At the 28th of January Wonda Women set up a guided tour at the Red Light District that was given by PIC (Prostitution Information Centre). We met at PIC’s talk halls/ praathuys, called ‘in de ouwehoer’ which is also the office and meeting space for PROUD, the union for sex workers in the Netherlands (www.wijzijnproud.nl). PIC is a place for everyone who needs information/ advice on sex work, but the heart goes out to the people who work in the sex industry with the intention of fighting for better rights, working conditions and image formation about sex work.
Before starting with the tour, Wonda Women gave a short introduction on why we feel this tour is necessary. That is, we uphold an intersectional understanding of feminism. Meaning that you look beyond the gender binary and take into account other social categories such as race, class, ability (among many others) when you talk about the experience of women. As Audre Lorde said, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”. But how do we apply intersectional feminism and not just claim it? Wonda Women decided to do so by working with other organisations who have mobilised around these ‘intersectional’ issues. For example, The Black Archives where we went last October to do a tour on the intersection of race and gender.
So, this intersectional approach also means that we are inclusive towards sex workers. Your freedom and your rights should be unconditional and not be on the condition of having a certain job or nót having a certain job. Luckily, we could not have gone to a better place to get an informative tour on sex workers and their activism at The Red Light District. Some of the important things our tour guide Velvet taught us last Monday (among many many other things):
If you watch porn, you are a client of sex work
Currently there is an assumption that making sex work illegal for vulnerable groups will protect them. However, this illegality does not mean protection since making something illegal does not mean that it will go away or will not happen anymore. In practice this ‘illegality’ stripes these vulnerable groups from their rights if they are looking for help and creates distance with authorities who are able to help. This has happened with shifting the legal age of sex work from the age of 18 to 21.
Equating sex work with trafficking is problematic since it implies that all sex workers are victims (I); it also does not pay attention to victims of trafficking outside the sex industry, for example the domestic work industry or beauty industry (II) ; and creates a black/white picture of a situation that is in reality much more complex, since there is a spectrum of possibilities (III). For example, being a victim of trafficking yet fully aware that you were coming to the Netherlands to do sex work- and send money to your family.
Despite sex work being a legal job in the Netherlands that for example implies a registration at the Chamber of Commerce (KvK), it is very difficult for sex workers to open their own business account. Read for example this article [in Dutch].
Every municipality in the Netherlands can decide their own policy on sex work, including how many and if they even give out permits for sex work. This often means that people wanting to do sex work, end up doing it illegal if they do not have the privilege of living in a municipality that grants them a permit.
Current plans from the government coalition imply that health facilities play a part in the registration of sex workers. This will change the relationship between these facilities and the sex workers ánd put the health of sex workers at risk. At the moment all sex workers, regardless if they are legal or illegal, can make use of these health facilities, such as STD testing. This means that Amsterdam has a relatively healthy sex workers community at the moment.
Consent is central to sex work, a client pays for services (which a sex worker can refuse) and hereby does not buy your consent!
After the tour we went back to PIC talk halls where we continued the discussion. Everybody started to feel comfortable enough to ask personal questions, ending up in a fruitful discussion that also included the question on how we could be better allies to sex workers.
All in all, the tour was inspirational, informative and bounding. It could not have gone better thanks to all participating and of course our wonderful tour guide of the night, Velvet.
** PIC gives tours from Wednesday to Sunday at 17:00 or you can e-mail them at email@example.com to book your own tour!