Sex work is illegal in most countries across the world, yet it exists everywhere. There are an estimated 40 million sex workers worldwide, according to French charity Fondation Scelles. Focused on the theme Last Girl First, the Second World Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls, was held from January 29 to 31 in New Delhi, organised by the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution International (CAP Int’l) and Apne Aap Women Worldwide and had representatives from over 30 countries. Safina Nabi sent us this report
The three-day Second World Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls started with a panel discussion by survivors of prostitution along with Ashley Judd, CNN Freedom Hero, Anuradha Koirala, Vimal Thorat of the AIDMM and Pers-Anders Sunesson, Swedish Ambassador at Large for Combatting Trafficking.
Judd (well-known American actress, activist and goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Population Fund), who gave the keynote address on the first day of the Congress, spoke about her experience with online abuse, as well as how it reminded her of being assaulted as a child.
“There has been an appropriate emphasis at this World Congress about putting the onus on the perpetrator, where it belongs, and the person who thinks that girls and women’s bodies are purchasable,” she said.
Judd, who is a survivor of sexual abuse herself, shared her experiences with violence as well as income inequality. Recounting a conversation with her mother, singer Naomi Judd, Ashley Judd said: “There was some sort of chatter about what my antique pearls would cost and I said, ‘You know, mom, if I experienced pay equality, my pearls would be even more expensive and I would be dripping in diamonds.” The actor added that her “lifetime earnings” would be 40 per cent less compared to her male counterparts.
Apne Aap’s survivor activist Fatima Khatoon from Nat Community said, “I have a right to live, and my daughter has a right to live, just like other people in the society have a right to live. I asked the mothers in my own community that why should we sell our daughters? Why should we be sold?” In the Nat Community, inter-generational prostitution still prevails.
Speaking at the press conference, Ruchira Gupta, founder, Apne Aap, said, ”We are hosting this Congress at a time when a new Trafficking Bill is going to be introduced in Parliament. This Bill needs to address sexual exploitation and prostitution and have provisions for the prevention of trafficking through budget allocations for investment in the food, clothing, housing and education of at risk girls. It needs measures for ending impunity of traffickers and sex-buyers. It must do away with Section of 8 of the ITPA that criminalises women for soliciting in a public place. This is in keeping with the UN Protocol and Nordic laws, which are now considered best practice in the world.”
The Trafficking Bill was released by the Ministry of Ministry of Women and Child Development on 30th May last year, but has still not been tabled in Parliament as inter-ministerial meetings are going on.
The Congress highlighted the vulnerability of the last girl, the most vulnerable of all human beings, to prostitution because she is a poor, female, teenager, low-caste in India, Black in USA, indigenous in Australia and Canada, of a minority religion or ethnicity, perhaps a refugee in Africa and Europe, and is, therefore, preyed on by traffickers. Participants included former sex workers from South Africa, Canada, India and the United States who shared stories of sexual slavery and demanded for an end to prostitution by punishing clients, pimps and traffickers.
The Congress also had 250 civil society representatives – survivors of sexual exploitation, frontline services, representatives of the most marginalised women and girls (indigenous, low caste, migrant, minorities and women of colour), student movements and trade unions – joining forces to denounce the worldwide economic, sexual and patriarchal exploitation of women and girls in prostitution.
Sarah Benson, Chair of CAP International, stated, “As an affiliation of 19 frontline NGOs providing daily assistance to thousands of women, girls and men affected by prostitution in 16 countries, we have a collective duty to expose the realities of sexual exploitation.” She added, “While our societies remain widely deaf to the distress of victims of prostitution and trafficking, we stand in solidarity with survivors advocating for their universal decriminalisation, for unconditional access to protection, justice and exit options, and for the implementation of policies targeting their economic and sexual exploiters: pimps, procurers and sex buyers.”
January – March 2017