Root causes can be found in all three stages of the trafficking process: in countries of origin (e.g. poverty, unequal gender relations, traditional social structures), during the migration process (e.g. lack of safe and legal migration opportunities) and in the countries of destination (e.g. demand for cheap and easily exploited labour and repressive policies towards undocumented migrants).
Several La Strada countries have to deal with an unstable political, social and economic situation and high unemployment figures. Poverty, inequality, the absence of viable employment opportunities and discrimination are among the main reasons for women to seek employment opportunities abroad. This situation does not seem to have improved over recent years. Another reason is the desire of many women to escape traditional gender and family constraints or simply to travel and experience different cultures.
However, other factors also contribute to the feminisation of migration. Due to increasingly restrictive immigration policies in countries of destination, the opportunity for men to migrate through legal channels for work in the regulated sectors have significantly decreased. At the same time, there is a demand for work in the so-called informal and unregulated sectors, such as domestic labour, childcare and the entertainment and sex industry. Women have thus filled the gap that is created by the combination of fewer opportunities for legal migration for men and an increasing demand for labour in the traditionally female designated sectors of the labour market. Not accidentally, precisely these sectors are traditionally not considered as work and are not - or only to a very limited extent - protected by labour laws. The lack of legal migration opportunities, combined with the lack of legal protection, exposes women to a considerable risk of abuse. Moreover, where demand and supply cannot legally meet, dubious middlemen and criminal organisations step in.
The EU's restrictive immigration policies impact on the situation of migrants in various ways. One effect is that governments tend to treat trafficked persons primarily as unwanted economic migrants who should be deported right away. There is also an increasing demand for repressive measures against prostitution, such as criminalising clients. This adds to the marginalisation and stigmatisation of sex workers and increases their dependency on the services of third parties, thus making them more vulnerable to abuse.