Gender impacts every dimension of trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling. For example, UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons states that 72% of girls and 83% of women are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Females are often initially targeted as a result of existing social vulnerabilities. At the other end of the scale, preliminary research shows that women often receive disproportionate punishments for their involvement in criminal syndicates of smugglers and traffickers, despite frequently playing more of a supporting role than a leading one.
The lack of strong protection and assistance mechanisms – and the lack of an adequate protection framework - make it less likely that female victims come forward. In combination with the fact that fewer women work as professional law enforcement officers than their male counterparts, it is clear that the heavily gendered nature of trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling means that, often, justice is hindered, and impunity incentivised.
29 June 2020 marks the official launch of the Women’s Network, an initiative instigated by UNODC and IOM under the framework of the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons the Smuggling of Migrants. Wholly owned by female and male gender champions, the network seeks to influence a cultural shift in the way women are frequently excluded from the response to trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling, with a view to achieving better quality assistance to victims of trafficking.
Walking the talk on gender equality starts by listening to the women on the ground: for that reason, the network endeavours to be a safe space where best practices can be freely shared and barriers to empowerment and progression ultimately dismantled.
In the words of one of the female participants: "this network will pave the road to building a strong forum to exchange experiences, lessons learned and discuss together the challenges and gaps that [women] are facing".
Ensuing that people of all genders have equal opportunities to thrive and are ultimately free to pursue their chosen path in life is a core focus of the European Union. Despite the varying contexts found within different GLO.ACT partner countries, certain experiences of exclusion are universal. Often, as professional women, the consequences of such experiences manifest themselves in feelings of isolation and disempowerment. The Women’s Network seeks to counter this; to provide support when things go wrong – and shared best practices when things go right.
Networks consolidate, build bridges and forge synergies. Many gender champions referred to their own formative experiences of empowerment groups as ‘multipliers’ that drive change within both organisations and society at large. In empowering women and influencing a cultural shift in current perceptions, the Network will do much to mobilise efforts to build a more just, equal and inclusive world for all.