Be Informed

Women & Exploitation

Today is a global celebration of social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. International Women’s Day was established in the 1900’s in the wake of growing women’s movements in Europe and the United States that demanded broader voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. The United Nations officially recognised International Women’s Day in 1975, launching it to the global stage it occupies today. By 1996, the International Women’s Day organisers established a new practice of creating an annual theme for the event. The theme for 2020 is “an equal world is an enabled world”.

Since the 1990’s, advancements have been made to forge a gender equal world. Adopted by all UN member states are a collection of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, designed as a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. Goal 5 is ‘to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. Whilst progress of empowering women has been made across the globe, for example, women in Saudi Arabia can now drive and in the UK, one in three board positions in the biggest companies are held by women.

However, women remain subject to pay discrimination, unequal employment opportunities, sexual harassment in the workplace, female genital mutilation, period poverty, and sexual violence. Therefore, whilst today is to celebrate our global achievements, it is important to note that gender inequalities remain and examine what we can do to create an equal world.

UN Sustainable Development Goal 5.2, particularly commits to the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, including trafficking and exploitation. Trafficking and exploitation of women takes many forms across the world and here in the UK we see increasing numbers of women being recovered from sexual and criminal exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude.

Trafficking leaves both visible and invisible scares. COSLA has set out the effects of trafficking and the impact on victims in their Guidance for Local Authorities.  These can be described as; potentially serious injury and/or health risks due to poor living and working conditions and resultant harms caused by trauma, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted or enforced pregnancy and/or abortion. Victims may also be forced to engage with substance misuse and have little or no access or provision for their basic needs such as food, shelter, sleep, medical care and safety which can have long term health effects.  Perpetrators are likely to inflict a combination of controlling behaviours on victims and these may include the above as well as psychological and physical violence.

The harmful impact of trafficking on victims, physical, psychological and mental health issues and including PTSD, have been widely discussed1  and at all stages of the trafficking experience, victims are vulnerable because of the ‘migratory and exploitative nature of a multi-staged trafficking process, which includes: ‘recruitment’, ‘travel-transit’, and ‘exploitation’, but victims are particularly vulnerable during the ‘integration’, re-integration’, and for some trafficked persons, ‘detention’ and ‘re-trafficking’ stages2.

Research carried out by the NHS evidences the negative effects for individuals from the earliest stages of recruitment through to re-integration to society3Victims of trafficking are likely to suffer from multiple physical health symptoms.  In one report focusing on women trafficked into sex work, 57% of women interviewed at up to 14 days following recovery reported 12 or more concurrent physical health symptoms4.

Exposure to repeated trauma prior to, and during, trafficking can result in Complex PTSD5.  The psychological impact of trafficking related abuses and post trafficking psychological symptoms have been compared to the violence, restrictions and reactions identified in torture victims6.


SOHTIS’ Project Light is working with organisations who support vulnerable women in Edinburgh to expose exploitation and ignite hope in potential victims, bringing them to safety, advocating on their behalf and empowering them to rebuild their lives.

Forced marriage is another form of exploitation which is a serious risk to women around the globe. According to Girls Not Brides, globally 12 million girls each year get married before the age of 18. This roughly equates to 33,000 child brides every day, or one every two seconds. The reasons behind it vary between communities, but it’s often because girls are not valued as highly as boys and marrying them off at a young age transfers the ‘economic burden’ to another family.

We can prevent this outcome for millions of girls each year by empowering them with information, skills and support networks. Taken together, girls can advocate for themselves, make decisions and aspire to alternatives to early marriage. In addition, we can participate in discussions and advocate for the implementation of laws and policies which prohibit child marriage practices. 

The World Economic Forum has developed a Global Gender Gap Report for 2020, which examines 153 countries on their progress towards gender parity in four dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. The report reveals that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years. The attainment of gender equality is said to take so long because in many countries, women are significantly disadvantaged  in accessing credit, land or financial products which prevent them starting a company or making a living by managing financial assets. For instance, out of 153 countries, 72 of those have women within specific social groups who do not have the right to open a bank account or obtain credit. Moreover, on average there is a wage gap of 40%, which is calculated using a ratio of the wages of women to that of men in a similar position.


The International Women’s Day organisers have created selfie cards which can be personalised and co-branded with your organisation’s logo. These selfie cards contain pledges on what you will do to eliminate the gender inequality within your organisation. It may be stating that you will pay males and females the same, promise to challenge sexual harassment behaviour within the workplace, or even confront gender stereotyping. You can then post pictures of your pledges on social media to encourage other organisations to do the same!

The Global Gender Gap Reports that there is a disparity in caring and household responsibilities between men and women. As there is no country in the world where men conduct the same amount of time in unpaid work to that of women. This reinforces the general attitude that housekeeping, cooking, cleaning as feminised work. Which can leave females more vulnerable to domestic servitude. To overcome this, cultural and social policies need to be created that offer solutions to house-care needs (i.e. nurseries within businesses) or change the incentives for men and women to rebalance the burden of household and care duties (i.e. offer paternity leave).

We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world and be #EachforEqual.

Call to Action

SOHTIS believes everyone deserves to live in freedom with dignity and respect.

There are ways that we can all be involved in being part of the solution to human trafficking in Scotland. Some as simple as raising awareness by following SOHTIS on social media and sharing our posts or volunteering skills, linking us with useful networking contacts or donating funds.

Please get in touch to find out how you can join us in our support of survivors.


1 International Organization for Migration. Caring for trafficked persons: guidance for health providers. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking; 2009. 
2Zimmerman et al. 2011
4Zimmerman C, Hossain M, Yun K, Roche B, Morison L, Watts C.  Stolen smiles: a summary report on the physical and psychological health consequences of women and adolescents trafficked in Europe. London: The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
5United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  Anti-human trafficking manual for criminal justice practitioners: Module 3. United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking
6International Organisation for Migration.  Caring for trafficked persons: guidance for health providers.  London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking
7Hossain M, Zimmerman C, Abas M, Light M, Watts C. the Relationship of Trauma to Mental Disorders Among Trafficked and Sexually Exploited Girls and Women.  American Journal of Public Health

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