By Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU
Day one of the UNCSW61 for me was March 20, 2017. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect of the parallel events. I looked through the Guide App and thought that I would attend the Women, Faith and Economic Opportunity event. I was expecting that I would need to challenge religious views in this session that contradict some basic human rights and I geared myself up for this debate. I was surprised and relieved to have a very different experience.
This session was hosted by the Carter Center (www.cartercenter.org) and had a passionate, knowledgeable set of panelists. One of the panelists was a woman from Georgia, USA that lobbied politicians, school boards and educated communities to put aside religious beliefs and provide factual sex education to the students. As you could imagine, this would have been a significant feat for this Republican state. See www.gcapp.org for more information.
Another panelist was a former District Attorney that created a human trafficking department after seeing so many survivors that have been bought, sold and victimized in sex trafficking situations. Most of the women and girls involved were racialized and mostly living below the poverty line. It was shared that it is important to prosecute those placing the women in these situations, however we need to move upstream into preventative action. Prostitution is not a choice, it is a lack of choices. It is being recommended that the Nordic model be accepted. This can also be referred to as the Equality Model or the Human Rights model. In this model, it treats the woman as the victim/survivor while it would prosecute the pimp/supplier. While other models were suggested and there were discussions regarding legalization of the sex trade industry as well, these were not at all supported by the panelists. The ability for the women to actually chose this profession is minuscule in comparison to the women forced into this with either little or no choice at all. The fact that labour groups and others are advocating that sex work is empowering, is well meaning however ideology does not help in these situations...solutions do. Poverty cannot be used as an excuse for women entering into the sex trade - poverty has always been there.
The third panelist spoke about 'freedom from fear' that women need to face in Nigeria. The majority of women are believers in a religion and the women do not want to act against religion. Women need to think beyond this and need to consider if they are actually doing anything wrong. Women need to become much more involved in the interpretation of the religious text in order to have influence on their culture. When is something Devine and when is something human interpretation? They are taught that everything is Devine. A quote that resonated with me was that "we have to begin where people are". This was in reference to bringing people along through education, that we cannot be too advanced with this that are farther behind. It was also pointed out that the laws are man-made and not female-made. The laws are at times there to only protect the men. We also need to educate men to perceive women differently. The discussion then turned to pornography. There wasn't much time left of the session, however it was stated that pornography is just prostitution with a camera and that this is another are that we need to tackle.
This was a very powerful session and it has easily caught my attention for all future events at the UNCSW 61.