Activists for women’s rights will argue both sides of the prostitution spectrum; some say it can be liberating for women who are able to find financial independence, that the amount of abuse is thoroughly overestimated and that it is a job like any other and should have the same benefits and regulations. Others say it is a violation of women, that it is a humiliation and never a freely-made choice.
Last February in Barcelona, 15 women ranging from 22 years in age to 50 years in age attended an ‘Intro to Prostitution’ course organized by Conxa Borrell. Borrell commented that “[w]e’re at an impasse where people are unemployed, and they still have to pay their mortgages and feed their children. This is a line of work that many women feel they can do.”
Lidia Falcón, founder of the Feminist Party in Spain, condemned this course saying it had an “underlying suggestion that some women are working in the profession out of their own free will. It’s a false, repugnant discussion about liberty, as if being a sex worker is something you can choose to do because you like it. They say they’re helping women, but they’re just helping them to be exploited and humiliated.”
However, most accounts from women who have worked as sex workers do not report being humiliated. An anonymous publication in The Globe and Mail on March 4 tells of a woman’s personal experience working in the prostitution industry: “I was broke and did what I had to do to survive. On the other, I was able to keep my head up because it was not hard to rationalize away my choices: Our society is based on a system of exploitation, and you have to ask if sexual services are really so different when you get over people’s hangups about sex.” Point being, is selling your body really so different from selling any other product for cash?
In Tunisia, where prostitution is regulated by the state, sex workers demand for their brothel to be reopened after radical Islamists threw them out. “We know the state cannot help us financially, because the current economic situation is so bad,” says Souhir, a Tunisian sex worker. “That’s why we’re calling for the brothel to be reopened, so we don’t have to ask for charity.”
None of these woman claim that they are forced to be sex workers, but they do all share the similarity of having fallen on hard times financially. This begs the question: would there still be sex workers if there was no poverty, and if so, would people like Falcón still call it an exploitation and humiliation?
– Lydia Caswell