How Germany fought human trafficking by empowering sex workers [#quickhit: link]

Whether you think such sexual transactions are a good thing or a bad thing, the fact remains that criminalization makes things more expensive. And price drives pimps to find new ways to satisfy demand. Prices matter for trafficking because it costs a lot to kidnap someone and hold them against their will.

Legalising sex work and protecting workers seems to be a solid argument. It does nothing to diminish the buying of a woman’s body for cash, and all of the patriarchal misogynistic trappings that go along with that, but it might protect women. As such, it becomes a battle between principles and practicality.

On the last day of my recent trip to Germany, I’d wanted to check out Deutschland’s brothels. The focus of my writing on sex work has been U.S.-centric thus far. So I wanted to speak to someone participating in sex work in a country where it’s legal. I was running out of time and euros, but it just so happened that the quickest route to my hotel after drinks with locals included an area known for its ladies of the night.

As we walked down a hookah-bar-lined street, the sex workers looked more empowered than any I’ve seen stateside. Tall and healthy-looking, with thick hair and thin waists, beautiful corsets shaping hourglasses, they certainly didn’t look oppressed—except perhaps by four-inch platform Lucite heels. (Those oppress any wearer.)

On our walk I learned that Germany’s decision to legalize prostitution not only helped sex workers, but actually decreased the number of human trafficking victims in the country. But on our stroll, one of my companions told me that German feminists are trying to recriminalize sex work. This is a mistake, she argued. Legalization has improved sex workers’ lives.

Turns out, she was right. According to the data, violence against sex workers is down, while sex workers’ quality of life is up. And after testing began, post-legalization, researchers discovered no difference in sexually transmitted infection rates between sex workers and the general population.

Opponents claim legalizing prostitution has actually increased human trafficking in the country. But the data don’t support that claim. In fact, they show the opposite. From 2001, the year the law legalizing sex work in Germany was passed, to 2011, cases of sex-based human trafficking shrank by 10 percent.

On The Freeman, Foundation for Economic Education.

Does Feminism Have a Class Problem?

Below is a the first piece on a new blog on the Nation – The Curve – where feminists discuss economics (or economics are discussed through a feminist lens). Feminism’s class problem is a good place to start.

On the Curve (The Nation): Whatever you think of Sheryl Sandberg, her chirpy self-help book Lean In achieved at least one very important objective: it exposed the deep class divide within American feminism. Sandberg, the centimillionaire Facebook executive, wrote a book arguing that individual empowerment was the way forward for the women’s movement and ignited a raging debate among feminists. Sandberg’s frank acknowledgement that her message was pitched to professional elites rather than the masses, her enthusiasm for capitalism and her advocacy of a depoliticized strategy that focused on self-improvement rather collective action troubled many feminists on the left. If feminism is defined down as the right of elite women to enjoy equality with men of their class, is that really feminism—which at least in theory advocates the liberation of all women—in any meaningful sense?

Of course, Sandberg’s rationale was that if more women advanced into leadership positions, all women would gain. But there is little reason to have faith that Sandberg-style “trickle-down” feminism will benefit the masses any more than its economic equivalent has.

Rest: Does Feminism Have a Class Problem?

‘I Can Barely Afford My Children’s Shoes:’ My Life As A McDonald’s Worker

 “Each payday I choose, do I pay the light bill or do I pay the gas bill?” said Melinda Topel, a McDonald’s worker for 10 years in various cities. “Do I pay all of my rent or do I pay some of the rent and some for the lights? Do I pay a utility or do I buy food?”

Topel has to face difficult decisions like these on a daily basis. But she isn’t alone. She’s one of about four million fast-food employees nationwide struggling to survive on low-wage work. While fast-food corporations rake in billions each year, workers are paid the minimum wage or slightly above it. In turn, workers like Topel not only struggle with bills, but have to rely on public assistance. And like most fast-food workers, although she works full-time, Topel doesn’t receive any kind of benefits or paid sick days.

That’s why Topel and other fast-food workers across the country are fighting for a $15 per hour wage and a union.

“We deserve to go to work everyday and pay our bills like everyone else,” she said. “And our kids deserve new shoes or school supplies.… The CEOs of these multi-billion-dollar companies are putting the profits in their pockets — and we made them those profits… and it shouldn’t be like that.”

