What would happen if every country decriminalized prostitution? Not just the few that have already disastrously done so, but what if every government legitimized pimps and brothel owners and failed to hold men accountable for purchasing human beings for sex? Would the United Nations and its member states launch a #2050 Agenda for Investing in the Sex Trade as a Solution and Sustainable Development for Women and Girls, Especially the Most Indigent?
What marketing slogans would ensue? Might public agencies launch poverty alleviation campaigns? “First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal, African-Americans and Global South Populations: Are you Poor, Young, Incested, Transgendered, Homeless? With our help, the Sex Trade will provide you with shelter, food, free condoms and the opportunity to contribute to your (or a foreign) country’s Gross National Product. No experience or education required.”
These are not teasers for Margaret Atwood’s next novel, but a concept set forth by Amnesty International, one of the most prominent and respected human rights organization in the world.
After a contentious debate at its International Council Meeting in Dublin this August, Amnesty’s delegates passed a resolution for full decriminalization of the sex trade, including pimps, brothel owners and buyers of sex, as a means to protect prostituted individuals. Amnesty’s International Board is about to review, and likely to adopt, a policy framework that would render the sex trade an acceptable and desirable employer.
Although a number of Amnesty country sections, including those of France, Israel and Sweden, opposed the decision, its stubborn march toward urging governments to embrace what effectively is legalization of prostitution seems unstoppable. With inexplicable disdain, Amnesty’s leadership ignored the thousands of voices from the global grassroots women’s movement, survivors of prostitution, scholars and researchers, lesbian and gay leaders, and others, including a former US president and the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Instead, Amnesty seems swayed more by the incessant chants of a formidable pro-pimping culture and what the journalist Meghan Murphy calls “Playboy Feminism,” than abiding by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty welcomed convicted pimps to shape the policy and others linked to the sex trade to defend them on the media circuit.
Think of this: over three million women and girls are sold to men on a daily basis in mega-brothels in India. Under Amnesty’s plan, that number would exponentially increase with legalized demand and cultural acceptance of prostitution as a viable livelihood for poor, low caste and invisible girls and young women. A vote to endorse the global sex trade would wipe out any progress to advance women’s rights that Amnesty might have made in the past years.
The Afrikaans term apartheid means “apart and aside” and evokes one of the most brutal regimes in modern history. By encouraging governments to enshrine the sex trade as just another potential employer, Amnesty is promoting gender apartheid, the segregation of women between those who deserve access to economic and educational opportunities and those who are condemned to prostitution. Make no mistake: as long as women are for sale, no woman will be viewed as equal in corporate boardrooms, in the halls of legislature, or in the home.