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International Day of Remembrance of the Victims
of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
25 March


Transatlantic slave trade

The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in history, and undeniably one of the most inhumane. The extensive exodus of Africans spread to many areas of the world over a 400-year period and was unprecedented in the annals of recorded human history.

As a direct result of the transatlantic slave trade, the greatest movement of Africans was to the Americas — with 96 per cent of the captives from the African coasts arriving on cramped slave ships at ports in South America and the Caribbean Islands.

From 1501 to 1830, four Africans crossed the Atlantic for every one European, making the demographics of the Americas in that era more of an extension of the African diaspora than a European one.  The legacy of this migration is still evident today, with large populations of people of African descent living throughout the Americas.

Women and Slavery

graphic of a woman in shackles

Enslaved woman in shackles, West Indies. (Schomburg Center)

It is estimated that one third of the approximately 15 million people who were deported from Africa through the Transatlantic Slave Trade were women. Enslaved women carried a triple burden. In addition to enduring the harsh conditions of forced labour as a slave, they experienced extreme forms of discrimination and exploitation as a result of their gender and the colour of their skin.

Initially, slaveholders paid little attention to the reproductive role of enslaved women. They preferred to pay for new slaves from Africa than assume the costs of raising enslaved children. As the abolition of the slave trade approached, the import of slaves from Africa soared. However, after the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act entered into force in 1807 in the British Empire, the population of slaves declined. This led to increased labour demands on the enslaved populations.

Although the pressure to increase the productivity of enslaved labour impacted both men and women, slave holders in some locations started to develop practices regarding female slaves to increase the slave population, resulting in sexual exploitation of enslaved women. These practices created conflicts that became an important element that motivated the resistance of female slaves.

Women resisted slavery in many different ways. They developed skills and tried to preserve the dignity and unity of their communities. Some of them became the concubines of their masters or married a free man in the hope of gaining freedom for themselves and their children. Others became spiritual leaders or participated in the revolts and insurrections as well as the legal battles to be free. They had to endure prostitution, rape, torture and sometimes death.

In many places, they participated in the fight against the brutal slavery system which considered slaves as ‘movable property’. They paid a heavy price but their stories remain relatively unknown. Enslaved women were muted by the slavery system that intended to make all slaves anonymous, voiceless and cultureless. This injustice underlines the need to remember the victims of slavery and highlight their humanity.

This year’s theme, Women and Slavery, is a testament to the strength of enslaved women that many succeeded in transmitting their African culture to their descendants in spite of the hardships of forced labour and sexual exploitation that they had to endure. It is no surprise, that their fight for freedom from slavery also influenced the fight for women’s rights that started in the 19th century

Commemorating the memory of the victims

In commemoration of the memory of the victims, the General Assembly, in its resolution 62/122 of 17 December 2007, declared 25 March the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to be observed annually.

The resolution also called for the establishment of an outreach programme to mobilize educational institutions, civil society and other organizations to inculcate in future generations the "causes, consequences and lessons of the transatlantic slave trade, and to communicate the dangers of racism and prejudice."

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