European & International News

At CSW61, women’s organisations want the abolition of the system of prostitution to achieve women’s economic liberation

[New York, 21 March 2017] The 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women took place in New York in March, under the theme of “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, and with “the empowerment of Indigenous women” as emerging theme. Many events addressed the issue of prostitution and sexual exploitation, and promoted the Nordic Model as the best policy solution to achieve gender equality, end violence against women, deter trafficking and contribute to women’s and girls’ economic and social liberation.

Two events were co-sponsored by UN Member States, namely Sweden, France, Belgium and Iceland. 11 events were organised by abolitionist NGOs, dealing specifically with the realities of prostitution and the sex trade, in relation to the CSW61 theme and emerging theme. At least 7 events saw the promotion of the Nordic Model, through survivors of the sex trade, links between prostitution and other violation of women’s human rights, the work of frontline and advocacy groups, and the links with trafficking in women and girls.

Moreover, the UN Security Council discussed trafficking in human beings during its meeting of 15 March, while CSW was taking place. The Swedish Minister Asa Regner made a strong statement calling for the implementation of the Nordic Model worldwide, which shifts the burden of the shame and criminality from the women victims to the men buying sex, who are fueling trafficking through the demand for paid sex.

The need to consider prostitution as an obstacle to women’s economic liberation was also mentioned in their oral statement by the Swedish Women’s Lobby, one of the few women’s organisations allowed to present an oral statement during the general discussion of CSW national delegates.

Together with its members and partners, the EWL hopes that the voice of abolitionist movements, groups, and NGOs, will be heard by the UN institutions, at all levels and in relation with all policies having an impact on women and girls, and on the most vulnerable. Their active mobilisation shows that abolitionist women’s organisations need to be a full part of any discussion on the issue.

"There is really no such thing as the ’voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard", Arundhati Roy

CSW61 events with an abolitionist perspective

1. Sponsored by Member States

The Nordic model on prostitution: a key step to ensure girls and young women economic empowerment

A CSW61 side event sponsored by Belgium and Iceland, and organised by the European Women’s Lobby, in the UN building

The economic independence and empowerment of girls and young women is intrinsically linked to the respect for and the promotion of their human rights in all spheres of society. When girls’ and young women’s human rights are attacked, denied or ignored, their economic empowerment is directly impacted and leads to the perpetuation of discrimination, violence, exploitation and a detrimental lack of self-esteem, autonomy and freedom. As our Sustainable Development Goals have “leaving no one behind” as a guiding principle, the realities of the sexual exploitation and prostitution of girls and young women need to be addressed and tackled, if we want to ensure girls’ and women’s human rights.

With Isabelle Simonis Minister for Women’s Rights, Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Belgium - "There is no place for prostitution in a society which believes in gender equality"; Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Minister for Gender Equality, Iceland - "The very act of buying sex is incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person. Demand is not inevitable, men must take responsibility"; Alisha Watts, survivor of online grooming - "Young women need to be heard and believed"; speakers from women’s organisations in Ireland (Ruhama), Belgium (CFFB - "Because i’m a feminist, I"m for the abolition of prostitution" speech here) and Lebanon (KAFA). See the flyer here and the PPT here.

Listed among the youth-related side events highlighted by the office of the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth.

When victims matter: ending demand for prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes. A new paradigm and a just policy

A CSW61 side-event sponsored by Sweden and France, and organised by CAP International; originally foreseen in the UN building, took place at the French Mission to the UN because of the storm

The event shared concrete information about the realities of prostitution and its exploitation worldwide ; explained why prostitution is a human rights violation, a form of violence against women, and an obstacle to gender equality; presented just, comprehensive, and efficient policies aiming at ending impunity and demand while protecting victims.

With Asa Regner, Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality, Sweden; Laurence Rossignol, Minister for Families, Childhood and Women’s Rights, France; Danielle Bousquet, Chair of the High Council for Equality between women and men (HCEFH), France; members of CAP International (Ireland, Lebanon, Colombia, France, Mexico, USA, South Africa, Germany, UK). Moderated by Per-Anders Sunesson, Swedish Ambassador at large for combating trafficking in persons. See the flyer and the programme.

panel EWL BE event

2. Organised by abolitionist NGOs

Strategies to address prostitution and trafficking

Organised by Fondation Scelles, CATW, SPACE International, CAP International, at the Consulate General of France

With Laurence Rossignol, Minister for Families, Childhood and Women’s Rights, France; representatives of the organising NGOs; moderated by journalist Mary Snow. See the flyer here.

