On the weekend of the 31st of July, the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, EWL’s national coordination, held the first National Gathering of Young Abolitionists at the Maria Alzira Lemos Centre - House of Associations, in Lisbon. This is an initiative within the context of the project "EXIT – Women’s human rights not to be prostituted”.
The gathering joined young activists from all over the country, involved in the feminist movement and committed to ending all forms of male violence against women and girls. The young abolitionist activists shared their views and experiences, offered recommendations, and proposed concrete actions for the implementation of the Equality Model in Portugal. All activists participated and engaged in fruitful debates and offered insightful criticism to end the system of prostitution. Their passion and engagement are noteworthy and their commitment moving!
This meeting also included an exhibition by the young artist Raquel Pedro illustrating 18 common myths about the system of prostitution. The exhibition will be on display at the Maria Alzira Lemos Centre during the month of August.
A wide range of Portuguese feminist activists, civil society organizations, public authorities and other stakeholders participated, shared views and relevant data on how the system of prostitution is organized in Portugal and Europe. Its grave consequences on women’s and girls’ lives, why it must be understood within a continuum of male violence and gender inequality, its intimate connection with trafficking for sexual exploitation and the advantages of the Equality model to end demand where key subjects.
All panel discussions have highlighted the importance of youth engagement, and in particular abolitionist activism, in raising awareness on the pernicious impacts of the system of prostitution. The young activists play a key part in advocating for a Europe free from male violence against women and girls, by defending the human rights of women not to be prostituted by men. The gathering involved a wide range of group dynamics, panel discussions, brainstorming, sharing of experiences and best practices, whilst promoting crucial moments of debate and definition of strong and coordinated advocacy strategies.
The Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, within the context of the project, “EXIT”, has been conducting extensive lobbying campaigns, targeting the civil society as well as the Portuguese government and other decision-makers, and has developed a plethora of advocacy tools and disseminated information that places the Equality model at the forefront of the public debate, whilst both pushing for the development of legislation and policies that duly protect women survivors of the system of prostitution, and directly offering them ways out.
The first day started with a brief presentation of the young activists, their backgrounds, motivations and expectations on the days ahead, followed by the viewing of a documentary -“Consent is Not for Sale” - on the system of prostitution. It offered a compilation of testimonies, from survivors of the system of prostitution, front-line organizations and young women, to an investigator and a member of the Portuguese Parliament. This documentary enhances the harmful consequences of the system of prostitution, as a serious violation of women’s human rights, affecting women and girls disproportionately - women and girls that have long been marginalized and silenced in our societies. When there is money involved, there can be no consent. The viewing was followed by a thorough debate on the four actors involved in the system of prostitution and their role in its perpetuation, in particular, sex-buyers, “pimps” and traffickers, and the States that defend the legalization or regulation of prostitution. Furthermore, the Equality Model’s main features were analyzed and common myths were unveiled.
An overview on the legal framework of trafficking for sexual exploitation in Europe and Portugal was presented by the Coordinator of the National Plan Against Trafficking, that highlighted the intimate connection between sexual exploitation and trafficking that notoriously affects women and girls disproportionately. This intervention was followed by the participation of a feminist activist and co-founder of the “Radical Girls” network that presented the primary causes of trafficking, highlighting factors such as sex discrimination, and women’s feminization of poverty, as well as the enhanced vulnerability of migrant women or asylum seekers, women with disabilities, and indigenous women. Sexuality Education was identified as a core measure to be adopted by all States on a national level.
The second panel of the day gathered a Lawyer, a Parliament Deputy and a Portuguese Supreme Court Judge, that shared their perspectives on the adoption of the Equality Model in Portugal - that entails the criminalization of sex buyers - and its main challenges were addressed, whilst confronting the main legal arguments set forward by the law proposal submitted by a Portuguese member of the Parliament on the adoption of the aforementioned model.
The Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights has produced, in collaboration with a team of investigators, a study vis a vis the status quo of the system of prostitution in Lisbon, and the main findings were presented throughout the two days of the event. This study compiled the testimony of 24 women survivors of the system of prostitution, enhancing women’s vulnerabilities as well as the current inefficient public policies in responding to the specific needs of these women, who are, systematically, discriminated against and marginalized in our societies. The diagnostic study was designed to actively contribute to the definition of public policies that will integrate a National Strategy for the Prevention and Support of Women Exiting the System of Prostitution.
On the last day the young activists had the opportunity to participate in a training on media interaction techniques, a notoriously valuable skill set. The last part of the debate was dedicated to women’s abolitionist activism. The participants shared their experiences and exchanged ideas on their involvement with the feminist movement and their commitment to the abolition of the system of prostitution. Furthermore, they were provided useful tools and strategies to encourage the youth to self-organize, take action, and act as agents of change.
Finally, the young abolitionists got together in small groups to discuss and lead a thorough debate on the concrete actions that will be adopted in the next 12 months to create awareness on the Equality Model. These ideas were then shared with the remaining activists in a plenary discussion. A detailed advocacy strategy was built, with planned actions that will start to be implemented in the upcoming weeks.
The Equality Model is gradually being adopted in most European countries. Yet, there is still a long way to go. Campaigns such as EWl’s “Her Future is Equal” have been applying pressure to decision-makers at the EU and national level to adopt laws and policies that duly protect women, whilst contributing to the promotion of exit strategies and support services to women in prostitution. It is of the utmost importance to engage the youth and give them space to act as agents of change.
We must come together and uphold women’s human rights to not be prostituted, live free from sexual exploitation and trafficking!