source - http://sisyphe.org/article.php3?id_article=2483 -
Answer to Irene Demczuk - some precisions
Stella/UQAM’s "course" to be classified as propaganda
26 novembre 2006
Here is my answer to some points raised by Irene Demczuk’s message on NetFemmes, in response to Ana Popovic’s and the Laval Women Center’s article called "Is UQAM an Accomplice to the Sex Industry ?".
1. Before anything else, I believe that it is a legitimate thing to express doubt, as Ana Popovic and the Laval Women Center do, as to the impartiality of a course that is being provided by a group which stands up for the recognition of prostitution as a job as well as for the complete decriminalization of prostitution (i.e. including the decriminalization of pimps and johns). It is also legitimate to question the involvement of a university in such a project.
I can hardly imagine this group providing a course on the negative consequences that prostitution has on prostituted women, young women, women in general and the whole community, in the short term, medium or long term ; nor can I imagine this group providing a course about the links between local prostitution and the global rise the trade of women, about what must be done to prevent young women from being swallowed by the sex industry or from being alienated and so on. Are we considering these aspects when we view prostitution as a job like any other job ? Ana Popovic stresses the fact that she has (and she is not the only one who has), participated, some time ago, in a course of this kind where she witnessed the way it was being provided. I, for my part, believe her and I am sure that she knows what she is talking about. I suggest that the readers re-read on the NetFemmes website or on the Sisyphe site, the text written on behalf of the Laval Women Center.
2. Irene writes : "Because the forum was aimed at sharing how, in a perspective of empowerment, stigmatization had been actually lived through within various social and legal contexts and various working, living and health conditions, I have never understood the reason why the criteria for taking part in it were so important to the feminist movement."
As I am one of the few with Élaine Audet - and this I deeply regretted at the time - to have publicly "attached great importance" to the criteria needed to participate to this forum and to be awarded this considerable grant, my answer is as follows : First of all, the criteria for participation in this forum did not allow all prostituted women to "share their actual experience of being stigmatized", but only welcomed those women who were committed into acting for the recognition of prostitution as a job and the complete decriminalization of prostitution (i.e. including the decriminalization of pimps and johns). As a matter of fact, in order to take part in this forum, one had to "understand the diverse reality of sex work, recognize sex work as a form of work, be involved or would like to be involved in the fight for and recognition of sex workers’ rights and be involved or would like to be involved in the fight for the decriminalization of sex work".
In other words, those women who do not view prostitution as a job and do not want to be active in this sense but would rather leave prostitution, did not correspond to the criteria. No more than did the activists who, as opposed to working with prostituted persons in order to improve their working conditions, work with them in order to help them get out of prostitution.
"... A perspective of empowerment", I have nothing against that, but I believe that we are talking about something else altogether when we talk of "being more empowered" by becoming "a "better sex worker". In a feminist perspective, for the majority, I’d say that more power is acquired by becoming something other that a sex worker.
3. Irene will no doubt remember that, before I wrote an article about the criteria for setting the amount of the grant and the awarding of it, I made my own investigation and called UQAM’s Department for the Services to communities. Irene had provided me with all the necessary information to contact the program called Federal Initiative Program to fight against AIDS at the Public Health Agency of Canada. She had also told me that the amount for the grant was higher than what I had heard it was and I had that fact confirmed by the agency’s civil servant. In the Forum XXX program, the meeting was presented more as an activist, political and social movement than as an event pertaining to the fight against HIV. Amongst the goals the Forum had set for itself, a brief mention was made regarding the development of "our capacities around the HIV epidemics in Canada and around the world." There was a lot about the strategies for fighting the "prevailing discourse" (I wonder which discourse that was as, at the time, the discourse that prevailed was one in favor of prostitution), in pushing social attitudes towards accepting the decriminalization of prostitution and towards the fight against "repressive laws". Did these political preoccupations justify the substantial grant which was made available by the Federal Initiative Program to fight against AIDS ? In answer to the argument that the Forum XXX program did not so much aim at making people aware of HIV or at the prevention of HIV, Mr Jean-Mathieu Dion, who was in charge of the program, started by answering that he did not have to take such argument into account. (Forum XXX).
