In association with the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and Girls First Finance (GFF).
In 2019, Wilton Park held a conference (WP1696) to discuss violence against youth in tertiary education. This has had an impact. It resulted in a draft safeguarding code of practice and the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) used learnings from this conference to strengthen its safeguarding measures across FCDO Higher Education and Skills programming. Other steps taken since include the G7 and the UN making commitments to safe learning environments in 2019, 2020 and 2021. And in 2019, governments, employers and trade unions agreed to a global International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention to End Sexual Violence and Harassment in all forms of work, including interns and apprentices, and the formal and informal economy.
However, these international commitments have not always resulted in change in practice. Safeguarding policies and laws against sexual violence are not universally or even widely enforced. This conference will explore how to challenge and transform these social norms to prevent violence and exploitation from taking place, increase the enforcement of these safeguarding policies and create safer learning environments. It will also address systemic causes and at-scale solutions around education financing and funding, exploring how funders of education and training can use their power to give recommendations more teeth as well as identifying new approaches to provide effective safeguards. To this end, participants will review a draft of a new report co-authored by Girls First Finance and the FCDO’s Work and Opportunities for Women Programme on the extent, impact and causes of sex for education fees, grades and first jobs.
The conference will also contribute to a new global campaign – Rights, Freedom, Potential – launched by the FCDO under its 2023 International Women and Girls Strategy to drive conversation and action on women’s and girls’ rights.
Goals and Objectives
- Increase understanding of the prevalence and impact of sex for education fees, grades and jobs and assess existing and potential prevention and safeguarding solutions, including some of the promising approaches that have been trialled in schools.
- Address barriers to safe and scalable forms of affordable loans for students for tuition and living expenses, in both higher- and lower-income contexts.
- Contribute to a new Charter to End Sex for Education Fees, Grades and Jobs as a potential tool for ending sex for fees, grades and jobs.
- Foster a network of engaged organisations to take this agenda forward.
- Gain buy-in from key educational, government and financial stakeholders to a plan of action to advance this agenda at international forums and conferences in 2023/4 to further promote and gain additional support for change, including from political leaders.
The Wilton Park conference ‘Ending Sex for Education Fees, Grades and First Jobs’ brought together 39 participants from government, academia, multilateral donors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), development finance institutions (DFIs) and the private sector to explore how to prevent the sexual exploitation of girls and young women in educational and work contexts, strengthen safeguarding, and identify cost-effective and scalable financing solutions to reduce the risk of sexual exploitation of girls and young women during their studies and early careers.
Key issues discussed:
- Official data on violence against women and girls are unlikely to capture the full extent of sexual exploitation in education and work settings because questions about sexual pressure are often not included in existing surveys. An online survey created by GFF found that two thirds of respondents out of 2500 had experienced sexual pressure, which is significantly higher than official data.
- Sexual exploitation in education and work settings comprise three separate phenomena: (1) ‘sex for education fees’; (2) ‘sex for grades’; and (2) ‘sex for jobs’. While sex for education fees might be solved through financial means, this is not necessarily the case for sex for grades or sex for jobs. The reason for this is that sex for grades or sex for jobs include abuse of entrusted authority for sexual purposes. This abuse of entrusted authority should be addressed via interventions such as legal recognition of sexual exploitation as a form of corruption, social norms change to challenge patriarchy, training in gender-based violence (GBV) for teachers and employers, and enforced codes of conduct in workplaces.
- Providing financing to girls and young women can help reduce sex for education fees. However, there is a lack of public and private funding for this. DFIs face challenges in financing girls in education because there is no guarantee of repayment, in comparison to financing entrepreneurs who have an income and therefore greater capacity to repay.
- Some promising funding programmes exist – such as Kenya’s Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), Chancen and GFF – but more funding is needed for sustainability and scale up.
- Ensure that all discussions and policy design to address the sexual exploitation of girls and young women include input from survivors of sexual exploitation.
- Add questions on sexual exploitation to existing surveys such as Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Violence Against Children (VAC) surveys to build the evidence base on sexual exploitation.
National governments and donors
- Leverage existing social protection systems to include add-ons that address the sexual exploitation of girls and young women.
Bilateral and multilateral funders
- Explore blended finance options with DFIs to offer guarantees on commercial loans for education.
- Consider funding programmes such as HELB, Chancen, and GFF which have proven to be effective and therefore have a higher probability of return.
- Explore impact bonds as a potential funding solution to reduce the risk of sexual exploitation of girls and young women.
- Consider funding social norms change programmes and comprehensive sexuality education, as well as loans schemes such as HELB, Chancen and GFF.
- Develop and enforce robust hiring practices; codes of conduct for all staff, including specific protocols on student-staff relationships; and supportive procedures for survivors, including confidential/anonymous reporting mechanisms, informal and formal processes to hear complaints, and sanctions/consequences for people found guilty of sexual exploitation.
- Proactively consider the risk that fees are being paid by sexual exploitation, and implement plans to prevent that, including innovative student funding models.
- Advocate for the importance of including sexual exploitation as part of GBV at global/regional forums such as the UN General Assembly, Women Deliver, the Global Forum for Adolescents, the World Economic Forum (WEF), the G7 and the African Union. Develop a plan for how to do this.
- Develop a glossary of terminology on sexual exploitation to ensure a shared understanding.
- Develop a discussion paper to expose the issue of sexual exploitation and where it sits within the wider ecosystem of education, adolescent development and GBV.
