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Sex Workers in Brazil, Essay Example

Pages: 11

Words: 2889

Essay

Introduction

For a long period of time, the sex sector has a lobbied governments and international bodies for recognition and acceptance of sex work as a legitimate profession but with little success. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has emerged as a leading voice championing for the economic and legal recognition of sex sector. In a controversial 1998 report, the ILO called for the official economic recognition of the sex industry citing its drastic growth rates and significant contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) of emerging economies[1]. The recognition that it advocates for include “improving working conditions in the sector” and “extending the taxation net to cover most of the lucrative activities connected with it”. The findings of a 2017 ILO report echo similar sentiments of economic determinism of the sex sector[2]. The sex work sector is responsible for 2 to 14 percent of the GDP of the four countries that were part of the research project.  Thailand, for instance, generates more than $6.4 billion in 2015 from its sex sector, which accounts for 10 percent of its GDP[3]. The International Labor Organization estimates that the average sex worker supports 5-8 other dependents with their income. Besides, it argues that the sex industry also creates employment opportunities for other related industries such as cleaning, security, hospitality, and transport services.

Background and Context

Besides advocating for the economic recognition of the sex sector, the International Labor Organization is also pushing for the legalization of sex work. It realizes that the economic recognition and sustainable growth of the sector cannot occur in the absence of legal acceptance. This is a fundamental change in its approach to sex work, it has never advocated for the legalization of sex work before. However, there are several stumbling blocks in the struggle for decriminalization for sex work across the globe. Despite the recognition of sex work in certain national contexts, the concept still remains in “limbo in international labor law.” (Garcia 2018, p.90) [4] An international labor standard that grants sex workers equal rights as other workers till remain elusive. Part of the reason for this is the deep-rooted sociocultural attitudes towards commercial sex. In the absence of legalization, sex workers cannot access the civil, labor rights, and social protections which are all professional workers are entitled to [5]. Besides, it deprives the sex workers of the protection of the national labor laws, which exposes them to exploitation. Within the informal sector, sex workers have no option but to accept harsh working condition[6].

Since 2012, the sex work has been recognized as legal profession in Brazil.  However, it is considered illegal to run brothels or recruit sex workers in an organization. The criminalization of such establishments is a contradiction since most sex workers lack the resources for autonomous operations. Even though brothels are illegal, they are common throughout the major cities in Brazil. For example, Rio de Janeiro has more than 300 brothels. The legal contradiction has left the sex workers in these places vulnerable to all kinds of abuse, corruption, crime, and violence. The brothels are an important source of income for corrupt politicians, police officers, and even militia gangs. Brazil has been in the international spotlight due to its human rights problem concerning child sex trafficking. It is considered the second leading nation in the world in terms of child sex trafficking with an estimated half a million kids living as child prostitutes. According to most NGO’s, the law enforcement has taken advantage of the problem to unleash terror in brothels, robbing and assaulting commercial sex workers[7]. Moreover, there has been a recent shift in the political landscape from progressive to conservative which has eliminated some of the basic protection for sex workers.

The Scale and Dimensions of the “Decent Work Deficits” among Sex Workers

The International Labor Organization has hired me as a consultant to undertake the sector evaluation of sex sector in Brazil. The main purpose of the assignment is to establish relevant scale and dimensions of “decent work benefits”. The International Labor Organization defines decent work deficit as, “the absence of sufficient employment opportunities, inadequate social protection, the denial of rights at work, and the shortcomings in social dialogue[8].” (ILO 2017, p.39) Decent work entails providing opportunities for work that ensure a reasonable income, improved opportunities for personal development, security in the workplace, and the freedom to express pertinent concerns, equal opportunities and treatment, and social protection for families. Decent work deficits can be categorized into four groups – employment gap, rights gap, social protection gap, and social dialogue gap. The evaluation of the decent work deficits among the sex workers in Brazil will focus on these four major areas.

