By Sanah Malik
SWERF is an acronym standing for Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, a label for women who support mainstream feminism but oppose sex work, believing it is ultimately oppressive. They do not believe that any form of voluntary sex work should be included in the fight for equality, especially in employment or salary parity. This rabid exclusion of an entire class of people (which includes individuals of every gender) is usually a belief based on misplaced uptight morality. That “hoe”, “pimp”, “slut” is a human being with human rights that society has denied for long. The sheer disrespect we showcase when we refer to someone, and judge their profession is appalling to say the very least. The precarious conditions that surround their work are often deeply misunderstood or mischaracterized by governments and societies; they are shunned and their occupation is criminalized in multiple countries. We forget, that sex workers at times, happen to be illegal immigrants and refugees and thereby, find themselves in exceedingly vulnerable situations. From being unable to find places they can rent, or lending money to friends without the transactions being labeled “benefitting from sex work”, it is as if their whole lives revolve around what they do for a living. Therefore, they need Feminism as much as Feminism needs them.
Given the limited economic opportunities in certain places, the right to choose a profession must be free from prosecution, after all, sex-work is work. They must have the power to give consent, beyond everything, they are people, not objects. The limitations of law are the main triggers of the human rights violations faced by them. When the law criminalizes an activity, it forces people to operate underground where they not only risk their health but also their safety.
Consent is another factor to be considered. Sex work should be a voluntary exchange of money for sexual services so that the sex workers have agency and the ability to demand consent. Most people agree that the industry must be controlled by the labor laws of the territory. As feminists, we need to employ a more holistic approach to examining sex work, and ask why it is seen as "selling one's body" and not any other form of labor? If we can view all forms of sex work as legitimate, it will grant more rights to sex workers of all kinds, and afford them more power.
UN Women, in particular, stated in its “Note on sex work, sexual exploitation and trafficking“ 68 documents in 2013 that “[T)he issues of sex work, sexual exploitation, and trafficking are complex issues which have significant legal, social, and health consequences. Due to such complexity, it is important that we do not conflate these three issues which deserve to be considered in their own right. We cannot consider sex work the same way we consider trafficking or sexual exploitation which are human rights abuses and crimes.“ Furthermore, the document stresses that the conflation of sex work and trafficking has the potential to undermine sex workers' right to health and self-determination and can impede efforts to prevent and prosecute trafficking.
Feminists need to listen to and amplify the voices of sex workers so that they can work as potential partners in policymaking and discussions about their circumstances. After all, why must sex be immoral if paid when it is perfectly legal if done for free? - Gloria Allred
I. B. P., 2 (2016, March). Feminism needs sex workers, sex workers need feminism: towards a sex-worker inclusive women’s rights movement. https://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/Feminism%20Needs%20Sex%20Workers%2C%20Sex%20Workers%20Need%20Feminism%2C%20ICRSE%20-%202016.pdf.