On Alternet.

“Class distinctions do not die; they merely learn new ways of expressing themselves.” This is as true now as it was 25 years ago, and 25 years before that. “Each decade,” he continued, “we shiftily declare we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty.” Compare this with “We’re all middle class now” except we’re not; or “Playing by the rules” which are made by, and change at the whims of, the most privileged; or “We’re all in this together” unless you’re a scrounger.

From Richard Hoggart’s introduction to introduction to George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier.

On The Guardian.

Porque Yo Decido: Spain’s war on abortion is not about morality – it’s about austerity

photo 466343451_zps6dfd333e.jpg

Porque Yo Decido. Because I decide. That was the title of a manifesto handed to the Spanish government on 1 February on behalf of the millions of men and women across the country who oppose the conservative People’s Party’s push to ban abortion. “Because it’s my choice,” reads the manifesto. “I am free, and I live in a democracy, I demand from the government, any government, that it make laws that promote moral autonomy, preserve freedom of conscience, and guarantee plurality and diversity.”

In late December, the People’s Party (PP) government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, approved a bill that will make abortion illegal in all but the most extreme medical circumstances and in cases of rape. “That was when the explosion of resistance happened,” says feminist activist Cristina Lestegas Perez. “Since then, there have been hundreds of street protests, debates, demonstrations, parades, conferences, seminars, exhibitions and performances all over the Spanish states and overseas.”

Under the Franco regime, abortion was illegal in Spain. In 1985, laws were passed permitting termination of pregnancy in very limited cases, but so many Spanish women were travelling to Britain to have abortions that dedicated flights had to be chartered. In 2010, the law was finally liberalised by the then socialist government to permit abortion up to the fourteenth week of pregnancy. [Rest.]

Photo: A placard reading “A mother by choice” at a pro-choice protest in Spain. Getty

Porque Yo Decido: Spain’s war on abortion is not about morality – it’s about austerity

“Hunger Through My Lens” (picturing hunger through art)

Hunger Through My Lens(picturing hunger through art)

“After I lost my job, grocery shopping became extremely stressful. Even just the act of making the shopping list caused stress, knowing I wouldn’t be able to afford many of the items on the list. One morning, I saw that my nephew had written ‘I love you’ on my grocery list, and just that small notation made me feel so much better.” [Rest.]

Sunday feminist roundup (16th February 2014)

This week.

- Catholic dominance over hospitals endangers women (feministe)

- Teenage feminism – coming to a blog near you (The F Word)

- On SWERFs, TERFs and good girls (glosswitch)

- A Letter to My Son about Porn (Everyday Feminism)

- Sexual Identity and “Nigerian Culture” (The Feminist Wire)

- Oppression against women is much more nasty, brutal and barbaric (No Country for Old Women)

And the best of the quickhits this week:


Gender inequality is costing the global economy trillions of dollars a year


According to a recent UN report, the progress made in the past 20 years towards reducing global poverty is at risk of being reversed because of a failure to combat widening inequality and strengthen women’s rights. The UN’s ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report, has found that the number of people living in developing countries has more than halved from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010, but argues that many of the 1 billion people living in the 50-60 poorest countries will be left behind as the rest of the world gets richer.

Around the world, different groups are marginalised and discriminated against, but discrimination against women is universal. It’s a shocking thought that in 2014, there is no country in the world where women have equal economic and political power to men. As well as holding back billions of women from achieving their full potential, and asserting their right to live full, healthy lives, this is having an impact on the global economy too. Is, as the UN suggests, the reason for global wealth creation shifting from the West to fast-growing Eastern economies in part due to women’s increased economic participation? Most certainly. [Rest.]

(Image: Getty.)

Gender inequality is costing the global economy trillions of dollars a year

How Can We Help Men? By Helping Women

Feminism, there. Not just for the wimmin. From the NYTimes:

THIS week Maria Shriver brings together a star-studded cast of celebrities, from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Beyoncé, to call attention to the economic plight of American women and demand that women’s needs be put “at the center of policy making.”

But is this really the time to focus on women? For nearly four decades, feminists have decried “the feminization of poverty.” However, since the 1980s there has been a defeminization of poverty, as a growing proportion of men have fallen on hard times. In recent years men have experienced especially significant losses in income and job security.