Legal Gaps

There are no laws in Brazil that prohibits the exchange of paid sexual services between consenting adults Brazil. However, the Brazilian Penal Code (Articles 227-231) prohibits (i) manipulation of a person to satisfy someone else’s urge, (ii)the facilitation of prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, (iii) “houses of prostitution” (sexual exploitation establishment), (iv) the obtainment of third party profit, and (v) the movement or migration of people for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”[9] The main challenge with the legal framework arises from its provision “sexual exploitation” which is not well-defined. As narrow interpretation of the term “sexual exploitation” implies all forms of commercial sex. These ambiguities and contradiction of in the legal framework for sex work has left the interpretation and regulation to the discretionary power of the law enforcement. The police officers in Brazil benefit from the ambiguous nature of the legal provisions through charging bribes. Besides, the Brazilian militias often partner with the local authorities to maintain an authoritarian and lawless grip on the sex sector. International bodies such as the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have all condemned the militarized law enforcement agencies in Brazil. Their discretionary power to provide oversight of sex work rights is thus does not augur well with the decent work agenda.

Violence

Serious human rights violations are commonplace in the sex sector in Brazil. State-sanctioned violence is a major challenge for sex workers. The same agencies that are supposed to protect them violate the basic human rights including the right to dignity, equal protection under the law, and the right to life. There are several examples of cases of human rights violation among the sex workers in Brazil. For instance, more than 200 workers protested the illegal arrest of the 11 of their colleagues in Niteroi. Two of the arrested sex workers were accused of exploiting one another and sentenced to jail. Prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the law enforcement carried out violent operations against “sexual exploitation”. More than 120 commercial sex workers were arrested without warrant denied their right to legal representation, and forced to provide testimonies[10]. Such state-sanctioned violence against sex workers are in direct violation of international laws such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR. The Brazilian police force has never been held accountable for the extortion, violence, rape, and theft it has perpetrated against sex workers. The abuse of state power among the law enforcement contributes to the social stigma among the sex workers.

Gaps in Social Dialogue;

The reemergence of the massive old-school brothers has changed the prospects of Brazilian sex workers. Most of the establishments are cartel-run; these cartels comprise of powerful politicians, law enforcement officers, and militia gangs. The Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement has linked these old-school brothels to crime networks involving child sex trafficking and drug trafficking. The powerful owners maintain authoritarian control over these premise while the sex workers lack a stake in decision making. The social dialogue facet of the “decent work agenda” requires the representation and participation of workers in decision-making. The inherent nature of the old-school establishments in Brazil prevents the sex workers from organizing to make their voice heard. Sex workers in these establishments often endure human and labor rights abuses including outright violence, long working hours, poor wages, and poor working conditions. Since these cartel-run establishments operate outside the law, sex work is not regulated, there are no policies on career development, paid time-off, retirement benefits, and other requirements.

Lack of Access to Justice

Even though Brazil has accepted several international recommendations on human right issues, it still frustrates sex work activists. A sex worker from Rio de Janeiro who denounced police violence was prevented from attending the National Program to Protect Human Right Defenders. Despite the mobilization of international bodies such as the Amnesty International, the sex worker activist was still denied protection. Her barriers in accessing justice and protection demonstrates similar struggles that sex workers undergo while seeking fair treatment under the law. The Brazilian justice department favors the cartels that control the sex industry at the expense of sex workers.

The Denial of Labor Rights

The Brazilian law is designed to bring sex work under control rather than to safeguard the well-being of the sex workers. While it permits sex workers to conduct their business activities independently, it does not provide them with the basic labor rights. Labor rights are crucial for safeguarding the interest of workers through ensuring favorable working conditions, fair compensation, a realistic workload, health coverage among other benefits. Due to the inherent weaknesses with the legal framework, most sex workers in Brazil cannot enjoy these benefits. The classification of sex work as an official occupation in 2002 was meant to provide the sex workers with benefits such as pensions. Almost two decades later and most of the sex workers in Brazil still lack these basic benefits. A holistic approach to labor rights provides the sex workers with social protection including pension and job security.

