Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Life without Privilege: the Inhumane Consequences of Pro-Prostitution Politics, part 2. Ruchira Gupta's challenge to the UN

photo of Ruchira Gupta is from here
This is the 2nd in a three-part post.

Part 1: click here
Part 3: click here

What follows is the writing of Ruchira Gupta. Anything in brackets and italics was written by me.  -- Julian

I was the 2015 Woman of Distinction Awardee by the United Nations NGO CSW/NY. I gave the  Keynote speech on International Women's Day, March 8, at Apollo Theatre to 1500 feminist activists from the whole world, who had come to the New York to offer advice and consult with the United Nations at the 59th session of the United Nations meeting on the Commission on the Status of Women.

[The speech may be viewed and heard here, or by clicking on the link @ "Keynote speech" above:]

This was 20 years after the big Beijing Women's meeting in 1995 which created a platform for action for the UN and governments to improve the status of women. I had attended the Beijing as a young reporter. Inspired by the survivor testimonies of victims of Domestic Violence I heard at Beijing, I went back in 1996 and completed a documentary,  The Selling of Innocents highlighting the voices of victims of prostitution and sex trafficking. I won an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism and quit journalism to form an NGO, Apne Aap (self-empowerment) Women Worldwide, with the 22 women who had told their stories in my documentary, and had at one time formed a circle around me to protect me from a pimp who had stuck a knife at my throat when I was filming. This was 14 years ago. Apne Aap now has reached more than 20,000 girls, women and their family members  

And now I was honoured by my peer group of NGOs who had given me the CSW NGO/NY Woman of Distinction  award at the UN. I was thrilled. To my dismay I got an email from them on the eve of my keynote speech saying that UN Women had asked them to tell me that " I should not speak on prostitution or put UN Women, " on the spot. I was surprised that the UN was trying to censor an NGO and that they should tell me not to speak on prostitution when my work was with victims of prostitution.

I went ahead and gave a speech which was a call to action to all UN policy makers, governments and NGOs to include the "last" girl as they were drawing up policies and not just represent the viewpoint of the "first" girl. I also asked us as a global family to watch out for backdoor policy creation by some people in the UN who sent out notes and reports by independent experts asking for governments to legalize pimping and brothel keeping. I mentioned how this contradicted  the UN's own Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Protocol to end Trafficking in Persons. 

By asking for legalization of pimping, the UN Women note and an independent UNAIDS report let down the rights of the "last" girl who needed those who exploited her to be punished not protected and certainly not legalized. 

We have still to get an appointment with the UN on this, though we have been trying for two years!


1. On October, 2012, UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS released a report by independent experts titled: ”Sex Work and the Law in Asia and Pacific": On Page 7 of that report, they ask all countries to change laws to decriminalize pimping and brothel keeping. The exact quote is:

"Decriminalization of sex work requires the repeal of laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, including removal of offences relating to soliciting; living on the earnings of sex work; procuring; pimping; the management and operation of brothels; and promoting or advertising services".

2. Apne Aap was shocked by this. Decriminalizing pimping and brothel would give impunity to all those who enslaved hundreds and thousand of girls and lived off selling them to 8-10 customers every night. In January, 2013, We wrote a letter to the head of UN Women saying:

"We ask that UN Women advocate with other UN agencies, as the agency charged with representing the voices of women, to recognize that commercial rape is the same as non-commercial rape and to remove all demands advocating for decriminalizing pimping and brothel-keeping. We want an end to impunity for all those who take advantage of our vulnerabilities to sexually exploit us. We want them to be held accountable and we want laws that penalize and punish them. By calling for the decriminalization of pimping, UN agencies are effectively helping the sex-industry and impeding our access to justice."

This was signed by 61 organizations representing the most vulnerable groups in South Asia and at the very minimum representing more than 150,00,00 people. 

3. We got a note from  UN Women saying they stood by the UNAIDS report:

"UN Women also supports the regulation of sex work in order to protect sex workers from abuse and violence."

4. We asked UN Women to clarify if they meant that regulation of sex work meant decriminalizing pimping and brothel keeping. If they did not agree with this recommendation of UNAIDS they should say so. We were told that we would get a meeting in August, 2013. It is March, 2014 and we have not heard anything. In the meantime, the Chair of the NCW in India says she wants to legalize prostitution by decriminalizing pimping and brothel keeping because that is a UN recommendation.

I have asked UN women to not to recognize JUST the rights of privileged and powerful women, but also of the weakest and last girls as they develop policies and decide budget allocations. I have said while they recognize the right of those with choices to be sex workers, they should recognize the absence of choices of hundred and thousands of prostituted women and girls.

I have also asked UN women not to create the dangerous precedent of creating policies through the backdoor, through notes and reports by independent experts and dilute agreed upon conventions and protocols by member states and civil society.

Ruchira Gupta

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