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Oct 12, 2013 | Commentary

The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) states that integrating gender awareness in security sector reform (SSR) can promote respect for human rights and equal representation, support local ownership, and deliver effective security and justice services. Two strategies for including gender issues in SSR are gender mainstreaming and the promotion of the equal participation of men and women. In the context of SSR, gender mainstreaming can help to fight human trafficking by providing security personnel with specialized training on how to identify and protect victims of trafficking. Perhaps more importantly, it teaches them how to identify the different security needs of women, men, and children. The police and border management officers are two security actors who have to identify victims and traffickers, and ensure that criminal networks are broken down.

The Republic of Kosovo is one example where gender awareness in SSR is helping to fight human trafficking. The Kosovo Police Service (KPS) not only focuses on women and minorities in their recruitment process, but also provides specialized training on gender-related issues. Part of this training focuses on human trafficking, with special attention placed on children. The training covers topics such as how to investigate and distinguish between trafficking and smuggling and how to assist and protect victims and witnesses of trafficking. In addition, the KPS engages with local NGOs and women’s organizations. Establishing connections with local organizations helps to promote local ownership as these organizations connect trafficking victims, security personal, and policymakers.

Since introducing specialized training on gender issues, the KPS has continued to make progress in reducing the number of trafficking cases in the country. For example, within the first three months of 2008, the KPS closed 27 brothels that were thought to be involved in trafficking. In addition, the U.S Trafficking in Persons Report of 2013 states that in 2012 the police identified 54 victims of trafficking in comparison to 39 victims in 2011. Although progress is being made, the KPS faces various challenges in the fight against trafficking. These challenges include institutional barriers, such as a long chain of command that hinders quick action, and lack of resources, such as vehicles used to investigate trafficking cases.

As human trafficking takes place within and across borders, integrating a gender-responsive approach to border management reform provides another example where gender mainstreaming in SSR might help to actively detect and prevent gender-based violence, such as human trafficking. In 2009, the international organization Conciliation Resources (CR) implemented a project that focused on a broad spectrum of security issues among border communities of the Mano River Union, which includes Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Border communities identified the following risk factors that contribute to criminal activities such as human trafficking: unofficial border crossing points, an inadequate number of security staff, insufficient border management facilities, and a lack of dialogue between both sides of the border. As gender related security issues were prevalent, all three countries were recommended to promote gender mainstreaming by ensuring gender balance among security personal and the promotion of human rights.

When it comes to human trafficking, traffickers take advantage of inefficiencies within a country’s security and judicial system, such as limited border controls, ineffective laws, and inadequate specialized training. As no country is immune to human trafficking, the need for SSR goes beyond post-conflict situations. The responsibility to prevent and limit the impact of trafficking is based on a joint collaboration between central and local state institutions, civil society, the general public, and international organizations.

While exact statistics on human trafficking are hard to come by, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 1.2 million children, out of an estimated 2.5 million people who are either sexually or economically exploited as a result of human trafficking, are trafficked each year. The UN Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012 states that in 2009, females accounted for 76% of global trafficking victims, 17% were girls. Males accounted for an estimated 24% of trafficking victims, comprised to 10% of boys. Although women and girls are primarily the victims of trafficking, the number of boys must not be underestimated. Child trafficking is not only a violation of a child’s rights, but directly impacts a child’s overall well-being and future prospects.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2106 encourages for SSR processes to be more inclusive of women, to carefully exclude individuals who commit or are responsible for acts of sexual violence, and to provide adequate training to security personal. A badly governed security sector poses a serious risk in the fight against human trafficking. Integrating gender mainstreaming and the equal participation of women and men will increase the operational effectiveness of SSR and simultaneously contribute to the fight against human trafficking.


Anni Buelles is a Research and Communications Intern with the Security Governance.