Although women are still more likely to be poor than men, on average women’s income and labor-force participation have been rising since the 1970s. By contrast, between 1970 and 2010 the median earnings of men fell by 19 percent, and those of men with just a high school diploma by a stunning 41 percent. And while women have regained all the jobs they lost during the recession, men have regained just 75 percent.

Since about 1980 the percentage of men and women in middle-skill jobs has declined. But for women, nearly all of that decline was because of increased representation in higher-skill jobs. Women’s employment in low-skill jobs increased by just 1 percent. By contrast, for men, half the decline in middle-skill jobs was a result of increases in low-skill jobs.

The most urgent issue facing working Americans today is not the glass ceiling. It is the sinking floor. So wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on gender-neutral economic policies?

Actually, it wouldn’t, because “gender-neutral” work practices and social policies were traditionally based on a masculine model. Employers assumed that there was no need to accommodate caregiving obligations because the “normal” worker had a wife to do that. Policy makers assumed there was no need for universal programs such as family allowances and public child care because the “normal” woman had a husband to support her and her children. Accordingly, most social benefits, such as Social Security and unemployment insurance, were tied to prior participation in the labor market. Welfare was a stigmatized and stingy backup for misfits who were not in a male-breadwinner family. [Rest.]

McDonalds Tells Workers To Budget; Price Charles dodging tax (click for larger)

McDonalds Tells Workers To Budget By Getting A Second Job And Turning Off Their Heat:

McDonalds has partnered with Visa to launch a website to help its low-wage workers making an average $8.25 an hour to budget. But while the site is clearly meant to illustrate that McDonalds workers should be able to live on their meager wages, it actually underscores exactly how hard it is for a low-paid fast food worker to get by. The site includes a sample”‘budget journal” for McDonalds’ employees that offers a laughably inaccurate view of what it’s like to budget on a minimum wage job. Not only does the budget leave a spot open for “second job,” it also gives wholly unreasonable estimates for employees’ costs: $20 a month for health care, $0 for heating, and $600 a month for rent. It does not include any budgeted money for food or clothing. [Rest,thinkprogress.]

Prince Charles ‘dodging tax just like Starbucks’:

Prince Charles pays less tax than staff who work at his Duchy estate, MPs have said. The Prince of Wales pays just 24 per cent of his earnings in tax. But the people who work for him have to pay VAT, alcohol and fuel duty as well as income tax, meaning an estimated 38 per cent of their income goes to the taxman.

Last year the royal earned £19million from the Duchy of Cornwall estate, which is valued at £762million. MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said: ‘The estate has all the features of a corporation. How can you then say it is not a corporation? I genuinely don’t understand it.’ [Rest, metro.]

What does the Spending Review mean for women?

Chancellor George Osborne this week announced government spending plans for 2015-16. Plans included:

- A 10 per cent cut to the Department for Communities and Local Government budget; this means councils – already struggling with reduced budgets – will likely cut more of their services. Those that are not ‘ring fenced’ will be worse affected – this includes Sure Start Children’s Centres and support services for victims of sexual and domestic violence;

- A further 144 000 public sector job losses – women make up the bulk of the public sector workforce so are disproportionately affected by cuts to this sector; more job losses will likely increase the already 25 year high in women’s unemployment;

- A new ‘cap’ on welfare spending – this will necessarily hit women harder as welfare payments typically make up around fifth – so 20 per cent – of average women’s incomes, as opposed to a tenth of men’s;

- New investment in infrastructure projects – while this is welcome, we are concerned the government is focussing largely on those industries where men dominate the workforce; more must be done to support women into these fields. Our research has shown that of the ‘new’ jobs created in the private sector in recent years, 2 in 3 of them have gone to men – despite the record number of women out of work.

More on the Fawcett Society.

Half a million Britons using food banks

Never here, they said. On commentisfree:

Let no one say we didn’t see it coming. Half a million people are now accustomed to using food banks, and according to a report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty, the UK is now facing “destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale”. Whether this news will achieve the impact it deserves is currently unclear: it doesn’t quite feel like it, which only underlines how inured the media seems to have become to rising poverty, and how easily the government seems to be getting off the hook. Yet the facts are obvious enough: “Food aid” is something firmly built into our national life, the supposed safety net of social security is getting more threadbare by the month – and the question demands to be asked, not for reasons of melodrama, but hard political fact: what kind of country is Britain becoming?

