On the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, sex worker Hege Grostad, and writer and activist, Anders Solli Sal, both from Norway, are asking the whole globe to flash their red umbrellas in solidarity with the sex worker’s rights cause. They are encouraging women, and men, all over the world to organize in groups, meet up and join in where demonstrations take place, having brought a red umbrella each. At a signal of your own, open your red umbrellas, let them be shown, and have someone take photos or a videos of it.
They have created a Facebook event page to coordinate in advance and then document every event on the 8th, helping spread global awareness about this important cause.Hege and Anders explain their motivation:
‘Every year in Norway a committee gathers to make plans for The International Women’s Day. The custom is that a certain number of banners are selected, by voting, meant to reflect pressing women’s related issues of our times. Two causes stood out this year as especially popular. The first one being to uphold women’s right by law to have an abortion; this has become somewhat challenged by the conservative/Christian movement for the right of doctors to reserve themselves against the procedure. The second was related to prostitution.
As is well known, the Nordic countries have become synonymous with the implicitly abolitionist and radical feminist model of criminalizing the purchase and all types of procurement, but not the sale, of sexual services. The aim of this model is to reduce, or in the long run, eradicate, prostitution by eliminating the demand for it. Yes, farfetched indeed. But it is not only farfetched – it systematically worsens the working conditions of sex workers; misguided ‘pimp laws’ force land lords to evict (mostly) women at the slightest suspicion of sex sale, in fear of being prosecuted as pimps; and at street level, sex workers must choose their clients ever less discriminately, at their own peril, since the police are out to get these clients.
For the radical feminists, the end legitimizes the means. But they are increasingly challenged by progressive forces from within. There is no consensus in the Nordic countries that the so-called Nordic model is the right one. The reasons why are obvious: It’s clearly in breach with the rights of liberty and dignity of the sex workers. The model has no place for the personal autonomy of people choosing a different path of life. It treats all sex workers as victims, as self-less things destitute of a will of their own, referring to them as prostituted women, thus removing any possible sense of dignity and integrity for people who sell sex.
This traditional view on prostitution has been seriously challenged by different kinds of voices, from sex workers themselves who have entered the national debate, to rights activists, researchers and academics. And this year we had gained the momentum to challenge the rad-fem hegemony in this women’s day committee. We were ready.
But so were they. On the day where the different banners were to be chosen by voting, a lot of women supporting the sex worker’s rights cause showed up. Amongst the suggested banners where seven (or eight) supporting law against purchase of sexual services, while we had one, named My Body, My Business. During the presentation of the different banners the committee leaders acted with their characteristic condescending and hostile attitudes towards the humble suggestion for supporting the rights of sex workers. One of them even yelled Shut up! as one of us, Hege, tried to point out that an alleged facts propounded at the meeting, of the supposedly successful social experiment in Sweden, were false.
Nevertheless, our hopes were up that we might actually gain enough votes to have our banner shown on the 8th of March. Annoyingly and frustratingly, we didn’t even get the chance. Here the leaders got the ingenious idea to, instead of voting on each separate suggested banner (76 in in total), rather vote whether we should vote on them and just accept the ten banners suggested by the committee itself. With a small margin, they won and we lost.
But we will not give up without a fight. And we want to show, not just Norway, but the whole world that we’ve had it with this suppressing ideology. We are fed with laws and policies hurting the ones their advocates hypocritically want to “rescue”. We are fed up with the police taking advantage of anti-prostitution laws to harass sex workers. And we are fed up with, not just laws and policies, but also the attitudes themselves who help perpetuate the stigma against sex workers, which is after all far more damaging than any intimate service offered in exchange for money.’
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