Sex work and Indigenous Women in Canada (part two)
I want to address a couple things about the Native Women’s Association of Canada. First of all, their position on this issue is to “end the prostitution of women and girls.” This implies that women and children are victims of sex work. There are two things wrong with this belief: the portrayal of women as victims and the inclusion of children in their conception of sex work.
The portrayal of women as victims of sex work takes away their agency. In other words, assuming that all women are victims, takes away their power and de-legitimizes their choices (because we all know better than the sex workers). It’s a very paternalistic approach, which is funny because feminism aims to dispel the paternalistic and patriarchal way women are treated in society. It plays into the whole narrative of women being voiceless, powerless victims who need saving, educating, and continued protection (or what I like to call control).
It also reeks of the sort of surveillance that neoliberal systems have over women. Women are under watch to make sure they are not engaging in morally objectionable behaviour. This strips women as their status as autonomous human beings. Believe it or not, viewing women as inherently victims of sex work strips them of their dignity. It is not the sex work itself which is undignified; it is the lack of respect for women’s choices and the labelling of their choices as degrading which is what takes away the dignity of sex workers.
I think it’s important to note their inclusion of girls in this goal. Sex work involves two consenting adults. Children cannot consent to sex and therefore cannot be considered sex workers. This is an issue entirely separate from sex work. This conflation is used to provoke a strong emotional response against sex work and to paint anyone who is in support of the decriminalization of sex work as a supporter of sexual violence against children.
Aside from these issues, the NWAC takes an interesting position: it opposes sex work but supports the decriminalization of sex workers. Though the members of the NWAC have the right intuition that sex workers should not be criminalized, their support for the decriminalization comes from the wrong understanding of sex work (since it is not the same as sex trade).
Furthermore, the NWAC considers Indigenous women to be victims of sex work since they are vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. This argument, by far, has the most validity to it. There are particular groups (such as Indigenous women) that may be more impoverished and therefore more inclined to enter into sex work; however, the root of this problem is the fact that Indigenous women are systemically in a position of poverty. In any case, sex work should not be considered such a horrible and degrading means to provide for oneself and one’s family. It should be considered a choice and it should be decriminalized and de-stigmatized so that people are not treated so poorly for making such a choice.