According the Trussell Trust, the UK’s single biggest organiser of food banks, in 2011-12, the number of people who received at least three days’ emergency food was around 130,000. Their own informational material says that in 2012-13, “food banks fed 346,992 people nationwide”, and of those who received help, “126,889 were children”. Now comes this latest report, and the skyrocketing numbers speak for themselves – as does the mess of factors behind them, and the responsibility of the coalition for pushing up the demand – no, need – for food banks so drastically. While we’re here, it may also be worth cutting through the kind of officialspeak used to deal with such things: even the term “food bank” occasionally seems designed to obscure what’s actually afoot, which is simple enough. So, let’s not mess about: a skyrocketing number of people simply cannot afford to eat, and they have been put in that predicament thanks to deliberate government policy. [Rest.]

Ireland: Vulnerable in care still being failed by State, reports show

On safeworldcommunity:

Serious problems around the care of vulnerable children in care still exist, according to reports released today. The latest inspection reports into the foster care system by the Health Information Quality Authority come despite countless claims that addressing the issue is a Government priority. Documents released this afternoon by the independent watchdog show that, despite the highest levels of Government promising to re-double efforts to tackle the crisis after previous scandals were revealed, serious problems still remain. And while funding and under-staffing are considered the central issues, the ultimate result is some vulnerable children and teens are being needlessly put at risk when it comes to their care. The latest HIQA reports, which focus on the Dun Laoghaire and Waterford/Wexford areas, show:

- One in three children in foster care in Dun Laoghaire have no allocated social worker

- No formal review system for foster care placements exists in Dun Laoghaire or Waterford/Wexford, meaning dangerous incidents and check-ups on inappropriate foster care parents could slip under the radar

- No special foster care placements for children and teens with more complex care needs – including violence, mental health issues and serious social disorders – exist in Dun Laoghaire. In Waterford/Wexford, just one such placement exists. This means children and teens with these serious problems are placed with foster parents who do not have the expertise to look after them, resulting in numerous placement breakdowns

- No after-care service for teens who have left the foster care system due to their age – key to safeguarding teens at a vulnerable time in their life – is available in Waterford/Wexford. [Rest.]

American Fascism: Ralph Nader Decries How Big Business Has Taken Control of the U.S. Government

Democracy Now:

Describing the United States as an “advanced Third World country,” longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader calls for a new mass movement to challenge the power corporations have in Washington. “It is not too extreme to call our system of government now ‘American fascism.’ It’s the control of government by big business, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined in 1938 as fascism,” Nader says. “We have the lowest minimum wage in the Western world. We have the greatest amount of consumer debt. We have the highest child poverty, the highest adult poverty, huge underemployment, a crumbling public works — but huge multi-billionaires and hugely profitable corporations. I say to the American people: What’s your breaking point? When are you going to stop making excuses for yourself? When are you going to stop exaggerating these powers when you know you have the power in this country if you organize it?” Nader has just published a new book, “Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns.” [Rest.]

Child poverty costs UK £29 billion a year (research)


The high levels of child poverty in the UK are currently costing the country at least £29 billion a year – or £1,098 per household – according to new research released today by Donald Hirsch of Loughborough University (updating his 2008 study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

The estimate includes the costs of policy interventions required in childhood to correct for the effects of poverty, as well as the longer term losses to the economy which result from poor children’s reduced productivity, lower educational attainment and poorer physical and mental health.

The research, conducted by Donald Hirsch, Director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, estimates the current cost of child poverty to be £29 billion a year. The drivers of the costs are:

  • £15 billion spent on services to deal with consequences of child poverty (e.g. social services, criminal justice, extra educational support)
  • £3½ billion lost in tax receipts from people earning less as a result of leaving school with low skills, which is linked to having grown up in poverty
  • £2 billion spent on benefits for people spending more time out of work as a result of having grown up in poverty
  • £8½ billion lost to individuals in net earnings (after paying tax)

The research also shows that if child poverty rises by a quarter from its current level, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has recently projected may happen by 2020 as a direct result of the government tax and benefit decisions, the cost to the country would increase to at least £35 billion every year. [Rest.]

