Sex work and Indigenous Women in Canada (part one)
So, in Canada there is quite the debate about the relationship between sex work and Indigenous women. In this video, Cherry Smiley and Fay Blaney read the Indigenous Women’s Declaration Against Prostitution, which was created and read out during the International Women’s World Conference in July, 2011.
I want to briefly outline three of their arguments and explain what I think is wrong with them.
1. “Our analysis of prostitution as a form of violence against women and as a system of colonialism is… based on our life experiences, on the life experiences of our mothers, our sisters, and all our relations. It is based on theory and knowledge constructed collectively by Indigenous women.”
In one of my earlier posts, I countered the Radical feminist argument that sex work is a form of violence against women by proposing that they are reinforcing the degradation of women with this belief. In short, they conceive of sex work as being degrading for the same reasons that the oppressors do; they argue that men are the oppressors and that women are the oppressed, while adopting the same oppressive view of women that the oppressors do – that prostitutes are vulnerable, submissive, low-class, and inferior.
2. “We demand a return to our traditional values that place women and girls at high esteem.”
This argument does not necessarily contradict the decriminalization of sex work. Sex workers and supporters of sex work want women to be respected and treated with high esteem and dignity. No one wants to engage in any sort of employment which subordinates and humiliates oneself. In a society which respects and values women, sex work would not be as dangerous and degrading; in fact, it might be seen as an incredibly attractive employment opportunity. I would love to live in a society in which sex workers were treated like royalty for providing such an important service and care work for its population.
3. Sex work “encourages the racist and deadly male access to the bodies of women and girls, with Indigenous women and girls being disproportionally targeted.”
In my next post, I address the continuous referral to “girls” in arguments against sex work. For now, I want to address the argument concerning the relationship between racism and sex work. There is no denying that Indigenous women are disproportionately represented in prison populations. “Current estimates state that Aboriginal people make up more than 20% of the total prison inmate population across Canada, which is a full ten times more than the general population.” Though there are less conclusive numbers on the amount of Indigenous women working as sex workers, I’m willing to assume similar statistics.
However, wouldn’t this mean we should focus on addressing issues of racism, racial profiling, and the overall respect which is given to Indigenous women? This seems to be at the heart of this issue, as well as many others. Indigenous women suffer “double discrimination” because of the intersections of racism and the stigma against female sex workers. However, neither of these issues are inherently a problem with sex work. As I have argued before, it is the negative external influences and societal attitudes which shape the harms of sex work. If you remove the racism and stigma against sex workers, and empower sex workers through decriminalization, sex work will not be as harmful to Indigenous women.