London — Women and girls who have been exploited or enslaved while working abroad can play a leading role in saving their peers back home from modern slavery, activists said on Wednesday.
In countries ranging from Ethiopia to India, female would-be migrants are far more likely to heed warnings from other women who have gone before them than activists, governments or the media, said the Freedom Fund, a global anti-slavery initiative.
"Across Africa and Asia, women tend to be aware of the risks of migrating for work, but think it won't happen to them and are under pressure from their families," Nick Grono, head of the Freedom Fund, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"They might not trust their governments or western NGOs, but they will listen to and trust women within their communities."
About 25 million people were trapped in forced labour last year, with women and girls accounting for 60 percent of victims, according to a landmark joint estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and rights group Walk Free Foundation.
Countless women from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia migrate to Gulf countries every year to work as maids for wealthy families, and within countries including Nepal and India for jobs in agriculture, construction and tailoring.
Many end up falling into modern slavery - having their documents confiscated, unable to move freely, working long days for little or no pay, and enduring physical and sexual abuse.
Giving women survivors of trafficking and slavery the chance to talk about their experiences back home also helps them to rebuild their confidence and reintegrate into their communities, said Tsitsi Matekaire of the campaign charity Equality Now.
"Survivors' perspectives and insight ... must be at the centre of efforts to end human trafficking, including in the development of effective gender equality laws and policies," said the manager of the group's anti-sex trafficking programme.
The Freedom Fund is supporting projects that provide female former migrants with a platform to speak, establish peer groups of teenage girls and support women to take up leadership roles with civil society groups that tackle slavery and trafficking.
- Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro