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Legalising prostitution is not the solution, says Gloria Steinem

Apr 03, 2012

Women sex workers in India are perhaps the most under-privileged and live a life subject to stigma and abuse. Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an NGO, called upon Gloria Steinem to share her views on a pertinent and rather thorny problem that India faces: Is legalising prostitution the solution?

Is legalizing prostitution the solution to the problem of sex trafficking ailing India and other countries worldwide?

“No,” feels, Gloria Steinem, an American feminist, journalist and social and political activist who became a leader of the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s in the USA. And why is that so? “The promises are not delivered. Places like Nevada, where prostitution has been legalised in 10 counties, have not seen the desired effect. In fact, it has only helped sex traffickers and pimps,” says Gloria.

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She was speaking at a press conference at the IWPC in New Delhi on Monday afternoon (April2) at the invitation of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an NGO preventing sex trafficking, on the occasion of its10th anniversary.

Sounding a note of hope, Gloria stressed that unlike the common view, prostitution is “not inevitable”. If there is a will and the right message is disseminated, this evil can be eradicated. She gave examples of some European areas where sex abuse and child slavery are atrocities unheard of. Further, she said, if the perception on smoking that was once considered “inevitable” and no one believed in its harmful effects, could be changed, so could the opinion on prostitution.

“Practices such as wife-beating, rape, monarchy and even smoking were all thought to be inevitable at one point of time. Sex trafficking is not inevitable,” she argued.

A prominent writer and political figure, Gloria has founded many organizations and projects and has been the recipient of many awards and honours. She has taken a public stance on her belief to not legalise prostitution.

On whether marriage can end the abuse of a woman’s body, Ruchira Gupta, founder and president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, said it normally does not happen as usually, the husband goes on to exploit her by becoming the pimp.

Endorsing her, Gloria said though girls in the USA are lured into the profession by showing them the movie, ‘Pretty Woman’, and giving them dreams of a better life, she said the film “is unrealistic.”

She attributed the instances of women who have been rescued  from brothels shunning rehabilitation and going back to prostitution as it is a more lucrative profession to “it being a misinformed choice” since in the long run, rehabilitation is a better option.

Terming corruption as the biggest obstacle in this fight in India, Gloria said the practice of government supervisors letting brothels flourish following payment of bribes must go.

She will visit Bihar and West Bengal to learn about the ground situation and be supportive of the cause.
Recalling her days as a 22-year-old student at Miranda House in 1956-57, Gloria talked about the influence of the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave on her and shaped her perspective and decisions that she made in life.

Later, she spoke on the topic “Feminist approach to combating sex trafficking and prostitution” at the Social Sciences Auditorium at JNU, New Delhi.

Gloria made a call for showing empathy towards women in prostitution. “Even minor changes in language affect the consciousness. We should be careful and speak of them as ‘prostituted women and children’ instead of labeling them as ‘prostitutes’. We can refer to them as people who have been trafficked or enslaved.”
 “But first we must learn to recognize slavery when we see it. Just as we didn't understand the prevalence of child abuse or sexual assault until we listened to people who had survived it and learned to recognize the patterns of slavery,” she added.

Full of optimism, Gloria concluded, “It is a tribute to the human spirit both among activists and prostituted women that groups like Apne Aap are perceiving these women not as objects of self-hatred and despair, but as self-willed human beings.”

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