Joint Statement by the co-convenors of the meeting of Women Foreign Ministers

  • Joint statement with:
  • Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation
28 April 2021

Women Foreign Ministers met virtually on 28 April 2021 to discuss the gender implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls, with a special focus on victims and survivors of human trafficking.  Ministers from Andorra, Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Libya, Liechtenstein, Norway, South Africa, Sudan and Timor-Leste contributed valuable insights on tackling this complex crime.

Ministers reconfirmed their commitment to advancing gender equality globally, noting their ongoing concern at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls.  The wide economic impact of COVID-19 is exacerbating situations of vulnerability and increasing the risk of human trafficking worldwide. Ministers expressed concern regarding the disproportionate impact on women and girls, who account for over 70 percent of all victims and survivors detected globally. 

Women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation, both online and in person, early and forced marriage, and forced labour and related forms of exploitation. The abuse tends to remain invisible; victims are often exploited in silence and with impunity. 

Ministers recognised the human rights, economic, gender and justice dimensions of this transnational crime and the importance of governments working with civil society, business, international organisations and other stakeholders across countries of origin, transit and destination to prevent and prosecute these crimes and support survivors.

Recognising the unique force-multiplier the global financial sector can play in addressing human trafficking, and supporting financial inclusion, Ministers endorsed the recommendations of the Financial Sector Commission's 2019 Blueprint for Mobilizing Finance against Slavery and Trafficking and discussed implementation in their respective regions. 

Acknowledging the importance of a victim-centred approach, Ministers urged all governments to continue to support the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which provides grants to civil society organisations working with survivors across the world.

Co-convenors, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya and Australian Foreign Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne, resolved to utilise forthcoming opportunities at the UN General Assembly and in regional forums, including through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (Bali Process), to continue this important discussion.

“Greater access to high-speed internet has helped us to work from home and stay connected to family and friends during the lock-down measures necessary to curb the pandemic.  Yet this ease of online communication has brought with it the increased risk of exploitation. Traffickers have been able to target women and children for exploitation in their own homes, making these victims even more invisible than before the pandemic.  Governments are re-doubling their efforts to fight human trafficking during the pandemic. We will not allow the most vulnerable to lose hope” said Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya.

“As the pandemic exacerbates existing vulnerabilities - particularly in conflict and humanitarian settings – women and girls are increasingly at risk of human trafficking.  Technology acts as an enabler for perpetrators seeking to exploit those in vulnerable situations.  This meeting demonstrated that now, more than ever, international collaboration is vital to counter human trafficking. Tackling this abhorrent crime of exploitation will make all nations safer, fairer and more prosperous” said Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

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