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Sex Workers' Rights

Sex WorkOn 11 August 2015 Amnesty International’s decision-making forum, the International Council Meeting (ICM), adopted a resolution to develop a policy that supports the full decriminalisation of all aspects of adult consensual sex work. The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.

Through this decision Amnesty has taken an important stance that has been commended by several sex work networks, including the African Sex Worker Alliance, which said: “Sex workers face unique challenges brought about by legislations, stigma and violence and with this vote, we hope that the human rights movement, regionally and globally, will advocate for the rights of sex workers, recognize sex work as work and oppose all forms of discrimination against them.”

The decision has also been met with criticism from groups who see sex work as a form of sexual exploitation targeting poor women and that it should therefore be kept illegal. Most significantly the Coalition Against Trafficking Women (CATW), which has a number of high profile celebrity supporters, responded with an open letter and an online petition strongly against the policy.

The blog post “Prostitution is a Human Right” Said Nobody Ever by Cheryl Overs & Ntokozo Yingwana from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), outlines the controversy around the adoption of the resolution and then presents a clear case as to why supporting decriminalisation of sex work is a good thing globally.

In the feed below is a selection of free key readings on sex work which look at a variety of issues, including how law, policy, and enforcement practices determine sex workers vulnerability to HIV and result in rights abuses. They also discuss the regulation of commercial sex, the rights of sex workers, and strategies for reducing sex workers vulnerability to HIV, exploitation and violence. It also includes a newly published map outlining the sex work laws across the world.

If you are very interested in this subject here are three essential readings that you can purchase

Photo credit: PJ Starr
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Map of Sex Work Law
Institute of Development Studies UK 2015
The interaction of law and poverty is a focus of the work on sex work of the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme of the Institute of Development Studies. As part of that work it has produced an online map of brief, accurate summaries...
Feminism, Power, and Sex Work In the Context of HIV/AIDS: Consequences For Women's Health.
A. Ahmed / Harvard Law School 2011
The recognition that women’s inequality may be a driver of women’s vulnerability to contracting HIV has led to a series of feminist legal responses in an effort to address HIV. One of the deepest fault lines between femini...
Can rights stop the wrongs? Exploring the connections between framings of sex workers’ rights and sexual and reproductive health.
C. Overs; K. Hawkins / BMC International Health and Human Rights 2011
There is growing interest in the ways in which legal and human rights issues related to sex work affect sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV and abuses including human trafficking and sexual exploitation. International agencies, su...
Towards a Legal Framework that Promotes and Protect Sex Workers’ Health.
C. Overs; B. Loff / Health and Human Rights 2013
Complex combinations of law, policy, and enforcement practices determine sex workers vulnerability to HIV and rights abuses. We identify “lack of recognition as a person before the law” as an important but undocumented bar...
Is Scale-Up of Community Mobilisation among Sex Workers Really Possible in Complex Urban Environments? The Case of Mumbai, India.
A. Kongelf / PLoS ONE 2015
In the last decade, community mobilisation (CM) interventions targeting female sex workers (FSWs) have been scaled-up in India’s national response to the HIV epidemic. This included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s ...
Sex Workers, Empowerment and Poverty Alleviation in Ethiopia
C. Overs / Institute of Development Studies UK 2014
This case study explores economic, legal and social issues that affect sex workers, with a particular focus on the role of poverty in sex workers' lives and the potential for poverty alleviation policies and programmes to help lift as...
Trafficking and the Conflation with Sex Work: Implications for HIV Control and Prevention
S. Shah / United Nations Development Programme 2012
The current dominant understanding of prostitution within some governments and within international organisations that provide policy guidance and recommendations to governments is based on the conceptual conflation of ‘human tr...