Network of Sex Work Projects
European Symposium on Health and the Sex Industry
Edinburgh 1994

Systematic violation of the human rights of women who work in the sex
industry is global and endemic. In it's most potent form this means
imprisonment, torture and murder. At the other end of the scale are the
liberal countries where prostitution is tolerated or legalised. But even in
those countries sex workers do not have the same rights as other workers.

The persecution of sex workers is inexorably linked with the idea that sexual
services should not be sold. Churches, and other conservative institutions,
who have always held this view have been joined in recent years by feminists
who argue that prostitution should be abolished because it is inherently
exploitative. Sex workers are seen as victims who are 'forced' into
prostitution either by violent coercion or economic circumstances.

To sustain these ideas involves dismissing the voices of prostitutes, or
listening only to those whose experience and perceptions fit the idea that
commercial sex is abusive.
Conferences, no matter how well intentioned, cannot secure human rights for
sex workers. What they can do is ensure that sex workers are heard. It is
essential that prostitution issues are programmed in consultation with
prostitutes and that prostitutes are heard at the conference.

These principles apply with ease to other groups. It would be unthinkable to
hold a conference on racism without black people, or on disability rights
without disabled people or on sexual orientation without gay men and
lesbians. To organise a conference in such a way would be regarded as a
violation of human rights in itself because self determination - the right to
speak for yourself - is a fundamental human right.

It is a shameful aspect of the modern women's movement that the oppression
of prostitutes has effectively been assisted by the exclusion of sex workers
from important policy making areas. The sex workers rights movement in
developed countries has made some progress in the struggle to be heard and
sex workers from developing countries are beginning to speak out also. (A
delegation of 10 sex workers from developing countries attended the
international AIDS Conference this August and were able for the first time to
challenge what was being said about them)

We are therefore asking for formal support in requesting that the 4th
international Conference on Women in September 1995 ensure the following
1 That sex work issues are included in the program
2 That sex workers' organisations in developed and developing countries are
consulted about the program
3 That the conference takes steps to ensure the participation of sex workers
by a) providing appropriate resources and, b) ensuring that sex workers are
able to enter China

The Network of Sex Work Projects is an international NGO which facilitates
information sharing between projects working with and for sex workers and
advocates for the advancement of the rights of sex workers.

Cheryl Overs
21a Torphicen St.
Edinburgh EH3 8HX
United Kingdom
Network of Sexwork Projects is supported by: Commission of the European
Communities,WHO Regional Office for Europe, Global Programme On AIDS