Last Girl First: Ending Sexual Exploitation of Indigenous and Discriminated Women and Girls

Parallel event organised by CAP International, cancelled because of the storm

With speakers from USA (Survivors on the Move, and EVA Center), South Africa (Embrace Dignity), Mexico (Comision Unidos Contra Trada), Germany (Solwodi), France (Fondation Scelles, and Mouvement du Nid), Canada (Robyn Bourgeois, Cree (Indigenous) activist and researcher). See the flyer here.

The practical impact of decriminalising pimps and johns

Organised by CATW and SPACE International

Drawing predominantly on the experiences of Black Women in the USA, the panel discussed the practical impact that decriminalising all aspects of the global sex trade would have on Women of Colour in the United States, and details the impact already felt by other marginalized communities around the globe.

With members of SPACE International and journalist Julie Bindel. See the flyer here.

Wanted: Economic Empowerment and Equality, Not the Sex Trade. Women from the Global South and Indigenous communities speak out

Parallel event organised by CATW

With speakers from Colombia (From Prostitution to Gender Equality Initiative), South Africa (Embrace Dignity), Canada (Robyn Bourgeois, Cree (Indigenous) activist and researcher). See the flyer here.

Prostitution, not a choice, not a job!

Seminar hosted outside of the CSW NGO Forum by the Swedish CSW-network

Prostitution is not work. It is not sex and it is definitely not “sex work”. It is violence against women, an obstacle to gender equality and a crime against women’s human rights. Wrongly turning sexual slavery into “sex work” goes against empowering women and girls. Any system that is built upon the notion that men have the right to buy women and girls only empowers men. Eliminating the prostitution and pornography industry is necessary in order to achieve gender equality. The women and girls in the prostitution and porn industry have the right to live free from violence. The NGO CSW NY has denied several organizations to host seminars on prostitution and pornography. This is why the Swedish CSW-network have united to host the event Prostitution –not a choice not a job.

With Per-Anders Sunesson, Swedish Ambassador at large for combating trafficking in persons; Cherie Jimenez (Space international); Gail Dines on pornography; Julie Bindel (Justice for Women, UK). See the flyer here.

banner SE event

Indigenous Women and Prostitution: Roots, Realities and Resistance

Parallel event organised by IWASI

With Cherry Smiley (IWASI, USA), Christine Stark (First Peoples of the America, USA), Bridget Perrier (Sextrade101, Canada).

Does Full Decriminalisation of the Sex-Trade Lead to Women’s Empowerment?

Parallel event organised by SPACE international and Women@thewell (UK)

The session gave an opportunity to examine, from experience and research, the notion that women’s bodily and sexual disempowerment can somehow produce their empowerment. Speakers were experts in the subject from the sex trade survivor’s movement, front line service provision, research, and journalism. See the flyer here.

The Impact of Decriminalized Pimping on Black and Indigenous Communities

Parallel event organised by SPACE International and CATW

Black and Indigenous sex trade surviving women discussed prostitution from the perspective of their own lived experience and their lengthy years providing front line services for prostituted women and girls. Topics covered included the inevitable impact of decriminalised pimping on communities of Colour in North America. See the flyer here.

Shifting the Burden to Empower Women Involved in Prostitution

Parallel event organised by NBCW (UK), supported by SPACE, EWL, CAP International, NAWO

Economically empowering trafficking victims to stay permanently off the streets

A CSW61 side event hosted by the Holy See and organised by Women@thewell (UK), in the UN building

See the flyer here.

After 18, a new play by Katie Cappiello

A stage reading organised by World Without Exploitation

“18 didn’t green-light the sale of her body. 18 didn’t make this about “choice”. 18 didn’t mean fighting alone”. Inspired by the real experiences of survivors, After 18 gives a glimpse into the lives of 5 women impacted by the commercial sex trade. See the flyer here.

