WORK IS WORK - JUSTICE AND DIGNITY
THE WORLD : SAME TACTICS, SAME SHADY DEALINGS - 08.05.05
article est aussi disponible en français)
such as Donna Hughes in the United States, Indrani Sinha in India, Micheline
Carrier and Elaine Audet in Quebec, along with groups from the conservative,
religious right, all denounce the funding of organizations working for
the rights of sex workers. This funding for the most part comes from
budgets allocated to the fight against HIV/AIDS. According to these
abolitionists, sex workers’ organizations promote prostitution and therefore
they indignantly accuse the funding agencies of themselves being complicit
in promoting prostitution. Exactly the same phenomenon took place in
the 80s, only then it involved HIV/AIDS-associated funding granted to
groups supporting and defending the rights of homosexuals. People then
screaming from the rooftops that their governments were promoting homosexuality.
While the anti-prostitution
tactics of Micheline
Carrier and Elaine
Audet are well-known in Quebec (see the Sisyphe
website), less so are those of Donna Hughes in the U.S. and of Indrani
Sinha in India. The methods of Hughes and Sinha and those of their allies
demonstrate a remarkable similarity to those of abolitionists here and
elsewhere. Here are a few examples:.
Donna Hughes’ campaign
in the USA
Hughes teaches in the Women’s Studies department at the University
of Rhode Island and it would be hard to imagine a more ferocious prostitution
abolitionist. She is a regular contributor to the National
Review. With Phyllis
Chesler, she co-authored
an article in the Washington
Post which argued that “sexual liberalism” represents an obstacle
to the feminist
response to trafficking in women.
Amongst Donna Hughes’ allies
are The Family Research
Women for America, The
National Association of Evangelicals and The
Southern Baptist Convention. These are front-line US groups in the
struggles against trafficking in women and for the abolition of prostitution.
They also vocally oppose birth control, abortion, same-sex marriages,
extra-marital sex, etc.
International Relations Committee is the American body responsible
for US mainland security and the fight against terrorism. It offers
social and economic assistance to “vulnerable” nations. In June, 2002,
Donna Hughes made
a recommendation to this committee that it not finance any group or
program that doesn’t adopt an abolitionist position on prostitution,
for example Doctors Without
Borders. Her campaign was a partial success: groups working in HIV/AIDS
prevention that did not adopt an abolitionist position, and/or were
in favour of decriminalizing sex work were refused funding from USAID
(United States Agency for International Development) or had their funding
At the beginning of May, 2005, the Brazilian Minister of Health refused
40 million dollars from USAID, which now stipulates both that prevention
programs should promote abstinence and marital fidelity and that prostitutes
should be excluded from such programs. Pedro Chequer, coordinator
of the Brazilian AIDS prevention program characterized these requirements
as “Manichean, theological and fundamentalist” as well as useless in
the struggle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Brazilian non-governmental
organizations active in the struggle against HIV/AIDS agreed that there
is no reason to change their current government program’s orientation
which serves homosexuals, prostitutes, and drug-users without discrimination.
It is worth noting that Micheline Carrier and Elaine Audet recently
drafted an “Appeal to the Government of Canada.” This petition, signed
by “thirty personalities” opposed
the decriminalization of prostitution and demanded that the Government
immediately cease funding organizations to any group that does not participate
in the formal struggle against prostitution. (See also ''270
000 $ granted to Stella for a four days event on sex work",
by Micheline Carrier).
abolitionist campaign in India
Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs. This was the slogan of the
first International Sex Workers’ Millenium Mela, an important sex workers’
conference that took place in March 2001, in Kolkota (Calcutta), India.
This event was organized by the Dubar
Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a 50,000-strong member group that supports
and defends the rights of sex worker and does much work in the area
of HIV/AIDS prevention. The mela hosted sex workers and allied groups
from India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Netherlands,
Norway and Australia.
Participants discussed strategies
for promoting the rights of sex workers, combating abuse and sexual
exploitation, enabling them and their families to live and work in security
and guaranteeing their children access to education. They discussed
the importance of struggling against the sex work stigma, as well as
the possibility of viewing sex work as work, and not merely through
the lens of violence, exploitation and harassment. The participants
declared: We want bread, but we also want roses.” At the opening ceremony,
they proclaimed March 3 International Sex Workers’ Day.
anti-prostitution activists tried to ban the event. Sanlaap’s Rammi
Chhabra and Indrani Sinha, along with Mira Shiva from Voluntary Health
met with Viren Shah, the governor of Kolkata, Chief Secretary Manish
Gupta along with other politicians and journalists. They asked the authorities
to condemn the event and lobbied for stricter legislation with the goal
of abolishing prostitution and all forms of sex work. As a result, permission
accorded to the Dubar Mahila Samanwaya Committee to hold the conference
was removed the day before the conference ended. Organizers mobilized,
met with the authorities and contested their decision to end the conference
prematurely. Their efforts paid off - the cancellation order was revoked,
and the conference continued as planned.
