Report Release: The Tradition of Toil: The Interplay of Social Norms and Stigma in Relation to Human Trafficking in Indonesia

11 March 2021

Embode is pleased to announce the publication of our research focusing on social norms and stigma in relation to human trafficking in Indonesia.

The influence of Social Norms and Stigma

Migrant workers experience multiple factors contributing to their vulnerability and exploitation that can often result in situations of trafficking with devastating consequences. Female migrant workers are particularly susceptible due to oppressive patriarchal social pressures and expectations from within their own families and communities. This not only contributes to the often forced push factor to migrate, but also to how they are treated upon their return. Entrenched cultural influences and misogyny commonly leads to women being trafficked and then subsequently blamed and shamed upon their return, preventing their access to much needed social services and rehabilitation.

Commissioned by IOM (the International Organisation for Migration)

Embode undertook research on the links between social norms, stigma and trafficking to support International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) ‘Assessing Stigma for Prevention, Improved Response and Evidence Base (ASPIRE)’ project in Indonesia. The data gathering phase identified cases relating to female returnees from West Sumba and Southwest Sumba, Indonesia. This involved seven direct interviews with female returnees as well as interviews with family members of other female migrants, as well as community members.

Key Research Findings

The research found the main push factors forcing particularly young women from this area to migrate are due to low economic prospects and the hope of improving their economic standing of themselves and their families. There were also concerningly unchallenged levels of both positive and aspirational narratives of migration, actively encouraged by labour recruiters and brokers, that contributes to unrealistically high expectations for success that ignores the implicit risks of harm to their safety and well-being. This places extreme socio-economic pressures on the women to succeed in potentially very harmful environments to avoid failure and social stigma.

It is therefore critical to identify and be cognisant of traditional gender-based social norms (known locally as ‘adat’) to understand migration choices and outcomes evidenced by the gendered social hierarchy. Structural frameworks dictate the low standing of women that undervalues their work and position, creating barriers to education, resources, and opportunities. Discriminatory social attitudes and behaviours towards women include expectations to marry and responsibility to finance family debt. Women’s direct disenfranchisement means relying on male agents and family members to control their migration process, in turn contributing to their acceptance of exploitation and violence.

Of equal concern, the research found how these socio-economic and traditional factors linked directly to the prevention of these women in accessing essential social services and being properly rehabilitated due to the systemic blame and shame culture even within governance.  Services and interventions were limited and arbitrary due to weak institutional and technical capacity as well as a lack of financial and human resources. This results in reduced constructive responses to the trafficking phenomenon and a heavier reliance on families and communities that are not able to provide the professional support required.

Embode has made multiple strategic recommendations. These are multi-sectoral and contribute to improving a critical awareness of women’s unnecessary harmful discrimination and to capacity building within families, communities and at local and central government. Adopting them would make significant steps to prevent trafficking, empower women, and provide essential support female survivors of trafficking so desperately need.

The report, its findings, together with all recommendations are can be accessed here.