3. The abolition of prostitution promoted in other CSW61 events

#HerFuture: Challenges & Opportunities for Girls’ and Young Women’s Economic Empowerment

Parallel event organised by the European Women’s Lobby, so-sponsored by the European YWCA, Wagggs, Unizon, Rights4Girls, NAWO Youth

The goal of the event was to trigger a discussion about challenges and opportunities for girls and young women in society, on the basis of your various contributions. Girls’ and young women’s economic empowerment can be achieved if a complete shift of culture is realized, and this goes beyond the world of work. It also has to do with all girls’ and women’s human rights, in all spheres of society, and throughout their life. It’s about ending all forms of male violence, ensuring equal access to education, health, employment, tackling stereotypes and discrimination, providing spaces and opportunities for collective action and decision-making, etc. With the event, the audience heard from several visions, experiences and analysis, but got inspired by the ideas and the creative initiatives that the young women are developing. The event aimed to want to share the reality, but also demonstrate that girls and young women are at the core of change.

With Anna Spencer, New Zealand, Wagggs; Alisha Watts, survivor of grooming, UK; Ashkhen Aslikyan, Armenia, the European YWCA; Frida Jonsson, Unizon, Sweden; Grizelda Grootboom, survivor of the sex trade, Embrace Dignity, South Africa; Lauryn Clarke, NAWO Youth, UK. See the flyer here.

youth group

The contribution of Indigenous women and girls to economic empowerment

Organised by NAWO (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations, UK) and supported by EWL, Wagggs, World YWCA, EBBF, Advance

Panel to share expertise from around the world looking at the contribution of and challenges facing indigenous women and girls

With Cheery Smiley (Indigenous Women against the Sex Industry, Canada), Christine Stark (First Peoples of the America, USA), Sarah Burr (YWCA Australia), Justina Mutale (African Woman of the year 2012, Zambia), speakers from NAWO Youth (UK) and from JELA Foundation (Haiti). See the flyer here.

Good jobs for young people

Parallel event organised by Barnardos, supported by NAWO, Advance, UK NGO CSW Alliance, ICW, World YWCA

The session enabled young advocates, who are helping other young people develop resilience to grooming and sexual exploitation, give evidence of their work. They also spoke of the need for apprenticeships for girls and how young people can shape the work place from the beginning of their careers, to enable real economic empowerment for women and girls.

Rebecca Hunt, from NAWO Youth, spoke about “Sexual exploitation is not a good job”. "For society to suggest that prostitution is a safe and decent job is a stain on us all. We need to question this notion, that in times of poverty and lack of opportunities, it is ok for someone to feel that they have no choice but to turn to prostitution. We have to stand up and say, society must have a red line that sexual exploitation is, without question, unacceptable and cannot be considered a decent job".

Trading on the female body

Organised by StopSurrogacyNow

Surrogacy is an international problem that demands an international solution. Speakers highlighted the similar root causes with prostitution, in terms of demand, system, business-driven industry, exploitation of women and the most vulnerable ones.

With testimonies of a woman gestational surrogate, a woman egg donor and a woman born of surrogacy; journalist Julie Bindel; professor Janice Raymond; and EWL Pierrette Pape. See the flyer and the webpage.

Youth Action to End Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Parallel event organised by ECPAT-USA, sponsored by the Working Group on Girls

Root causes of trafficking in persons: key role of the family for protection and prevention

A CSW61 side event organised by Belarus, Group of Friends of the family, Civil Society for the family, in the UN building

Amongst the survivors invited to testify, Vednita Carter (Breaking Free, USA) shared her own experience and called for the system of prostitution to be abolished. See the flyer here.

Exploitation of women in the entertainment industry

Parallel event organised by Human Rights Now (Japan)

Reports show that many young women are sexually exploited in the Japanese entertainment industry. The investigation conducted by Human Rights Now revealed that there have been a number of cases in which young women, after being recruited as a “model” or “idol star” and signing contracts with agents, are forced into having sex in front of the camera for adult pornography. Acts of resistance by the women are met with threats of exorbitant amounts of penalty fees, exposure to families and schools, and coercion into performing sex without consent to be displayed as pornographic videos on the internet. These systematic practices constitute grave violations of human rights, especially of women and children. The event highlighted the situation in Japan with an interview video of survivors and an investigative report. Introducing experiences from European countries, speakers proposed comprehensive, victim-centered strategies to combat this problem.

With Per-Anders Sunesson, Swedish Ambassador at large for combating trafficking in persons; the Secretary General of Human Rights Now; and Professor Hiroko Goto on child pornography in Japan. See the webpage here.

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