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The Gender Dimensions of Human Trafficking (2016)

Keynote and Workshop 

In 2016, Jun-Prof. Michaela Pelican and the participants of the M.A.-seminar "Human Trafficking – Academic and Popular Debates" organized a keynote and workshop which focused on the gender dimensions of human trafficking.

The aim was to gain a better understanding of the gender dimensions and dynamics of human trafficking in different regional contexts. Invited experts with experience in the academic and practical field presented current and historical perspectives from different regional contexts in the Global South and North.

The Keynote: Dr. Prabha Kotiswaran

Dr. Prabha Kotiswaran (Kings College London) reflected on the gender dimensions and dynamics of human trafficking from the perspective of a lawyer with expertise in India. Her keynote was commented by Dr. Rano Turaeva-Höhne (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale) who has worked on the interlinkages of migration, gender and trade networks in Central Asia. She has also experience in the NGO sector.

The Workshop

On the following day, Prof. Dr. Barbara Potthast (University of Cologne) presented on the historic White Slavery debate in Argentina. She pointed out the socio-economic and cultural changes for Argentina in the era of European immigration in the 19th century as crucial factors for the way popular and political discourse surrounding slavery was shaped.

Tim Bunke (University of Konstanz) discussed the role of NGOs and police authorities in the gendered representation of human trafficking in Zambia. He identified a so-called 'NGOization' of human trafficking and explained how certain actors mobilize this topic for their interests, which are often driven by economic reasons in order to raise funding.

Dr. Caroline Grillot (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale) reflected on her experiences as a researcher and former activist working on transnational marriage migration in the Chinese-Vietnamese border region. Her fieldwork showed an approach on the ground which made the use of the discoursive category 'trafficking' irrelevant.

The filmmaker and journalist Lukas Roegler talked about his documentary "Sisters of no mercy" (2007), a filmic investigation into human trafficking between Nigeria and Italy. His example showed the special role of women as perpetrators and actors with agency, rather than victims as often represented in academic and public debate.


  • Dr. Prabha Kotiswaran reflected on the gender dimensions and dynamics of human trafficking during her keynote.

  • Dr. Rano Turaeva-Höhne commented on the keynote with her expertise in the field.

  • Four experts on the topic of human trafficking gave their insights during the workshop.

  • The workshop offered room for discussion.

From the Insights of the Workshop Participants

"From the workshop, I learned exactly how complex the field of human trafficking is, and how different it appears in varying locations and within different scopes of work. Each presenter had a different experience and outlook on human trafficking from different locations and regarding different types of cases. I also learned the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to human trafficking, which is key for dissecting the term."

"It was important to have the contribution of a historian to highlight the importance of a historical approach to the phenomenon and the discourse around it. If at some point in history we only talk about white slavery of women in terms of prostitution, we leave aside other forms of exploitation and human trafficking of other groups in society."

"Considering the gender dimensions, I also had the opportunity to reflect on other types of female exploitation than sex-work. The insights about trafficking for marriage and work in a historical and recent perspective were very enlightening."

"It struck me that even though the focus was on gender dimensions, it played out as 'facets of women's roles'. Gender identities other then 'female' and 'male', e.g. lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender were not discussed, even after I specifically asked. Human Trafficking in 'LGBT persons' would provide for another case were much remains to be learned apparently."

"The workshop organised by the "Global South Studies Centre Cologne" gave us the unique possibility to discuss the topic of human trafficking in an interdisciplinary team. Participants of the seminary could actively engage with experts who are working for many years in that field. The workshop organization was quiet good. The best part was surely the possibility to have lunch or dinner with the experts. Even if someone didn’t participate actively in the discussions, one could learn a lot from the conversations that developed while eating and drinking together."

"Most striking to me was the debate about the ambiguity in the legal system, where the analysts still face a difficulty to judge each case individually including cultural backgrounds. Global standardised proceedings make it easier to grasp the case, but they do not take e.g. culture-based motivations into consideration."