Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Gender, Human Rights, Human Trafficking

Major Advisor

Dr. Bandana Purkayastha

Associate Advisor

Dr. Mary Bernstein

Associate Advisor

Dr. Manisha Desai

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


Focusing on Pakistan, this study analyses the processes that make women and girls vulnerable to trafficking and examines their attempts to negotiate their conditions. Drawing upon the lived experiences of trafficked women, I argue that instead of considering trafficking simply in terms of patriarchal cultures and power of men over women, it must be examined with reference to women’s intersecting vulnerabilities within a larger political economy. Within this structure, different women are more vulnerable to trafficking under different sets of structural circumstances, and, more importantly, trafficking occurs within the context of interlocking cycles of exploitation. At the institutional/policy level, drawing upon the interviews with stakeholders and policy analysis, I highlight how the social construction of “victims of trafficking”, which is based on specific (often narrow) understandings of the causes of such violence, leads institutions and policies to address trafficking in ways that fail to address the root causes of the phenomenon or meet the needs of the trafficked women. While identifying the gaps between victims’ experiences and anti-trafficking policies, this study also shows that providing temporary shelters or isolated short-term humanitarian interventions undermine the efforts to combat trafficking. Furthermore, the intersecting power and privileges that structure unequal relations between the aid providers and victims also privilege the agenda of the aid providers over the needs of victims. Thus, many existing measures do not address the structural vulnerabilities of victims or the long-term support required for trafficked women and girls. Overall, this study emphasizes the need to shift our current conceptualization of trafficking to include phenomena that occur within and across countries, victimization in private and public places, and recognizes that victims often endure multiple episodes of trafficking, albeit for different purposes.

Available for download on Monday, July 13, 2026