Over the May Long Weekend, we flew all the way to New York for the Left Forum Conference. We joined our friends from the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario. Charie Siddayo of PWC Ontario sat on one of the panels entitled, “Feminists against Prostitution as a tool for Imperialism”. Two other women of colour and an indigenous woman also sat on the panel and helped sharpen our analysis on today’s sex industry and how it is undoubtedly a product of colonialism, imperialism and war.
Taina Bien-Aimé of the Coalition Against Trafficking Women urged the medical community to examine the health impacts of prostitution on women’s bodies and minds.
Sarah of Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP) explained how prostitution promotes sexualized racism and is used to gain control. She pointed to Thailand, which uses sex tourism to fuel their economy today. AWCEP is in favour of a guaranteed livable income. This would allow for women experiencing financial hardships or domestic violence to have economic autonomy.
Charie Siddayo of PWC Ontario, illustrated how policies and state programs like, Canada’s Caregiver Program (previously known as the LCP), permits the exploitation and abuse of women in Canada. She pointed to our past research at PWC BC on mail order brides in 2000 and “Continuing Misery: Trafficking and prostitution of Filipinas” from 2003. She explained that the caregiver program fueled trafficking. The pressures and restrictions put on women to work under one employer and support their families back home, often enduring different forms of abuse, leads women to resort to illegal means such as prostitution to make ends meet.
She further explained the steps to move forward as revolutionaries
- abolish prostitution as a tool of imperialism
- understand the historical conditions that allow for prostitution
- look at how colonization, imperialism and militarization help sustain prostitution
- Socialism will not be successful if they view women’s oppression as tolerable or liberating.
Charie ended off with the quote of the weekend, “Women’s liberation is not negotiable.” Boom.
Nicole Matthews of Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition gave a very powerful presentation on her findings while interviewing 105 indigenous women. In the study, the women were asked about the impact of colonization on their lives, if their families had experienced boarding schools and also about how prostitution affected their lives.
- 90% of women interviewed were homeless or had been homeless
- 92% wanted to escape prostitution immediately
- 69% of women had a family member in boarding schools
Matthews explained that colonization, sustained poverty and the with holding of resources is something that continues to plague indigenous communities. She cites the Indian Child Welfare Act, which also breaks up families and is being challenged by many indigenous groups. Moreover, it is clear that trafficking increases where resources are being extracted.
Matthews explains that indigenous women are being blamed for their own victimization. She emphasizes the fact that the narratives of indigenous women must be put to the forefront when discussing all of these issues.
Overall, it was a very emotional and eye-opening panel. We appreciated each of the panelists for highlighting the historical conditions that allow for the continued oppression of women. We hope to continue our studies to understand this topic even further by listening to and amplifying the voices of women who have lived through prostitution and advocates that continue to speak out.