woman at radio station (Photo: Jeroen van Loon)

Joint statement in response of UN Women's consultation seeking views on their approach to sex work, the sex trade and prostitution

This statement has been jointly prepared by 81 sex worker rights, women’s rights, and human rights organizations (list still in formation). We are writing this statement in response to UN Women’s call for submissions in an e-consultation about the development of a UN Women policy on sex work. A number of sex workers’, women’s and human rights organizations have been engaging with UN Women for some months about this proposed policy, stressing the importance of a process that meaningfully engages with a broad range of sex workers’ and women’s rights organizations as essential to the process of developing a policy. Rutgers is one of the organisations which endorses this statement.

Human rights

While UN Women has stated that they are engaging in an open process, we are alarmed at the possibility that the end result will not support the human rights of sex workers.*  For instance, the wording of question 3, to us, indicates an already established point of view.  They ask “The sex trade is gendered. How best can we protect women in the trade from harm, violence, stigma and discrimination?”  While we would certainly agree that sex workers of all genders face discrimination, harm, stigma and violence, we note that there is ample evidence that decriminalization of sex work is the best remedy to empower sex workers to advocate for their rights and to engage with state and non-state actors to secure their rights. It is imperative to clearly distinguish consensual sex work from human trafficking, as well as recognize that there are female, male and transgender sex workers.  

Decriminalisation of sex work

As a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, we urge UN Women to ensure that their policy aligns with the recommendations from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and the UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work which recommends:

“States should move away from criminalising sex work or activities associated with it. Decriminalisation of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work.” 

5 key recommendations

In the following statement, we focus on five key recommendations for UN Women to consider in their policy development process: (in short)

  1. Development of the policy through a transparent and participatory process, engaging a diverse range of sex workers from the global South and North.
  2. Anchored in human rights principles.
  3. Distinguishing between sex work and trafficking.
  4. The importance of decriminalization and removal of related punitive laws and policies.
  5. Addressing all forms of violence against all sex workers.

You can find the exact argumentation of each of these points and the list of organisations that have signed it in the joint statement.

*All signatories are listed at the end of the letter. Several of the signatories are networks that represent a number of other organizations, each of which did not sign individually but as part of the network. The Global Network of Sex Work Projects, for instance, has over 200 members. And the list is still growing.

Responses