#20yrsEndDemand with Viviane Teitelbaum

In summer 1998 the General Assembly of the European Women’s Lobby passed a landmark motion, where we affirmed that “prostitution and trafficking in women constitute a fundamental violation of women’s human rights”. Since that time, we have continued to assert that no woman should be faced with such a lack of financial choice that she must risk her safety, wellbeing and long-term health for survival. To mark this 20 years of an abolitionist stance on prostitution, we are highlighting the actions of our movement at international and national levels, including our secretariat, members, and former colleagues who played key roles in our campaigning. Follow #20yrsEndDemand online and join the conversation.

"Being an activist and raising awareness to end demand for prostitution and move towards a Europe free of prostitution is important to me because I believe contributing to ending violence against women means actively participating in the fight for equality and democratic values.

During the last decade I have been involved in campaigns to end demand and to aim for a Europe free of prostitution as president of the European Women’s Lobby and president of the Council of Women in Belgium. Through European campaigns, trying to influence political leaders, through individual discussions with ministers, public debates, conferences, working groups, statements, studies, participating in television and radio shows and talks, and through filing a complaint against the opening of a brothel ( called “eroscenter”) funded by public money.

As a politician I have been actively working on this issue as a member of Parliament, but it is a very lonely path there for me. As a deputy to the mayor (alderwoman) in charge of finances and urban planning I have been able to use municipal tools to fight violence: for instance I used the taxes collected from those places where prostitution takes place and used it to create a fund for transit housing for women victims of violence. That made me proud. Also being strict in applying urban planning rules to make it more difficult for these places to accommodate with prostitution was a success.

In Belgium it is very difficult even to have an open debate on the issue. Most politicians and journalists are more supportive of regulating prostitution rather than abolishing it. Therefore it is important to have international meetings and hear about good practices in other countries to keep motivation of the active civil society ( feminist movements) and raising awareness around us.

What drives me to keep on working on this issue? Testimonies of survivors. The first one for me was from Rachel Moran, she really moved me but more importantly through the message she conveyed that day I decided I could not look away from that form of violence. I needed to get involved and committed to help those girls and women caught in the system of prostitution, may it be because of a bad encounter, a lover boy, trafficking or poverty. We have to be there to help them exit the system of sexual exploitation and the violence it carries.

I would really like Belgium to truly apprehend prostitution as violence against women, with all the consequences it carries, for instance on health. I would like to see well-funded exit programs instead of investing public money in brothels. That would make a difference!

Equality, which is the core value of democracy, cannot be reached if our society allows for male dominated, gendered based violence. I will continue to fight it, be in solidarity with prostituted persons and survivors."

Viviane Teitelbaum is the former President of the European Women’s Lobby

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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