In September 2023, the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls published its Position paper Eliminating discrimination against sex workers and securing their human rights.
The European Sex Workers Rights Alliance, representing 111 organisations across Europe and Central Asia of whom half are sex worker led, welcomes this Position paper. The document includes a thorough discussion of the human rights implications of the various policy models being implemented around the world, references to credible research and, crucially, was developed through meaningful consultation with sex workers.
Sex workers face a high burden of violence and discrimination in Europe. Europe is the cradle of the so-called Swedish model, and the model is also high on the political agenda of many politicians and radical feminist and religious groups.
“Under the guise of gender equality, this model is being strongly promoted across Europe, even as the law is used for our social punishment, eviction and immigration enforcement, where migrant sex workers are profiled and then detained and deported. We are currently facing huge backlash and various politicians are trying to trivialise our voices,” says Sabrina Sanchez, director of European Sex Workers Rights Alliance.
The position paper was issued shortly after the European Parliament adopted a resolution on prostitution by a minority vote. The text of the resolution conflates sex work with human trafficking, misinterprets health research and calls for the criminalisation of buying sex and profiting from the prostitution of others.
“This report undermines the voices of sex workers by claiming, without any data, that we represent only a minority of our community, which is the justification for why our voices and experiences were ignored throughout the process of preparing the resolution and why a carceral approach was prioritised,” says Sanchez.
At the same time, ESWA members face various layers of structural and institutional discrimination and even attacks at the national levels. Sex workers and their organisations are not only excluded from policy making, access to funding, but also face attacks from politicians or are subjected to SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) by religious organisations.
“The UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls' position paper is timely and affirms our struggles on the ground and provides a nuanced analysis of human rights principles that can help our community better argue against our exclusion and discrimination,” concludes Sanchez.