It bears mentioning that the Voluntary Health Association, and Sanlaap
are partners of Christian
Aid, a religious organization that offers financial support to different
social causes around the world. Ms. Indrani Sinha, who founded the Women’s
Rights Centre, is the director of Sanlaap. Sanlaap mainly works with
sex workers and children who are victims of sexual abuse. She argues
the importance of maintaining strong links with police authorities.
Ms. Sinha was amongst those who signed a letter against the legalization
of prostitution addressed
to Czech Republic president M. Klaus and written by Richard D. Land,
Doctor of Philosophy and President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty
Commission, Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention
also maintains a
firm stand against abortion. This letter, also signed by Donna Hughes
and several religious organizations, was published and distributed by
the Institute on Religious and Public Policy, whose mandate is to harmonize
religion, ethics and morals with government policies.
coincidence: Sanlaap’s director, Ms. Indrani Sinha happens to be
coming to Montreal for a conference on sexual exploitation of women
and girl children. This conference will take place on May 10, one week
before the XXX
Forum will take place, also here in Montreal. The XXX Forum will
bring together 250 sex workers from around the world to look back on
the last ten years of HIV/AIDS prevention, education and support strategies
as well as lay out perspectives for future work in this area
The abolitionist strategy: more and more criminalization.
Imprisonment and censorship are the main strategies offered
up by the prostitution abolitionists. In the name of the struggle against
trafficking in persons, adherents of this feminist perspective demand
the abolition of prostitution in all its forms and regardless of the
conditions in which it is practiced. They demand harsher laws against
an already heavily criminalized trade. According to their view, the
victims of prostitution should be saved and rehabilitated, while all
clients as well as the owners of brothels, massage parlours, strip-clubs
and escort agencies should be pursued by a Police State. If it were
up to these abolitionists, the morality squad, (whose
current practices are ethically dubious) would grow five-fold.
The prostitution abolitionists
in Canada, as elsewhere in the world, find their greatest support in
groups on the religious right and in the Conservative Party, who would
be happy to make prostitution an electoral issue. The municipal government
of Montreal did just that in 2002, following the failure of Centre Sud
neighbourhood pilot project on street prostitution.
The right to live,
the right to exist
While all these folks indignantly condemn the “trafficking in women
and girl children” far too few people are paying attention to the increasing
phenomenon of women’s international migration. Furthermore, our
borders, which are now wide open when it comes to goods, are increasingly
restrictive to people and specifically to women. In fact, working in
the sex industry is very often the best way to get across the border.
Everyone seems to be condemning prostitution. Rather, we should be condemning
the conditions in which women are made to work, the socio-economic and
legal status of women, the incredible poverty and the borders characterized
by sexism, racism, and an aversion to refugees and to people with less
than $15,000 in their bank accounts.
Why do the majority of groups
that employ sex workers, migrant or not, demand the decriminalization
of prostitution as well as worker’s rights? It
is because these groups understand that a Police State and its morality
squad will be useless when it comes to improving their lives and protecting
their health. These sex workers have understood, like tha
Dubar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, that Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs.
They demand that their basic human rights be protected because they
want to live and work in safety and with dignity.
Our challenge today is growing
as fast as the religious, conservative right and the neo-liberals whose
main enemies include the unions and those concerned with improving work
conditions and open borders to people. Self-determination, social justice,
human rights and dignity are not a luxury, and certainly not reserved
for exclusive groups of people: sex workers have rights too.
Indeed, while those who
hold an abolitionist position are not all directly linked to groups
on the religious and conservative right, they share the same convictions
when it comes to prostitution. They have the same demands, advance the
same solutions (repression and humanitarian rescue missions) and employ
the same strategies to discredit sex workers’ groups who are trying
to obtain workers’ rights. Certain abolitionists describe themselves
as belonging to the “left” and attempt to distinguish themselves from
the religious and conservative right. In the end, however, their signatures
show up together on the same letter campaigns against the decriminalization
Abolitionist feminists may
one day remember these fundamental feminist concepts: the right to personal,
sexual and economic self-determination for women; the
right to make decisions about our body, particularly with regards to
contraception or abortion; the right to have sexual relations outside
of marriage and to have consensual sexual relations either for free
or for remuneration. The ought to reread the feminist slogans hollered
so passionately during pro-choice demonstrations: these apply just as
well to the issue sex work.
A woman with a bachelors
degree in social work from UQAM, an employee at the organization Stella
for six years, as well as a sex worker who made a living as an erotic
dancer and prostitute for over 10 years.
- Translation by Lainie
Brazil's Refusal to Accept USAID Funding Restriction Against Sex Workers,
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission et Network of
Sex Work Projects, 09.05.05.
Will Rescue Us from Those Who Wish to Rescue Us Against Our Will ?
by Norma Jean Almodovar 26-01-05
From Rest and Recreation to Rescue and Rehabilitation, Empower,
Collaboration, Anna-Louise Crago, 15-05-03
Human Bondage: A coalition against human trafficking worked well until
a prostitution litmus test was imposed, Tara McKelvey, 02-11-04
Anti-Woman, Anti-Sex: U.S./UN Crusade Against "Sex Trafficking",
Women and Revolution, spring 2004