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.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the campaign launched by the European Women’s Lobby: "Together for a Europe free of prostitution". This represents 20 years of constant struggle to achieve a social position against this serious form of violence against women: prostitution.
We have worked in the different countries of the European Union to stop the belief that prostitution can be an eligible work activity for women and girls in countries where the lives of women are subject to fewer rights than the life of privileged women across Europe, from those countries where poverty is disproportionately experienced by women.
Prostitution is always a phenomenon that some women can choose to stay away from, and we must make a clear analysis of the reasons why the most vulnerable women are forced into it; reasons often being a lack of more fundamental economic rights, of submission to other forms of violence are some of the causes behind prostitution.
From a feminist and human rights defense analysis, we must not allow a system based on the sexual use and abuse of the most vulnerable women on the planet for the sexual consumption by males in the West, or by Western males in other tourist destination countries, business or for work reasons to prevail. Nor is the normalization of businesses based on the sexual exploitation of another person understandable in societies that value and recognise the right to consent. We must ensure this is central to any discussion in the commodification of women’s bodies.
The European campaign has undoubtedly helped the European Parliament to adopt a resolution on February 26, 2014, on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality, which establishes first of all that prostitution is a gendered phenomenon with a global dimension that affects around 40-42 million people worldwide. The vast majority of people in prostitution are women and girls and almost all users are male. Therefore, it expresses a problem of gender- and sexual inequality. It is extremely important to demand action on the part of the governments of the European Union in accordance with the fundamental principles of the European Union, and in particular the principle of equality between women and men.
In this resolution, one of the causes for which violence against women exists is the social impact of the normalisation of prostitution and, in particular, that it is considered a normal practice for men to buy sex. It also defines the impossibility of considering prostitution as legal ‘sex work’, as well as the decriminalization of procuring as two practices contrary to the protection of women in prostitution, considering that both are the fundamental factors for the occurrence of prostitution and an increase in trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in the countries where these policies are produced.
For all these reasons, we are committed to policies of criminalisation of the demand for prostitution and all forms of procuring to end these practices that undermine human dignity and against the principle of equal treatment. These measures must be accompanied by educational measures and not only punitive.
This resolution has led some countries that have chosen to regulate prostitution to question these policies to verify an increase in trafficking in these countries, and an increase in violence experienced.
It should be noted that in Europe more and more countries are implementing laws similar to the recommendations of the European Parliament resolution, with France and Ireland being the last ones.
In Spain we are fighting to stop the policies of normalisation of prostitution. Recently a court ruling has been issued that has defined that prostitution cannot be considered a licit labor activity because it undermines equality and human dignity and therefore cannot be consider as a job in any case. This judicial resolution is the triumph of the work carried out by the feminist abolitionist movement in our country.
It is necessary to continue the work begun to finally achieve a Europe free of prostitution in all countries.
In a recent court case, Spain recognised the violence against women, girls and all those affected by prostitution. Now, Spain is closer than it has ever been to ending the demand for paid sexual abuse and effectively supporting those it impacts. From our Spanish members Lobby Europeo de Mujeres en España- LEM España, Teresa Nevado, General Secretary and Sara Vicente, member of our Taskforce on SRHR and Sexual Exploitation, reflect on what this means for the country.