Canadian court hears of the misery of polygamy

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

A very interesting and important court case is ongoing in Canada at the moment, after the north American country began hearings to test the anti-polygamy law.

In a case to determine whether such a ban is constitutional, a professor testified yesterday that the supply-and-demand principles of polygamy leave women worse off. Shoshana Grossbard said that allowing men to have multiple wives leads to a reduced supply of women.

She said: “In the cultures and societies worldwide that have embraced it, polygamy is associated with undesirable economic, societal, physical, psychological and emotional factors related especially to women’s well-being.” Her evidence was firmly concluding that polygamy is a firmly bad aspect of society, associated with forced marriages, teenage brides, and poor access to education to reduce the ability of women to choose who they marry.

If this law is overturned, Canada will become the sole Western country to allow polygamy.

Polygamy can surely not be a woman’s first choice. No wife is likely to relish the idea of sharing a partner, being compared with other “wives” who might consider themselves inferior or superior. Professor Grossbard agreed, saying that polygamy was associated with psychological or health problems. In the case of Canada, this ruling is focussing on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) a breakaway of the Mormon church. The church has said that the constituional charter allows them to practise plural marriages, and civil liberty lawyers have warned that the ruling is again the right of consenting adults to form their families in the ways they want.

It’s hard to be in favour of polygamy when it so firmly takes power from the women involved. The phrase “consenting adults” is the key of the matter, and it’s difficult to know how you could gauge the level of consent in a potentially unequal relationship. The man has complete control to choose his partners without having to take into account the wishes of the existing wives. In cases like this perhaps a constitutional infringement is worthwhile if it helps to prevent institutional suffering and misery for Canadian women.

Click here for some of the video testimonials presented in court, so you can hear the testimonials of those who really know what it is like to live in a polygmous relationship.


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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