Lifestyle

Amnesty International votes in favour of decriminalising sex work worldwide

The landmark decision could have a huge impact on how sex workers are treated.

By Prachi Gupta

Leading human rights organization Amnesty International has reached a historic decision, voting to recommend a policy that supports the global decriminalization of sex work. The resolution is an effort to protect sex workers' human rights, the group says.

"Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty in a statement. "Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International's future work on this important issue."

Those who support the resolution argue that it will create a safer environment for sex workers, who still struggle to be heard. "As long as sex work is criminalised – directly or indirectly through laws and practices targeting sex workers, clients, or third parties – sex workers will be at risk of police violence, arrests, rape, blackmail and deportations, and will be unable to report abuse committed by clients, third parties and members of the public," read a letter drafted by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe ahead of the vote. "By voting for this policy, Amnesty International will not side with exploiters and clients. On the contrary, Amnesty International will side with the universality of human rights and with sex workers, supporting us in our struggle to access justice and hold accountable those who abuse and attack us."

Other supporters include human rights and health groups like the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and Human Rights Watch.

But the action remains controversial, as not everyone agrees that decriminalising sex work will protect its workers. They fear, instead, that it will give more power to pimps and johns. Prominent feminists like Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep, and Gloria Steinem have argued against the proposal, as have some advocacy groups like the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and the European Women's Lobby. Former US President Jimmy Carter signed a letter saying, "We urge you to reject any proposal that does not hold buyers, pimps, and other exploiters for the harm they are doing to the sellers (who should not be criminalised)."

Shetty hinted at the controversy, saying the decision was reached after obtaining input from a variety of sources. "This is a historic day for Amnesty International. It was not a decision that was reached easily or quickly and we thank all our members from around the world, as well as all the many groups we consulted, for their important contribution to this debate," he explained. "They have helped us reach an important decision that will shape this area of our human rights work going forward."