Feminist Manifesto in Support of Sex Workers’ Rights
As the signatories of this manifesto, we – women’s rights, feminist, and sex workers’ rights organisations and collectives – express our support for sex workers’ self-determination and the recognition of sex work as work. With women’s rights, reproductive rights and gender equality threatened across Europe and Central-Asia, we are in solidarity with sex workers, who face myriad forms of violence: from structural and institutional to physical and interpersonal. In order to address the systematic oppression sex workers face, we ask all feminists to concentrate their resources on including and amplifying sex workers’ voices in the movement and to stop promoting legal frameworks that have been shown to be detrimental to sex workers’ rights.
We call for a feminist movement that situates gender injustice within patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist societies, and is inclusive of trans people and sex workers. Our criminal justice systems are oppressive, and therefore we do not see increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the only solution to violence against women, trans people and gender inequality. We believe in community interventions, long-term organising and mobilisation against the complexity of violence against women and trans people, including economic inequalities, and the lack of accessible social security nets and services.
1. We acknowledge sex workers’ as experts in their own lives and needs. Feminism, as it has always done in the past, has to support women’s agency and self-determination over their work and their bodies. Sex workers should be no exceptions.
2. We respect sex workers’ decision to engage in sex work. As feminists, we reject misogynist statements according to which sex workers “sell their bodies” or “sell themselves”: to suggest that sex entails giving away or losing part of yourself is profoundly anti-feminist. Women are not diminished by sex. We further reject any analysis which holds that sex workers contribute to the “commodification of women, sex or intimacy”. We will not blame sex workers for causing harm to other women but patriarchy and other oppressive systems.
3. We affirm sex workers’ ability to claim consent. To state that it is impossible to consent within sex work takes away from sex workers the ability to name their own boundaries, and the ability to speak out against violence. To propagate the idea that clients “buy” sex workers’ bodies or consent – and as such can do what they want to a sex worker – has dangerous real life consequences for sex workers. Furthermore, by positing all sex work as a form of violence, such ideas can lead to a crackdown on sex work in the name of tackling violence – even though crackdowns on sex work actually increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence.
4. We advocate for measures that provide real help and support to victims of trafficking, with full respect for the protection of their human and labour rights. As such, we denounce the conflation of migration, sex work and trafficking. As a result of this conflation, migrant sex workers are particularly targeted by police harassment and raids, detention and deportation, and are pushed into clandestine working environments where they are more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
5. We fight to eliminate all forms of violence against sex workers. Sex work is not a form of sexual violence but sex workers are especially vulnerable to sexual and intimate partner violence due to criminalisation and often intersecting oppressions such as sexism, whorephobia, homophobia and transphobia, racism and classism. Oppression and criminalisation make sex workers vulnerable to violence from individuals, social services, the police, immigration officials, and the judiciary. Regarding sex work as inherently violent and sex workers’ consent as invalid serves to normalise violence against them.
6. We work every day to end misogyny in all spheres of life. Misogyny, however, is not the cause of sex work, but arises as a response to women’s acts and choices, whether that is wearing make-up, having an abortion, or selling sex. We name misogynist sentiments and acts as the problem, and reject calls to change or eliminate behaviours that ‘provoke’ misogyny. To attempt to eliminate sex work on the grounds that it supposedly provokes misogyny is to agree with those who state that some women’s actions – such as selling sex – are intrinsically deserving of misogyny.
7. We respect migrants’ rights. Migrant women face limited access to work and often little or no access to social security. Some of those seeking refuge sell sexual services out of very limited options to earn their living. The criminalisation of clients, and other forms of sex work criminalisation put migrant sex workers under a constant threat of police violence, arrest, and deportation, denying their right to access to justice and redress. The criminalisation of clients removes their income, while offering them no alternatives for survival.
8. We support LGBT rights. Rejection of LGBT people from their family, obstacles to education and employment in cissexist and heteronormative social structures often result in sex work being one of the very few economic and employment opportunities for LGBT people, especially trans women. Anti sex work laws do not benefit LGB and trans people as they don’t address these complex facets of social marginalisation. This is particularly the case for trans women, as laws that criminalise sex work are particularly used to profile and persecute this group, regardless of whether the person in question is even a sex worker.
9. We call for full decriminalisation of sex work. There is strong evidence that the Swedish model and all other forms of sex work criminalisation harm sex workers. The Swedish model pushes them into poverty, reduces their power in negotiations with clients, criminalises them for working together for safety, evicts and deports them. By enabling sex workers to organise as workers, decriminalisation decreases sex workers’ vulnerability to exploitative labour practices and violence.
10. We speak up against women’s increasing precarisation in labour. Historically in Western societies under capitalism and patriarchy, women’s work (domestic work, care work, sex work, emotional labour) considered “feminine” have been undervalued, underpaid, or completely rendered invisible and unwaged. Women globally, including sex workers, have jobs that are less well paid and more insecure: they work under exploitative conditions – from criminalised, seasonal or temporary employment to home work, flexi and temp-work, to subcontracting, working as freelancers, or as self-employed persons. Sex work has similarities to other types of care work, in that it is mainly associated with women, and often migrant women or women of colour. Care workers, like sex workers, often do not enjoy the same labour rights as workers in jobs associated with men. Advocating for sex workers’ rights therefore has to emphasise their labour rights and needs to address precarious working conditions and exploitation in the sex industry, and advocate for legal frameworks that give power to sex workers as workers.
11. We demand the inclusion of sex workers in the feminist movement. Their inclusion brings invaluable insights, energy, diversity and experience of mobilisation to our movement and challenges our assumptions about gender, class and race. Sex workers were some of the world’s first feminists, and our community is diminished without them.