Skip to main content

In the third film leading up to the launch of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, Hina Jilani describes how important it is to be resilient when pushing for change. Join in the discussion yourself on Facebook or Twitter.

"For me, fairness is when human dignity is respected."

Hina Jilani with the statute against bonded labour.

I started my legal career in the 1970s because I was angry against state-sponsored injustice in Pakistan. Over the years, working as a human rights defender, I have realised that social and economic rights are just as important as civil and political rights. Nowhere was this clearer than the campaign I was involved with against 'bonded labour' in the 1980s and 90s. 'Bonded labour' does not pack the same emotional punch as 'slavery, but for millions of women, men and children in Pakistan and across South Asia its effects are just as pernicious. Those who find themselves in bonded labour are obliged to work for little or no wages because their earnings are retained by their employers to repay an outstanding 'loan' – which is only ever issued in the knowledge it can never be repaid.

"The cumulative impact of bonded labour can mean that entire families and indeed generations are denied basic freedoms."

In a report into the issue in 2014, the International Labour Organisation said that “the victims of bonded labour tend to be drawn from the poorest and least educated segments of the population, from low castes and religious minorities – those who are vulnerable, excluded and voiceless.” The cumulative impact of bonded labour can mean that entire families and indeed generations are denied basic freedoms.

My Object of Fairness is the statute against bonded labour which I was finally able to introduce after a long legal struggle. Its success showed me that a collective struggle can bring results even in the face of entrenched traditions. The problem still persists however, which is why all nations need to be serious about implementing Goal 5 of the SDGs: achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.

That’s what fairness means to me.

Hina Jilani

What does fairness mean to you?

Join in the conversation by posting a picture of an object that represents fairness to you to our Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #ObjectOfFairness.

Share this article

Keep up to date with The Elders’ COVID-19 digest:

Sign up to receive regular updates about The Elders’ activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will never share your email address with third parties.

Keep up to date with The Elders latest News and Insight:

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders. We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.


I would like to find: