My closing Women’s World report focuses on Norwegian feminists and their successful struggle to pass a law that penalizes the client in prostitution. This was a ‘hot topic’ at the conference as there were three different sessions dedicated to discussing the steps taken within Scandinavian countries to combat prostitution – therefore, I felt it warranted its own blog post.
I went into this session fully open to listening to experiences and work of these feminists; but in the interests of full disclosure, my own personal view falls in support of decriminalization of prostitution. I have blogged on this issue before, specifically looking at Iceland and the strip club ban.
The session which I attended was given by Ana and Ana from Ottar, a radical feminist group which uses direct action to achieve political gains. They have been very active in Norway for the past ten years working to further their agenda which includes abolishing prostitution and the sex industry. It’s also worth noting that their neighbours in Sweden share a similar philosophy as they’ve had laws in place penalizing the client in prostitution since 1999. Further, Iceland has passed legislation banning strip clubs.
As Ottar does not lobby politicians, it was very interesting to learn about some of the tactics they have employed to further their agenda. Some examples:
To draw public attention to the buyers of sex acts, they would have one feminist pose as a sex worker and while she was distracting the client in his car, another feminist would run up and with a stencil and spray paint onto the car “I pay for sex” (the media loved this tactic).
In another campaign they made posters with faces of prominent male politicians and in large letters wrote: “Does this man pay for sex?”, then at the bottom in smaller letters wrote: “probably not” (and then went on to describe their mission). The objective here was to bait politicians into getting angry and going to the media so then Ottar could have a platform to explain their agenda to Norwegians.
Ottar also blocked off roads leading to red light districts with huge banners which explained their agenda – a good way to get attention of both the media and the police (they were all arrested).
They also held demonstrations outside of strip clubs where women would dress up in skeleton suits holding signs which read: “Why go inside, we are baring it all out here?” They were actually successful in closing down one strip club by scaring the clients away.
Over time the result was that Ottar was able to form a grassroots movement which, in turn, put pressure on politicians. Ultimately it was in 2009 that their hard work paid off and Norwegian Parliament passed legislation criminalizing the buyers of sex acts – offenders faced either jail time or a steep fine. However, while there was a lot of celebrate for Ottar, the hard work wasn’t done. Currently they are organizing to push for legislation banning strip clubs in the country.
For me, leaving this session I was very inspired by the way in which Ottar was able to organize to affect change. However, my main criticism is that it appears there was little to no consideration of the impact of their agenda on sex workers. This came up in the Q&A session and the presenters said that very little has been done by the government to create exit strategies for sex workers. To me, this is extremely problematic as the state is cutting off the livelihood for these women without providing any kind of support.
For those who are interested in learning more about the work of Ottar, they have written a book entitled The Nordic Approach. I bought it at the conference and look forward to reading it, stay tuned for future blog posts.