OPINION: Girls should have the freedom to choose their own futures

by Grace Forrest | graceaforrest | Walk Free
Thursday, 8 October 2020 10:22 GMT

An Indian child labourer arranges bricks at a brick factory in Tharvai village, about 35 km (22 miles) from the northern Indian city of Allahabad, February 21, 2006. Although India is expected to grow at more than 7 percent in the year ending March 2006 with finance planners in New Delhi highlighting its record foreign reserves, rising middle class incomes and booming stock market, around 26 percent of its population, 260 million people, live below the poverty line. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The battle to beat the stacked odds that predetermine a girl's risk of abuse and exploitation is a lifelong challenge

Grace Forrest is the co-founder and director of Walk Free.

As we celebrate International Day of the Girl, we can all feel a sense of pride that this generation of girls face fewer barriers and more choices.

But our pride must be tempered by the knowledge that tens of millions of girls have neither freedom nor choice.

In fact, today one in every 130 women and girls is living in modern slavery.

That’s more than the entire population of Australia, making modern slavery the greatest human rights challenge of our time.

Girls all over the world are born into social systems that work to disadvantage them. The battle to beat the stacked odds that predetermine their risk of abuse and exploitation, which in its worst forms manifests as modern slavery, is a lifelong challenge.

This week, Walk Free has launched a report, Stacked Odds, which reveals the heightened vulnerability of women and girls to modern slavery. Together with geography, gender is the key factor that determines life outcomes. In every nation, no matter what religion, culture, or community, a girl is more vulnerable to slavery.

We also know these figures are conservative, as COVID-19 is further exacerbating the situation for women and girls around the world.  Reports of gender-based violence, child marriage and forced labour, among other human rights abuses, have increased significantly during the pandemic.

This International Day of the Girl has been themed “My voice, our equal future”: a call for each of us to use our voices to work towards a world where nobody’s choices are predetermined by the results of a genetic lottery.

We must break the insidious cycle of disadvantage. It is a cycle that sees girls born into poverty, denied an education, forced into marriages, and exploited in low paying jobs. In turn, these women give birth to the next generation of girls who are victims of this same cycle.

It is unacceptable that 136 countries still fail to legislate against forced and child marriage.

We can no longer tolerate excuses. It is time for meaningful action.

Eradicating modern slavery and empowering women and girls must go hand in hand. Survivors and anti-slavery organisations from around the world have helped create Stacked Odds, which provides a roadmap for change to address the systemic inequality confronting girls and women.

Walk Free in partnership with the United Nations Every Woman Every Child have launched a global campaign, with more than 40 human rights organisations calling on all governments to ban forced and child marriage, and end state sanctioned exploitation of migrant workers. 

The campaign showcases real stories of women and girls trapped in modern slavery, and shows just how close to home these shocking stories of oppression can be. It calls on all of us to use our voice to share these stories as well as demanding more action to end slavery from governments and businesses.

There can be no equality while millions of women and girls are systemically held back. Today, and every day, girls around the world should have the freedom to choose their own futures.