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The International Labor
Organization, or ILO, is the United Nations agency that deals with labor
standards, employment, and social protection issues. It estimates that of the
12.3 million or more enslaved people around the globe, 56 percent are women and
"More than half of all victims of forced labor are women and girls,
compelled into servitude as domestics or sweatshop workers or forced into
prostitution," wrote Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in an
article for the Washington Post newspaper. "They face not only the loss of
their freedom but also sexual assaults and physical abuses."
Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable, and all too often women are easy
targets. Laws and social and economic practices that discriminate against women
are a big part of the problem. A woman who exists only through a male guardian
who controls her income, identification, citizenship, and physical well-being
is more susceptible to becoming a trafficking victim. Should his support of her
become limited or withdrawn, a woman often has no individual protection or
recognition under the law. Her employment and education prospects may be
negligible, and she may be ostracized by society. In societies where women need
a husband's permission for any activity outside the home, widows are often left
in a desperate situation. Without her husband's permission, she cannot access a
bank account, receive a passport or get a job. Desperate for employment to
provide for her children, such a woman becomes easy prey for traffickers.
Traffickers find ready buyers, not only in the commercial sex industry, but
among exploitative employers who prefer to use trafficked women, traditionally
seen as submissive, cheap, and pliable, for simple and repetitive tasks in
agriculture, food processing, labor-intensive manufacturing, and domestic
servitude. Too often, weak laws and lack of prosecution make the use of forced
labor very inexpensive.
Lack of rights afforded to women is a primary cause of the vulnerability of
women to trafficking. By protecting and promoting women's civil, political,
economic and social rights, governments can make it more difficult for
traffickers to obtain their prey.
The United States is committed to building partnerships with governments and
organizations around the world, to finding new and more effective ways to take
on the scourge of human trafficking.