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Prostitution - The abolitionist project within the conference Women’s Worlds 2011

29 juillet 2011

par Lee Lakeman

Women’s Worlds 2011. Flesh Mapping/Les draps parlent/Resistancia des las mujeres , Note#3

A preliminary personal assessment

Women’s Worlds 2011 with no plenary structure to allow resolutions or declarations from the floor pushed women desperate for an end to prostitution to approach a scheduled speaker professor Kathy Lahey to deliver our message : envision a world without prostitution. She did and we rose to our feet.
To enthusiastic applause from an audience of 2000 women, Allan Rock president and host at University of Ottawa and past Ambassador to the United Nations closed with the message we asked of him too, “We must leave here more resolved to end all forms of violence against women including prostitution”.

The final speaker was elder advisor to the Native Women’s Association of Canada. She and president of NWAC Jeannette Lavell stood draped in the red shawl that indicated participation in our roundtable and solidarity with other participants in Global Flesh Mapping/Lesdraps parlent/Resistancia des las mujeres : the abolitionist project within the conference.

We were expressing an international women’s movement opposition to the decriminalization, legalization and normalization of the transnational sex industry.

The interactive Global Flesh Mapping exhibit bustled with women all day with National Film Board crews and women snapping photos and others composing short videos of our international guests. But it intensified for 90 minutes each day with 16 women invited from around the world to a table discussion of the economics, equality issues, personal stories, criminal justice obligations and global politics of prostitution. Interested women wanting to hear that conversation overwhelmed us in the hundreds, from the first day to the last.

Our round table always included women who had been prostituted, women from the First Nations, international guests and frontline anti-violence workers. We supplied the best simultaneous translation we could into and from three languages. Our education strategy integrated prostitution and trafficking, the young girls with the destitute older women, the indoor with the street women, the citizens with the paperless women, the individual woman with their groups and insisted on the advancement of equality and security for all women.

We asked ourselves In this age of neo-liberalism, tyrants and rampant capitalism, living in the belly of the beast of patriarchy, knowing that the state is often complicit in the colonization of indigenous women, tolerating if not complicit in men’s violence against women and in legislating the poverty of women how can we ask for, hope for, work for and demand state protections of women against the sex industry ? If women are not to be bought and sold as commodities we have to refuse to tolerate the condemnation of the women and children trapped. While there are no easy answers we confirmed that we are wise to criminalize all forms of violence against women including prostitution.

Sadly we also confirmed for ourselves that indigenous women are at risk everywhere : migrations forced by resource stripping and land degradation. Military encampments and tourism endanger women to johns, pimps and traffickers in unprecedented numbers. The age of entry is getting younger and younger.

In trying to outline the necessity of state action, one young aboriginal woman said given the “choice” of pimps, gangs, the multinational sex industry laced with organized crime, we were better off sticking together to fight the state. Fight to decriminalize the women of the precariate in their self defense against poverty and violence and supply exit possibilities in abundance but we also have to fight the state to get between her and the industry by criminalizing the buyers of sex.

We will insist on not only interventions for those trying to escape but also the global protections of the indigenous women’s resources, and lands.
In the battle to protect all women from violence, one key is to refuse the limitation on entitlements to social and economic power when they are offered only to prostituted women. All women need. And prostituted women need exit services additionally. We discussed and tried to identify which reforms might be most transformative and worthy of our scarce time and energy. Housing and counseling and condom delivery and health educator salaries offered on the basis of identifying as prostitutes have uses but without clear condemnation of the trade and exit possibilities they are not the actions for us. Chances for women and girls to identify other than as prostitutes are what we seek : long term housing, income security, opportunities for transition out of the industry and social programs that reduce vulnerability to recruiters are what we have to establish.

Canadian women shared our experience in fighting in the courts. Nordic women shared direct actions and the union support that assisted them in staying out of the courts. The women of Denmark and Australia warned of how much harder the fight becomes once legalization and normalization has taken hold in the economy of any country.

Protection of rights of women migrants, labour protections for domestic workers and care workers were obvious to us. We reject the need for guest workers in the global north and refuse the labour export policies of the global south. We reject the exploited guest worker solutions that neoliberal governments offer us in response to our feminist demands for state supported childcare and eldercare and healthcare. We reject the immigration policies that privilege men over women in every category and that privilege women in the control of men in their families. We reject the commodification of human relations and the cynical abandonment of the equality project of the last forty years.

We refuse the notion of using this critical moment to “devolve” the responsibility for men’s behavior from the state to the “community”. Most communities have not yet moved far enough down the road of equality to hold individual men responsible even for life threatening exploitative behavior.
We refused to be fooled by a pretense of progress away from or toward a law and order agenda. We want neither but the fair application of the rule of law. We reject police powers to arrest those refusing to “go indoors” in the name of safety, to arrest in that way those who refuse to identify permanently as willing prostitutes. We know that all violence against women remains a badly policed issue. We will have it all improved.

Women plotted transnational libratory strategies in the same manner in which we had planned our installation and our discussions : start with the assumption that there is nothing to redeem prostitution and no reason to tolerate it. Start with the knowledge confirmed in this conference that the indigenous women are targeted for brutal prostitution everywhere in the world and must have a key place in any strategizing of how to move forward. Start with the knowledge that prostitution is at odds with women’s human rights and that men have no human right to sex on demand and the economics of inequality cannot justify sex on cash demand.

Plans to smash the trade in women and children ranged from lobbying national governments to planning community based public education of men to stop buying sex and to denouncing those that do, to campaigning to organize women into action groups to protect other women, and to executing direct actions against the sex industry that so directly exploits women and children.
Agreement centered on two threads. One was the need to criminalize the purchase of sex and decriminalize those prostituted or trafficked. The other was the need to provide and redistribute income and status and provide the social and economic supports so essential to women. Conference participants were especially insistent about the needs of women born to poverty and to those impoverished by the violent behavior of husbands, fathers, johns and pimps. Universal adequate incomes serve all these purposes.

Several hundred women took to the street beside NWAC calling attention to the missing and murdered women and NWAC’s involvement against legalizing the behavior of johns, pimps, bawdy house owners. Legalization we agreed will increase both legal and illegal prostitution and will increase the numbers of women in street prostitution where aboriginal women are over represented.

Some women promoted using international law and United Nations conventions including Human Rights in court cases brought by women to oblige states to prove that they have applied due diligence to enact criminal justice protections of women’s civil and political rights. Similarly women insist that courts must oblige states to provide social and economic policies in line with international obligations to advance women’s security and equality.
Many women shadow government reports engaging the promises articulated by the U.N. Violence against Women Declaration and the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in order to create legal records to use later in courts.

The best hope appears to be the intelligence created by broad based women’s movement alliances across class backgrounds, at the margins and among colonized women. We discussed and set criteria for inclusion and meaningful basis of unity in structures of alliances. At the table alliances with the frontline workers wove together those preferring organizations independent of government with those preferring to work within UN and state authorized institutional structures.

When Allan Rock closed for the University of Ottawa, he said, the university has a role to play in collecting and delivering “women’s lived reality, women’s knowledge and women’s wisdom”. Effectively endorsing our abolition campaign he said “Come back next summer”. We might.

 French version.

Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter.

On Sisyphe, July 25, 2011

Lee Lakeman

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