#20yrsEndDemand: My Experience at the European Women’s Lobby

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.

In mid-October 2018 I had the fantastic opportunity to spend a week at the European Women’s lobby in Brussels. This week was filled with exciting activities and I even attended an event in European Parliament! Some of the work I got to participate in at the lobby included planning events promoting ending violence against women, helping to write an article for anti-human trafficking day and editing videos from a conference on the abolition of prostitution for the #20yrsEndDemand campaign.

Whilst helping to edit the videos from the conference, I became particularly engaged with the issue of prostitution and the EWL’S perspective of it. I am studying gender in university degree and I have learned how notions of empowerment are increasingly linked to prostitution, also with more and more countries legalising ‘sex work’, the abolitionist view appeared to be a stark contrast to the mainstream view, and so I was intrigued to learn more about it.

From watching videos and testimonials from survivors, I learned how legalising prostitution does not improve situations for women engaged in selling sex, in fact it worsens them; only benefiting the pimps. Additionally, I learned how if prostitution is legalised, there are no support systems in place for women wanting to leave, as if it is seen as a normal job, then why would there be a need for exit systems? I found this fascinating and hearing the experiences from women who had been directly involved in prostitution changed my mindset and shifted my thinking on the subject.

When I got back to the UK I shared what I had learned with my friends and colleagues; hoping to encourage them to see think about this issue and see that the abolitionist perspective is the way to protect women. What’s more, I intend to write part of my thesis on the different perspectives of prostitution in society today.
I loved my time at the European Women’s Lobby and I am very grateful for the opportunity to intern for them for a week. I will continue to support and follow the campaign #20yrsEndDemand, and I hope it is far reaching and can shift young feminist mindsets as they did with mine!

A reflection from Hannah Whyte about her time as an intern with the European Women’s Lobby in October 2018, and how it impacted her views on the system of prostitution.

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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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