Theresa May commits £33m to combat modern slavery but WE claims gender in slavery needs to be understood first

Theresa May has committed £33 million to the International Modern Slavery Fund.

Theresa May - Via Shutterstock
Theresa May – Via Shutterstock

However, the Women’s Equality Party (WE) has claimed modern slavery will not be defeated until gender is understood in such crimes.

This week the Prime Minister vowed to lead the fight against modern slavery. Writing in the Daily Telegraph she called slavery “the great human rights issue of our time”.

May also announced that a new cabinet taskforce will tackle the “barbaric evil” and added “We need a radically new, comprehensive approach to defeating this vile and systematic international business model at its source and in transit.”

The Home Office estimates that between 10,000 and 13,000 people in the UK live in servitude. Worldwide this figure is estimated to be 45 million.

According to the Modern Slavery Strategy 2014 more women were identified as potential victims of modern slavery.

Furthermore, in 2013 almost two thirds of referrals into the National Referral Mechanism were women.

Sophie Walker, Leader of WE, said: “It is a testament to the Prime Minister that she has committed to defeating modern slavery, which forces thousands of people into abusive, exploitative and dangerous situations. But if the Prime Minister is serious about putting an end to it, she must understand and respond to the gendered nature of these crimes.”

“Almost half of all modern slavery crimes reported in the UK involve sexual exploitation, where women and girls make up 95% of victims. Other modern slavery crimes, such as domestic servitude, are almost exclusively perpetrated against women and children. Taking a gender-neutral approach to this simply will not work.”

Walker added: “Modern slavery thrives on gender inequalities. Women experiencing violence, trapped in poverty, with few legal rights, inadequate access to education or poor employment prospects are easy targets for modern slavery and are less able to escape it.”

“But gender inequalities also drive demand. Unless we tackle demand for commercial sex and cheap labour in the UK, women and girls will continue to be forced into slavery. The government must have a clear plan for how it will achieve gender equality at home and abroad.”

WE is calling for the government to criminalise the purchase of sex, to ensure ongoing cooperation with EU partners in the fight against modern slavery, to end the detention of asylum seekers and to ratify the Istanbul Convention to tackle violence against women.

“Gender equality is one of the best weapons we have in the fight against modern slavery. The further we can reach beyond law enforcement and into prevention, protection and support, the greater our chance of defeating these heinous crimes,” added Walker.

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