4. I want to say again that this program called Federal Initiative Program to fight against AIDS erred in granting such a big sum of money to an activist group for the complete decriminalization of prostitution and on behalf of which no action was taken regarding HIV throughout the full 4 days. That this money, was also used to make videos, luxurious brochures, tools for propaganda and so on, was a total waste. I deplore even more the fact that this money was used in such a way (and this was not the only help granted to this group for the forum and its connected activities), that there is practically no money available to help prostituted women leave prostitution or for women who want to be empowered outside the world of prostitution, or for the groups supporting them. The budget for those 4 days was equal to 4 or five times the yearly budget of these (rare) groups that help women leave prostitution and also act for the prevention of HIV, the prevention of prostitution itself especially where youths are concerned.
5. " If lesbian women, socially assisted or not, and all other categories of marginalized women decided to organize an event that would allow them to rally, to speak out, to develop a study of their situation and of the ways to act for their future, would we question ourselves in the same manner ?"
Being marginalized does not automatically allow a group to refer to its being marginalized and stigmatized in order to justify everything. As I have already said above, this forum was not an event where ALL prostituted women could rally, but was, according to the registration criteria, only meant for those women who were committed or were going to commit to the complete decriminalization of prostitution and its being recognized as a job. Also, during the telephone conversation I have already mentioned, Irene compared this grant - which she herself thought was huge - to the trifle amount granted to lesbian groups which, for instance, create a program to help fight violence. If a lesbian group was granted money for the fight against HIV but actually used it to rally for a cause whose main object does not include the fight against HIV, and if, let’s say the lesbians who do not adhere to queer or to sado-masochism were excluded from this forum and the group justified both the event and the grant by saying that it allowed women to "share how their stigmatization had been actually lived through", I would have the same criticism about it and I would formulate it the same way. Just as I would criticize some socially assisted persons who were given a grant of 270.000 Canadian dollars for the fight against HIV and who actually used this sum for a forum concerning other activities to which those people who want to stop being socially assisted were not admitted.
6. Personally, I do not see that the Stella Group is a group of martyrs, perhaps "victims" of questioning by some "nasty feminists" like me, but not martyrs. The Stella Group does not inspire pity, be it financially or as an entity that wants public recognition. There are lots of groups whose leaflets have been shredded to pieces and who underwent much worse than what Irene has described to us. This is not a valid argument for this debate, unless the goal is to make those who criticize feel guilty and this, let me tell you right now, really does not affect me. In the same way as Sisyphe, or the FFQ or other groups like UQAM and its Services to communities can be criticized, the Stella Group can be criticized and be faced with dissidence. This does not mean of course that the group is not useful to some people. But that is another issue.
I have not responded to everything and my answer is already as long as Irene’s, but I may have the occasion to respond more precisely somewhere else. I think also that a university or any group that is committed to educating people must not encourage the sex industry.
7. In conclusion, I would like to ask Irene this : "Do you believe that the UQAM Services to communities would give as unconditional and as fervent a support to a group or persons if they organised a 2 year course for the health, justice and media professionals, hand in hand with researchers such as Yolande Geadah, Richard Poulin and Rose Dufour, and called that course "Prostitution and the alienation of women - All you always wanted to know and never dared ask about the links between local prostitution, trafficking in women and children, and organized crime" ? avowed aim “to demystify, in an era of globalization of the sex industry, a discourse trivializing prostitution and the part that pimps and johns play in the degradation of women’s condition" ? While this program would have a section about services provided to prostituted persons and the many difficulties and discriminations they are faced with, it would not try to introduce prostitution as a job to the health, justice and media professionals, or to university staff or any one else. Would the UQAM services to communities give such a project their technical and logistic support, the space and the setting as well as help in obtaining the grant ? I am seriously asking that question.
Translated for Sisyphe by Sylvie Miller.
On Sisyphe, November 26, 2006.
Source - http://sisyphe.org/article.php3?id_article=2483 -