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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 girls.
"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 Should his support of her become limited or withdrawn, a woman often has no individual protection or recognition under the law.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.