In 2019, the UK FCDO convened a gathering at Wilton Park of tertiary education experts, safeguarding activists, and young people from around the world to share understandings of safe education and how to achieve it. That conference fed into FCDO safeguarding policies and helped inform the design of its current and future education programmes.
In June 2023, FCDO in partnership with GFF took the discussion a step further by exploring sexual exploitation in both education and employment at another Wilton Park conference entitled Ending Sex for Education Fees, Grades and First Jobs.This report documents the discussions from that conference.
The conference objectives were to explore how to challenge and transform social norms to prevent the sexual exploitation of girls and young women in educational and work contexts and to strengthen the enforcement of safeguarding policies in these settings. It also aimed to identify cost-effective and scalable solutions around education financing and funding to reduce the risk of sexual exploitation of girls and young women during their studies and early careers. The overall objective was to design a plan of action to which all participants could commit, which would address the systemic causes of sexual exploitation of girls and young women in education and work settings.
The conference will contribute to a new global campaign – Rights, Freedom, Potential – launched by the FCDO under its 2023 International Women and Girls Strategy to drive conversation and action on women’s and girls’ rights.
Participants and pre-readings
There were 39 participants – from government, academia, multilateral donors, NGOs, DFIs and the private sector – spanning 12 countries. Participants were sent GFF’s draft Connecting the Dots report.
Ending GBV – including sexual exploitation – is a priority for the UK government, as set out in the FCDO’s International Women and Girls Strategy, where Ending Violence is one of the ‘3 Es’, along with Educating Girls and Empowering Women.
GBV is underpinned by prejudicial attitudes towards women and girls. It is an abuse of human rights and undermines the potential of women and girls to learn and develop with dignity, confidence and self-esteem. It can have serious, lifelong implications on women’s and girls’ health, wellbeing, earnings and productivity. It can also have negative impacts on education outcomes, particularly during adolescence when girls are at a higher risk of sexual violence. However, GBV is preventable. Through the FCDO’s What Works to Prevent Violence programme, the UK has pioneered approaches around the world that have shown reductions in violence of around 50%.
Young women aged 16-25 are particularly at risk of sexual exploitation at work due to their lack of workplace experience and financial insecurity. In addition to effects at the individual level, sexual exploitation of women and girls negatively impacts education institutions, employers, and countries (in terms of reduced productivity and earnings).
Prevalence of sexual exploitation/sextortion of women and girls in education and work settings
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that, across their lifetime, one in three women (around 736 million as of 2021) are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner (87% of incidents) or sexual violence from a non-partner.
In March 2023, GFF published a survey online asking girls and young women about their experiences of sexual exploitation in education and work settings. It included the question “Have you ever felt pressured or forced to engage in sexual acts?”. Two thirds of respondents overall and 80% of respondents in sub-Saharan African reported experiencing this, with GFF’s report suggesting that the WHO’s definition of violence does not capture sexual pressure and may not capture sexual exploitation more broadly. Further investment in data and evidence, including longitudinal studies and building questions on sexual exploitation and abuse into larger prevalence studies, will be helpful in understanding the scale, impact and drivers of the issue in different contexts and with groups of girls and young women who might be at higher risk.
Boys and young men can also experience sexual exploitation in education and work settings. Two hundred boys responded to GFF’s survey (10% of all respondents). In South Africa and elsewhere, the phenomenon of ‘Spicy Mummies’ (similar to ‘Sugar Daddies’) is recognised as a problem. Furthermore, in South Africa, gender diverse people experience sexual exploitation at a rate of one in two (i.e., more than women who experience it at a rate of one in three, according to the WHO statistic cited above). 75% of students with disabilities have reportedly experienced sexual exploitation.
GFF’s research suggests that there are 100 million girls and young women at risk of sexual exploitation globally, with the real figure likely up to three times that number.
Box 1: Nana’s* story – Chutes and Ladders
GFF have made a film in Nairobi which documents the story of a 15-year-old girl named Nana* who had experienced sexual exploitation from a “sponyo” or sponsor.
Nana and her brother had tried to find a way to resist the approaches of the sponyo by asking a maths teacher to pay her school fees. Nana is a gifted maths student, so the teacher agreed to pay the fees. Nana wanted to study law, but she followed the maths pathway given the benefactor’s wish to support her to study maths.
Nana’s brother was then dismissed from school due to his unpaid school fees (equaling USD 8). Their father committed suicide over his inability to finance his children’s education. Nana’s benefactor continued to pay her school fees but tragically was killed in a traffic accident. This left Nana at risk of the advances of sponyos. She was then drugged and raped by a man.
Nana still hopes to finish school one day but lacks funding to do so.
*Nana is a pseudonym to protect her identity.
 Impact bonds are outcomes-based contracts. They use private funding from investors to cover the upfront capital required for a provider to set up and deliver a service. The service is designed to achieve specific measurable outcomes. The investor is repaid only if these outcomes are achieved. Outcomes-based contracts (including impact bonds) differ from traditional contracts by focusing on the outcomes rather than the inputs and activities. Impact bonds are differentiated from other forms of outcomes-based contract by the explicit involvement of third-party investors. See https://golab.bsg.ox.ac.uk/the-basics/social-impact-bonds/ for more information.
 This report refers to both ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘sextortion’. These are generally used interchangeably to give an accurate reflection of discussions at the conference. Sextortion should be understood as emphasising the corruption aspect of sexual exploitation (the quid pro quo exchange between the perpetrator and the survivor).