2.1 Sex workers
First, let us take you to Brussels. On 15 and 16 October 2005, 200 delegates from 28 countries around Europe gathered in Brussels to take part in an event to advocate sex workers rights. Over the two days, delegates took part in the European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration during which they discussed and worked on two documents, a Declaration on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe and the Sex Workers in Europe Manifesto. On the 17 October, they presented the Declaration and a set of Recommendations on sex work for policy makers in the European Parliament (EP), where they were invited by Monica Frassoni, an Italian MEP. The declaration was endorsed by the Italian MEP, Vittorio Agnoletto. The session at the EP was followed of by a manifestation in the streets of Brussels, where the delegates displayed red umbrellas which since then have become the symbol used at various marches to make visible sex workers’ presence and demands.
The declaration, the manifesto and the recommendations are the result of a six-month long consultation process among sex workers and allies across Europe. The process was set in place in order to gather information on what issues and concerns are the most pressing for sex workers. The declaration contains thirdly articles, it is structured in twelve different sections covering issues such as life, liberty and security, privacy and family life, freedom of movement, and work and working conditions, just to give a few examples. It is a unique document of this sort that works with existing formal rights in order to bring attention to the violations of sex workers rights. At the same time, it also functions as a legal tool that enables sex workers to claim rights to which they are entitled under existing United Nations, International Labour Organisation and EU treaties and conventions.
The manifesto is a slightly different type of document from the declaration. It formulates a series of demands for rights that exist in a restricted form or do not exist as yet in international law. In that sense, it represents a ‘utopian’ moment as it makes claims to the rights of freedom of movement, residency, and labour that are not ratified by EU states such as the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families. For example, under the heading ‘the right to travel, to migrate, and seek asylum’ the document states the following demand:
‘We demand that all people have the right to move within and between countries for personal and financial reason, including seeking gainful employment and residence in the area of their choice’.
Finally, the recommendations target the EU policy makers and suggest ways in which to promote major inclusion of sex workers in the society, reduce the stigma surrounding sex work, and make sex workers less vulnerable to labour exploitation or other forms of violence. Taken together, the declaration, the manifesto and the recommendations are interventions that make an important intellectual and political contribution to current debates on sex work, labour rights, and migration in Europe.
Please read the following excerpts from ‘Unexpected Citizens: Sex Work, Mobility, Europe’ by Rutvica Andrijasevic, Claudia Aradau, Jef Huysmans, and Vicki Squire.
The full text of the report is available.
Reflect on the following points and make notes.
- A collective subject is not already there. Individuals and groups have various interests and rights and are positioned differently in the society depending on their gender, race, class and nationality. These categories separate various groups and allocate them different rights. When individuals belonging to those groups practice those rights, they engage in active citizenship.
- As the excerpt above shows, there is another way of ‘doing’ citizenship. This is by challenging the existing social categories and the regimes of rights attached to those. To do so is an arduous political process of working on acknowledging and levelling differences between those groups in order to facilitate coming together on a new collective subject.
- This new collective subject does not fit into the existing categories of our dominant way of understanding citizenship as membership. It is comprised of people with different rights claiming the rights that they are entitled to but also the rights they are not entitled to because of being stigmatised as sex workers or discriminated as non-EU nationals. It is by giving life to this new collective subject and by claiming rights that exceed the institutionally allocated rights that they challenge the European citizenship regime and engage in activist citizenship.
Let us discuss some of these issues with Claudia Aradau.
Transcript: Interview with Claudia Aradau
The idea in this interview is to cover the main issue of the constitution of collective political subject as a process and as linked to/emerging out of social movements vs focus on individual in liberal democracies.
Often when we read about citizenship and rights, we understand them to be about the rights of the individual citizens. You, however, in your work on sex workers and their mobilisations that we read earlier stress the collective aspect of rights. Why is the collective aspect important?
There is a liberal idea of rights as that of those pertaining to an individual men who owns himself and property. This idea has been heavily criticised, however. Yet, rather than rejecting the idea of rights from the start, it is important, it seems to me, to see how rights are conquered in struggle. Rights are contested, claimed, challenged, verified, enacted, brought to life in many different ways. Collective mobilisation is often at the heart of the struggle of rights. You can see that clearly in demonstrations that invent new rights or claim rights that are not there. For instance, in October 2005, sex workers from 28 countries in Europe gathered in Brussels to claim their rights to mobility, work, and political participation. The collective aspect was extremely important, as the collective subject was carefully thought of to avoid it being dismissed as minoritarian or particular. Sex workers in Brussels did that by bringing together very different categories of people: migrants, regular and irregular, women and men, EU citizens and other citizens from different countries of Europe, sex workers themselves and activists. Their collective mobilisation could thus not be equated to a particular category and a particular interest, which could be dismissed as being destructive of another particular interest.
Is this process of coming together and mobilising important? Seems you are talking here about something that is more than plain socialising?
Mobilisation does emerge out of social relations, common experiences of invisibility and injustice. It draws on particular social relations, while being more than plain socialising. It may be useful to think about how social relations are also changing and in tension: on the one hand, you can have socialising based on belonging to a group, a closed-knit community, family and so on; on the other, modern capitalist societies entail other forms of sociality, which emerge out of interactions with strangers, often mediated by monetary exchanges. These are in tension and can trigger their own forms of injustice. But political mobilisation and the constitution of collective subjects as citizens implies that both are surpassed in a sense. Rights claims ultimately address anybody, not just a particular group. Coming together is also not about money-mediated exchanges but about solidarity-mediated exchanges. Political mobilisation needs the support of social relations but at the same time challenges it by addressing everybody: the rights that sex workers’ claim are not just for themselves, they are ultimately for everybody.
Does this mean then that the difference between citizens and non-citizens becomes irrelevant? Don’t you find this problematic when non-citizens in the EU are extremely vulnerable to repressive state measures such as detention and deportations and this all exactly because they are not-citizens?
This is not to deny that non-citizens experience many forms of injustice and that these injustices are more acute than those experienced by citizens. At the same time, this is an unstable distinction and a distinction which is not just external, but also internal to the very notion of citizenship. Let’s take the Roma in Europe for instance. The Roma from Eastern Europe are now European citizens. Nonetheless their rights as European citizens have been largely non-existent. Since 2004, Romanian Roma have been continually deported from EU states – Germany, France, Italy – even if this has been euphemistically called ‘voluntary repatriation’ and has passed more or less unnoticed for quite some time. Citizens can often be treated as non-citizens, while non-citizens can have citizen privileges (think for instance of the mobility of business people compared to that of other migrants, often coming from the same country). Political mobilisation makes visible these rather complex injustices and challenges them by reclaiming citizenship for those who are ultimately treated as non-citizens. In so doing, they do not only expand citizenship to include some particular categories, but they redefine what it means to be a citizen. In brief, this is not about who is and who isn’t a citizen, but about acting as if a citizen to contest given boundaries.