Social Stigma on Sex Workers.

Despite the legalization of sex work in Brazil, it still remains a taboo. The Brazilian sociocultural environment is conservative with more than 120 million Catholics. The societal stigma that targets sex workers and their occupation is so deep-rooted that it significantly affects their “decent work.” [11] The negative social attitudes towards sex workers compounds their problems even further; it deprives them of the much-needed public support. Public support is an important driver of change that can help reform the sex sector for the better.

Evidence –based Recommendations for ILO.

The International Labor Organization is committed to strengthening its sectoral dimension in order to improve its responsiveness to decent work deficits. ILO’s Sectoral Policies Department (SECTOR) encompasses 22 different sectors of different economic activities. The advantage of sectoral policies is that they target specific issue in specific sectors at a specific point in time. In doing so, the ILO’s decent work agenda becomes more impactful on the stakeholders who are responsible for improvement initiatives on a sectoral basis[12]. Thus, it is meaningful to examine sex work in Brazil through a sectoral lens it allows the ILO to target specific areas that are often overlooked in national programs. A sectoral approach is crucial for developing the evidence-based recommendations for the ILO for improving the sex sector in Brazil. The sectoral approach will help promote a legislative coherence between Brazil and international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Labor Organization. This will require to Brazil to restructure its legal framework to fully decriminalize sex work and the related activities. Ambiguities and contradictions in the Penal Code offers discretionary powers to a corrupt law enforcement which violates the fundamental human and labor rights of sex workers[13]. The current laws were designed to control commercial sex rather than safeguard the interests of the workers. For this reason, Brazil should repeal all legislations that prohibit consenting adults to exchange sexual services for money such as the sexual exploitation (Article 228). Besides, the government should regulate sex work under the provision of the labor legislation in Brazil.  Brazil also needs to enact legislation that prevents state officers or local authorities from taking advantage of their positions to violate the rights of the sex workers. The International Labor Organization can collaborate with other international agencies to lobby for changes in sex worker legislation. Meanwhile, the sex workers in Brazil need to continue with their political lobbying to help drive the legislative change. The sex workers need for take the cases of abuse to the highest court of the land in an attempt to help influence judicial rulings and precedents on the issue.

The sectoral approach also helps utilizes social dialogue which entails the collective bargaining agreements that brings all the relevant stakeholders together. ILO should seek to strengthen the sex workers’ union across Brazil to ensure a collective bargaining power.  Currently, the sex workers have minimal power and the powerful brothel owners take advantage of their situation. The sex workers are subjected to long-working hours, minimal wages, poor working conditions, human right violations, and labor rights violations. They are so powerless against the law enforcement that most sex workers who denounce state-sanctioned violence cannot get adequate protection programs[14]. A strong union of sex workers is one of the most important strategies for driving positive change in the sector.  The intervention measure aims to promote the legislative coherence between the domestic legal environment and international labor laws to ensure a concerted effort. The sex workers should collaborate to form powerful same sex unions that are responsible for defending their rights, the ILO can support these unions through offering financial assistance and other vital resources.

The International Labor Organization should liaise with other stakeholders to ensure to strengthen the accountability among the police force. Brazilian sex workers have endured a lot of discrimination at the hands of police officers and local authorities. Thus, there is need for developing effective mechanisms for recognizing reporting, and managing these problems[15]. The ILO needs to put into place measures for guarding against police officer’s illegal arrests and detention of sex workers. The ILO will also need to conduct its own investigations into the complaints of harassment and police abuse. The Brazilian police force need to be held accountable for their illegal practices. The ILO should create safe participatory mechanisms such as the police liaison to help safeguard the rights of commercial sex workers. However, it is the sex workers who must play a leading role in denouncing state-sanctioned violence to pile political pressure on the local authorities.  In doing so, they will help create public awareness regarding their plight and amass political goodwill needed for holding the Brazilian police into account.

