[Brussels, 14 August 2019] This is an article by the Plataforma Portuguesa para os Direitos das Mulheres-Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, EWL’s National Coordination in Portugal, about the training they organised for young abolitionists in July 2019. You can read more about EWL’s work on the abolition of prostitution here.
In July 2019, the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights organised a training for young abolitionists, the first training in Portugal in which young people with a similar mindset about the system of prostitution were able to come together, discuss and exchange ideas. With renowned international trainers Pierrette Pape (Isala / Generation Abolition) and Grégoire Théry (CAP International), the bilingual sessions were focused on a diversity of topics related to feminism, sexual exploitation, activism and youth.
Participants heard from frontline NGOs, researchers, feminist activists – including from Oline Rustad of the Girl’s Front of Norway - and artists about the pervasive narratives that aim to whitewash the system of prostitution and how to counter and deconstruct them. The interconnected relations between neoliberalism, commodification of women’s bodies, globalisation and the sex industry were intensely debated and young women and young men were able to express how such concepts influence the lives and sexuality of young people. During the entire training, the exhibition #RiseUpAgainstOppression by theEuropean Network of Migrant Women, was also present, to establish a connection between the system of prostitution and its predatory abuse of migrant women and girls.
After the training, participants were determined to create a young feminist activist group against the system of prostitution and for the implementation of the Equality Model in Portugal. It was clear that by providing a voice to young people and showing them the tools and strategies employed by abolitionists in other countries, young people were empowered to self-organise and take action. The visibility of young people against the system of prostitution is of the utmost importance in Portugal, a country in which youth sections of major political parties have become some of the most vocal supporters of either legalisation or full decriminalisation.
The Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights is one of the most vocal women’s organisation calling for exit services for women in prostitution and the criminalisation of sex buyers and has successfully deterred attempts at legalisation of the system of prostitution in past. Along with the Women’s Front of Norway and 11 Portuguese abolitionist organisations, the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights is developing the project EXIT – Human Rights of women not to be prostituted, a pioneer initiative which involves the advocacy campaign #ExitProstitution; youth engagement for behaviour modification and a nation-wide investigation about women in prostitution and exit services. The objectives of this project are the following:
Understand how the system of prostitution is organised in Portugal, what leads women to prostitution, what kind of services they require to exit and what is their exposure to violence and other kinds of vulnerability (economic, social, physical, sexual, psychological, health, etc.) and contribute to the promotion of exit strategies and support services to women in prostitution;
Raise awareness and train young people about the violence of the system of prostitution and the benefits of the Equality Model regarding the protection of women in prostitution and equality between women and men, girls and boys;
Inform the general population about the Equality or Nordic Model.
It was clear from the start that youth engagement would have to play a large role in raising awareness of the harms of the system of prostitution. That is why, for the next two years, the young participants of the training will be responsible for organising awareness-raising sessions for other young people about the system of prostitution and its negative effects on equality between women and men. Each young person will act as a multiplier, influencing those around her or him and questioning pre-conceived ideas about choice and sexual liberation. After the training, many participants were already eager to share what they had learned with their peers, and the possibility of meeting other young people with the same views had clearly strengthen their position and resolve.
We are now at a tipping point. The Equality Model is increasingly being adopted by various countries, but the sex industry seems more ubiquitous than ever. We need to come together and unite across borders and generations to defend the human rights of women not to be prostituted by men. In Portugal, we hope that this training has been the first step to create a new generation of young people fully committed to the abolition of the system of prostitution.