India starts to take much-needed action on brothels

January 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

The arrest of two pimps in a raid in Chennai is a very welcome sign from the Anti-Vice Squad. Prositution is a massive problem in India for a plethora of reasons: poverty, women being trafficked, caste prejudice, drugs, the tourism sex trade, conservative attitudes. But a mountain is to be climbed stil as the police often remain reluctant to act on the mammoth problem. Pimps and the human sex trade provides healthy bribes to the authorities, and a policy of “don’t see, don’t act” has been the effective policy of the police.

18 women were rescued from the prostution ring in this raid, and the two pimps, both in their 50s were arrested.

The women were allegedly lured into the brothel after being promised work – then forced into sex work. The story is old. At any one time, estimates are that there are 15 million prostitutes in India, with a staggering 27 million children and women being forced to work as slaves in the sex trade each year.

Chennai police also cracked down on ten prostitution centres operating under the guise of spas – in 2009 there was not a single “spa” closed down by police. Assuming that these brothel spas have not all sprung up in a year, it is a very significant change in measures taken by Chennai police.

For the 18 women in their twenties, time for a new start and a new life. For countless others, the story is less positive and the problems are complex.

Brothel girls in India: taken for the Theatre of the absurd blog

This book changed my life

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Half the Sky: How to Change the World

I’ve never written a book review before – and I don’t intend to do one now. All I will say is simply that if you are interested in politics, international development and any issues relating to women’s rights should read the book Half The Sky: How to Change the World by two American journalists, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. I’ve just finished it, and I genuinely think it’s fair to say it changed the way I think about issues relating to women forever.

To quote from the opening chapter: “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way – not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.”

The phrase “half the sky” is from a quote from Mao Zedong, who for all his (massive) faults did mange to bring in some measures which benefitted women enormously. In fact the organisation Half the Sky  targets Chinese orphans in reference to this famous quote. This book looks at issues relating to the sex trade, war, maternal mortality, women’s involvement in politics, education – in short, all the things this blog writes about. It details real examples and individual cases, but counters it with how they fit into the worldwide scheme of poverty and development. The main thrust of the book is that if only half of the population of any country are being educated, working and contributing to the economy, then the country can only ever reach half of it’s potential. Some parts of this book are easier to swallow than others, inevitably, and some parts will make you cry and stay with you indefinitely. But what is so brilliant about it is the way that it takes a real hands-on, grass roots approach. The final chapter is entitled Four Steps you can take in the next ten minutes and the back is a full index of charities, NGOs and women’s groups worldwide that you can get involved with, and how to contact them. It is the bible of women’s rights and I know I will be referring to it again and again. Let me know what you think.

“Sensationally interesting – I think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed” – Washington Post
 

Brothel debate continues as French drama stokes controversy

October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

A new television drama starting this week in France made me reflect on my post earlier in the week about Ontario legalising brothels.

Although in that case I was in favour of such a measure, the new TV series set in the famous French maisons closes is in danger of crossing the line between debating and trivialising the issue.

The drama has fuelled the debate over whether France would do well to legalise brothels once more – President Sarkozy has been condemned for making laws which punish the prostitutes and not those who paid for sex. In his time as interior minister he made it legal for police to charge any woman who looked remotely like she was selling herself for sex. One can only imagine the potential for offence that law could cause, before you even get on to considering the effect it had on the prostitution industry. Sex workers say they have been forced to work in back alleys and more secluded places and, inevitably, this is less safe.

The series Maison Close makes it clear that the life of a prostitute is not one that many choose. The key characters are forced into it pay off debts and the protagonist ends up being raped by her first client. But if seeking to make a relevant political point, the programme’s related website lets it down.

An interactive tour of the brothel includes a “game” in which you can take a client into the bedroom to pay off your dues, sneak a look at the centre’s work through keyholes, and receive a thorough examination from Hortense the brothel owner. You gain extra points for telling others about the website on Facebook.

I’m not surprised that French prostitutes support groups are outraged. A historically-based drama is one thing, and any measure which makes prostitution safer for the women involved is only to be welcomed. A game in which you can play at being or using a prostitute does not ring true of mature and sympathetic debate.

Canadian brothels legalised

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Ontario in Canada has become the latest part of the world to make brothels legal after a long and very complicated legal process.

A judge has overturned a ban on prostitution introduced by the national government in the province, after concluding that the ban on brothels made life more dangerous by forcing prostitution onto the streets.

The female judge Susan Himel concluded that the laws “forced prostitutes to choose between their liberty, interest and their right to security of the person” and urged the national government to regulate the sex trade rather than the ban the practice and force it underground. The court heard from one of the three prostitutes who brought the case forward, who said that she had been beaten and raped many times due to working on the streets.

The controversial ruling has been criticized amid concerns that the state will now become a haven for human traffickers.

In many ways a brave and mature decision to recognize the benefits from a safe, regulated sex industry, Ontario is not alone. According to research of 100 countries worldwide last year from the CIA, 50% of countries allow prostitution. Among this diverse list: Germany, Bangladesh, Switzerland, Uruguay, Belgium, Singapore, Venezula. Germany in particular is an interesting case, with an estimated 400,000 prostitutes working in the country and 1.2m using their services every day – revenues are at least €6bn a year. The state take a percentage of their earnings to cover health and pensions, and sex workers can even unionise.

International Prostitutes Collective logo

This is the logo of the pro-active site the International Prostitutes Collective, a US and UK organisation campaigning for safer conditions for sex workers, in another example of how prostitute groups can form to improve conditions.

On a difficult point for most people to debate pragmatically, a properly organized sex industry can be the only sensible answer. Accept that you will never eradicate the buying and selling of sex, and the next logical step is to make sure the practice does not harm any of the women involved, does not support human trafficking, and does not exploit underage girls. If a state can achieve that, it should congratulate itself for winning a major social and political battle.

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