At the EU level

Violence against women and prostitution: the Nordic model as an inspiration for gender equality

[Brussels, 10 December 2014] On Monday 8 December, more than 120 persons reached out to the welcoming meeting room of the Mission of Norway to the EU, to discuss the Nordic model as an inspiration for the realisation of gender equality.

This event, co-organised by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) and the Norway Mission, came 3 months after the evaluation of the Norwegian law on prostitution, and aimed at feeding into the European discussion on women’s rights, at the eve of the 20 years of the Beijing Platform for Action, by assessing the impact of the Nordic approach on gender equality. it came at a strategic time to also take stock of current legislative developments towards the Nordic model in other EU countries (Ireland, Northern Ireland, Canada) and the growing abolitionist movement calling for a Europe free from prostitution, including in countries which have normalise prostitution as ’work’.

Mr Atle Leikvoll, Ambassador of Norway to the European Union, opened the event by reminding that prostitution is not a women’s issue, nor a men’s issue, it is a society issue. He presented the outcomes of the evaluation of the Norwegian legislation on prostitution and trafficking, which draws the same conclusions as the Swedish evaluation of 2010. What is called the ’Nordic model’ when it comes to violence and prostitution, is based on key values: equality, protection, considering prostitution as harmful to women and society in general, refusing gender stereotypes and the trade of the human body and sexuality.

EWL President Viviane Teitelbaum congratulated the Nordic countries for their achievements in gender equality, being at the top of the 2014 Global Gender Gap results of the World Economic Forum. Amongst them, Sweden, Norway and Iceland state that there can’t be gender equality if men can buy women’s body and sexuality. "Women’s rights are not guaranteed if society doesn’t take measures to end inequalities, especially for the most vulnerable ones: women from ethnic minorities, girls, indigenous women, women from poorer counties or regions. The system of prostitution makes the most of discrimination, inequalities, the consumer society, neocolonialism, racism and sexism. It is time to put an end to it."

The panelists then shared their view of women’s rights in their country: Ms Bergdís Ellertsdóttir, Ambassador and head of the Icelandic Mission to the European Union; Ms Anna Hedh, Member of the European Parliament, Sweden; Ms Milla Sandt, Project Coordinator, Nytkis, Finland. On top of criminalising the purchase of sex, Iceland implemented a full ban on strip clubs. Sweden has been leading the way on changing mentalities towards prostitution and protecting women, with its 1999 law ’Peace of women’. Two Finnish reports (Ministry of Justice and Ombudsman) over the last year point out to the need to address all demand for prostitution in order to protect women and deter trafficking; the current system criminalises men who ’knowingly use services of a victim of trafficking’ and did not see any concrete outcomes.

Hanne Helth from the Danish 8th March Initiative, read the text of Tanja Rahm, sex trade survivor, who could not be there because of the Belgian strike: "In Denmark prostitution is defined as a social problem. The government has put aside 64 million D.kr. to find out how to help people who wish to leave prostitution. That is around 8 and a half million euros. Can you point out any other occupations, where you need to set aside 8 ½ million euros for exit-programs?
For me, it doesn’t make any sense, that you do this, unless you combine it with a law that reduces the demand. It seems that the patriarchy is still alive and ruling. We would rather spend millions on exit-programs to make sure, that men still have the right to buy women. In addition, when men have the law on their side, we try to clean up the mess the buyers do, when they violate women in prostitution, by making exit-programs."

The discussion with participants addressed the links between prostitution and pornography, the EU recent demand to see prostitution counted in GDP, the persistence of male domination, the need to address the root causes of prostitution and trafficking, that is not only poverty and gender inequality, but also the global neoliberal conomy and ideology.

As a conclusion, EWL Policy Officer Pierrette Pape, who was moderating the panel, expressed hope for an increased awareness of the Nordic model thanks to the European Parliament resolution on "Sexual exploitation, prostitution and its impact on gender equality", adopted in February 2014. The positive outcomes of both the Swedish and Norwegian laws show that the Nordic model is a real inspiration for gender equality and should feed the forthcoming EU Strategy for women’s rights and gender equality.

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