-profit endeavour.


Have you experienced a form of exploitation, or been approached by an exploiter?

Has someone you know experienced a form of exploitation, or been approached by an exploiter?

Share your story through our STOP APP, our online form, or email us.

If you’re a frontline organisation or NGO, we are actively seeking intelligence on the risk of exploitation among women and girls, with a focus on human trafficking. This includes any information regarding sexual exploitation. If you have information on this issue, please email us.

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