Modern slavery and social protection in Northern Ghana: A decolonised perspective

Many recent discourses on modern slavery have dedicated attention to gendered dimension of trafficking, labour exploitation and sex work, among others. However, many debates pay little attention to the structural inequalities and limited social protection structures. Using mainly primary data drawn from a multi-sited ethnography in the Wa West District of Ghana, this paper provides evidence that challenges the popular view that women are passive and powerless actors who are vulnerable to exploitation. Its central argument is that people’s experiences of gender division of labour, limited social protection, climate change and historical inequalities are central to the causes of vulnerabilities and adaptive strategies. The paper provides a deeper contextual understanding beyond the sensationalism of many mainstream modern slavery advocates. It departs from the hegemonic rescue and rehabilitation strategies and demonstrates women’s agency through self-help social protection structures. The paper broadly calls for a decolonised approach to rights and humanitarianism. A transformative solution to women's vulnerabilities requires respect for the views of the affected women and strategies against the structural socioenvironmental factors which produce the conditions necessitating women’s entry into exploitative jobs.