The Capitalist-Patriarchy Hurts Men Too Shocker

I know this comes as a surprise to some but the capitalist-patriarchy hurts men too. It certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to feminists; after all, when feminists talk about liberating women, we aren’t advocating the mass murder of men. Feminists are advocating the full liberation of women from the oppressive structures of the capitalist-patriarchy. We know it is more harmful to women and children. We know women are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence , rape , sexual violence and murder by men. According to Women Under Siege, women are disproportionately targeted in war zones and frequently gang-raped to punish men. Fawcett Society research demonstrates that women are far more likely to live in poverty than men and are less likely to access education and healthcare. The capitalist-patriarchy and its construction of a racist, homophobic, disablist hyper-masculinity hurts men too. Hyper-masculinity is damaging and destructive. It assumes that men are predisposed to violence; that men are nothing more than violent sexual predators incapable of self-control and empathy. The capitalist-patriarchy states that men are inherently violent and that nothing will ever change that.

We are now raising a generation of boys to believe that being a man requires violence: violence against women and children and violence against other men. But, men aren’t inherently violent. It is our culture that claims that “real men” must be violent. It is the capitalist-patriarchy that assumes that all men are too stupid to understand the concept of consent and are, therefore, biologically programmed to be rapists. We teach young boys that girls don’t mean no when they say no. We teach our daughters that boys who pull their hair when they are five do so because “they like them”. We teach our sons that being violent is the best way to tell someone they love them. We let our sons learn about sex from violent pornography. We are teaching our sons that football is more important than a young girls bodily integrity. [Rest, huffingtonpost.]

Recession is a good time to exploit cheap labour, says Cameron aide

Lord Young says low-wage conditions are a bonus for business.

From here, Observer.

The prime minister’s adviser on enterprise has told the cabinet that the economic downturn is an excellent time for new businesses to boost profits and grow because labour is cheap, the Observer can reveal.

Lord Young, a cabinet minister under the late Baroness Thatcher, who is the only aide with his own office in Downing Street, told ministers that the low wage levels in a recession made larger financial returns easier to achieve. His comments are contained in a report to be published this week, on which the cabinet was briefed last Tuesday.

Young, who has already been forced to resign from his position once before for downplaying the impact of the recession on people, writes: “The rise in the number of businesses in recent years shows that a recession can be an excellent time to start a business.

“Competitors who fall by the wayside enable well-run firms to expand and increase market share. Factors of production such as premises and labour can be cheaper and higher quality, meaning that return on investment can be greater.” [Rest, Observer.]

The coalition's Dickensian welfare cuts are terrorising the poor

It’s a sad fact of life in 2013 that ministers either don’t know about the devastating impact of their welfare cuts or just don’t care.

On the newstatesman.


Far from conquering poverty and making it pay to work, as ministers cosseted away in the Westminster bubble constantly profess, their policies are having the reverse effect. Since Parliament returned after the new year, every week has seen yet more bad news for those who live with a Sword of Damocles hanging over them. Ironically, these reforms are hitting those in work and on low pay the hardest, including 6,200 people in Neath who rely on benefits to top up their meagre incomes, but are now having their tax credits removed.The coalition’s Dickensian welfare cuts are terrorising the poor

Government suggestions that they shore up their income by taking on more hours simply ignore local reality. Many part-time workers will be competing with the thousands more that are unemployed in the Neath labour market, where as many as six people have been chasing every vacancy.

Under-employment is also a growing trend. In 2005-2008 (pre-recession) there were, on average, 86,000 underemployed workers in Wales, a fairly average underemployment rate of 6.5 per cent of the working age population. But in the last three years, 2009-2012, there were an average of 134,000 underemployed workers in Wales, an underemployment rate of 10.3 per cent – nearly half as much again as the standard rate – an increase of 48,000. That’s one in ten Welsh workers being thwarted from working as much as they wish – often thwarted from bringing themselves above the benefits threshold. There simply are no extra hours in the south Wales economy for people to work the fuller week they want to.

Furthermore, how are they supposed to compete in an already saturated labour market against hundreds of youngsters between the ages of 16 and 24 who every week are demoralised by being rejected as both “over qualified and under experienced”? [Rest.]