In the first decades of life, data suggests that gender disparities remain relatively small. However, as girls grow up, the differences between them and their male peers become astounding:
- More than 60 percent of illiterate young people in the world are female
- Women and girls collectively spend 200 million hours per day fetching water
- Approximately 15 million adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19 worldwide have experienced forced sex in their lifetime
An estimated 70% of all victims of modern slavery are women and girls
Unfortunately, these disparities also persist when it comes to modern slavery — an umbrella term encompassing forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, trafficking and child marriage. The International Labor Organization, in partnership with the Walk Free Foundation, estimates that more than 70 percent of victims are women and children. Gender differences are especially prominent when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage, where women and girls represent 99 percent and 84 percent of total victims, respectively.
In this case, gender norms and trafficking mutually reinforce each other. For example, not only do trafficking and child marriage prevent girls from going to school, lack of education can make a child more vulnerable to exploitation in the first place. Barriers to girls' education both compromise girls' rights and cost societies an estimated $15 trillion to $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.
Supporting girls' equity is not only a moral imperative — it's smart economic policy
The data is clear: Supporting girls' equity is not only a moral imperative. It is smart economic policy.
Ending trafficking requires addressing the underlying harmful gender norms. This is one of the reasons why UNICEF focuses on integrating a gender-sensitive perspective into all areas of its work. In doing so, UNICEF is working to ensure that all girls have the opportunity to reach their full potential free from violence and exploitation. Learn more about how UNICEF and UNICEF USA help empower girls to become the world's future change makers.
How can I get involved?
- Get active to end trafficking this January using our End Trafficking Month Toolkit
- Send an email to your local elected officials urging them to keep trafficking and its victims top of mind
- Join UNICEF UNITE
- Become a monthly donor
- Spread the word by sharing this article or posting on your own social media accounts using the UNICEF USA Social Press Kit
Hanna Cody is a Global Citizenship Fellow with UNICEF USA's End Trafficking Project.
Photo at top: Girls in the village of Yakoua, Chad, after a community awareness session with Youssouf Mbodou Mbami, the chief of the canton of Bol, in October 2018. Some 67 percent of all girls in Chad are married before their 18th birthday. A form of exploitation, child marriage prevents children from reaching their full potential. © UNICEF/UN0267775/