The International Labor Organization needs to address the need of sex workers’ participation in decision-making. These workers also need to play a significant role in development of legislation, program, and policies relevant to their interests. It should also be a leading stakeholder in the implementation of government plans for countering discrimination among other problems. Sex workers need to form stronger worker unions for a collective bargaining fronts. The ILO needs to enhance sex-workers to justice. The justice system in Brazil has provided unfair treatment to the sex workers. It needs to ensure that it provides sufficient support for the sex workers who denounce police violence and are planning to pursue the matter in higher courts. The ILO also needs to prevent the conflation of sexual exploitation, trafficking, and sex work. The law enforcement in Brazil has taken advantage of anti-trafficking laws to violate the fundamental rights of sex workers or people in other forms of labor. Thus, the ILO need to work with various stakeholders to ensure that child trafficking laws are not used infringe on the rights of sex workers.

[1] International Labour Organization, 1998, “The Sex Sector” available at http://www.ilo.org/global/publications/ilobookstore/orderonline/books/WCMS_PUBL_9221095223_EN/lang–en/index.htm (accessed 15 December, 2020)

[2] International Labour Organization, “ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up” available at http://www.ilo.org/declaration/thedeclaration/textdeclaration/lang–en/index.htm (last accessed 15 December, 2020).

[3] NSWP. (2017). Policy Brief – Sex Work as Work. Nswp.org. Retrieved 15 December 2020, from https://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/policy_brief_sex_work_as_work_nswp_-_2017.pdf.

[4] García, M. R. (2018). The ilo and the Oldest Non-profession. In The Lifework of a Labor Historian: Essays in Honor of Marcel van der Linden (pp. 90-114). Brill.

[5] International Labour Organization, 1998, “The Sex Sector” available at http://www.ilo.org/global/publications/ilobookstore/orderonline/books/WCMS_PUBL_9221095223_EN/lang–en/index.htm (accessed 15 December, 2020)

[6] Delaney, A., & Macdonald, F. (2018). Thinking about informality: gender (in) equality (in) decent work across geographic and economic boundaries. Labour & Industry: a journal of the social and economic relations of work28(2), 99-114

[7] García, M. R. (2018). The ILO and the Oldest Non-profession. In The Lifework of a Labor Historian: Essays in Honor of Marcel van der Linden (pp. 90-114). Brill.

[8] International Labour Organization “Decent Work” available at www.ilo.org/decentwork (last accessed 15 December, 2020).

[9] Brazilian Penal Code http://www.warnathgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Brazil-Penal-Code-TIP-Articles-Unofficial-English.pdf (English)

[10] Lima, F. S. D. S., Merchán-Hamann, E., Urdaneta, M., Damacena, G. N., & Szwarcwald, C. L. (2017). Factors associated with violence against female sex workers in ten Brazilian cities. Cadernos de Saúde Pública33, e00157815

[11] Lima, F. S. D. S., Merchán-Hamann, E., Urdaneta, M., Damacena, G. N., & Szwarcwald, C. L. (2017). Factors associated with violence against female sex workers in ten Brazilian cities. Cadernos de Saúde Pública33, e00157815.

[12] International Labour Organization “Decent Work” available at www.ilo.org/decentwork (last accessed 15 December, 2020).

[13] NSWP. (2017). Human Rights Violations of Sex Workers in Brazil. nswp.org. Retrieved 15 December 2020, from

[14] Blanchette, T. G. & DaSilva, A. P. (2011). “Prostitution in Contemporary Rio de Janeiro.” In S.Dewey & P. Kelly, Eds. Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy and the State in Global Perspective, 130-145. New York: New York University Press

[15] International Labour Organization, “Decent Work and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development” available at http://ilo.org/global/topics/sdg-2030/lang–en/index.htm (last accessed 15 December 2020).

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