A Woman's Perspective On Prostitution

Staff Writer
Those who call for the legalisation of prostitution chart different reasons that are a reflection of a lack of deep, detailed and critical analysis of the effects of prostitution on women.

In this space, I want to respond to an already gendered aspect of prostitution as a business transaction where some women sell their bodies for sex. Some of you who have read past editions of both Monitor and the Sunday Standard will remember the different reasons propounded by some male commentators who are in support of legalising prostitution. Some of the reasons are, prostitution is "for the men who are not satisfied with their sex lives... the government will benefit from tax revenues" (Eddie Mdluli, SS, 5/2/07); "it will bring happiness and stability in families... and... curb the spread of HIV/AIDS" (Bugalo Chilume & Gobopamang Letamo cited by Joe Gaie). 

Some are quick to give Thailand (a country with a flourishing sex industry) as an example of a country with low HIV/AIDS infection rates. With the example of Thailand, none of the proponents underpin the high and uncontrollable child and women trafficking nor is Sweden, a country that legalised prostitution is now convinced that the legalisation of prostitution is not working. Sweden has since passed a gendered legislation that criminalises the buying of sex (men who buy) and decriminalises the selling of sex (women are treated as victims who need help). Whether the legislation worked or not, the interested reader will have to dig for results, because they do exist.

But what is it that proponents of the legalisation of prostitution are missing? Is it possible to construct an imaginary space of how legalised prostitution will work? Is it possible to think of the different effects of legalising prostitution? What happens when we relate HIV/AIDS to prostitution, is it not a tenuous mix, where we combine our interest in sex, our fear of openly discussing our sexuality with our fear of illness and death?

By advocating for the legalisation of prostitution, proponents of prostitution are mainly requesting that prostitution be subject to government regulations and statutory laws of Botswana. The proponents are actually saying, "make it clean, see to it that the women have mandatory medical check-ups, set up brothels, and impose government control."

What this means is that the legislator will authorise everything from labour to taxation. Proponents of prostitution are requesting that prostitution be with any other profession.

But is it and would it be possible to view and equate prostitution like any other profession? What if we are to put a human face to prostitution? In a nutshell, what are the moral consequences of legalising prostitution (for there is no way we can exclude morality out of our critical and fundamental decision making)? What are the implications of legalising prostitution? What exactly are the proponents of prostitution demanding the legislator do? 

To dissect the above questions, I commence from a very deep, strong and vividly and imaginary definition of prostitution. As defined by the radical feminist, and critique of prostitution, Andrea Dworkin, "prostitution is the use of a woman's body for sex by a man, he pays money, he does what he wants, and he leaves." Dworkin further elaborates this definition by accentuating that "prostitution is not an idea (or even a fantasy), it is the female vagina penetrated by the male

phallus, by one man, and then another man, and then another man and then another man... That's what it is" (1995). This means prostitution is sexual exploitation, possible rape and violence against women. Women prostitutes do not have any form of power; they are subject to their client's demands.

For in prostitution, no woman stays whole. It is a social death to the woman prostitute, for she is a person without power, and honour. She is dehumanised. Her real identity and personal history are erased and are of no significance to the client since they are concealed from the client.

In a nutshell, proponents of prostitution are requesting that the legislator become a "pimp." The essential meaning of a "pimp" tends to assume an individual who controls the prostitution of one or more women. Pimping is not only about control. It is about the different dynamics at play in establishing, authorising, endorsing and enacting, flourishing, and sustaining legalised prostitution. Pimping comes in varied ways. It can be passive, active, and a direct or indirect beneficiary of parties involved in legalised prostitution. 

Examples include tax payments to the government, travel agents, hotels and airlines that will benefit from sex-tourism, landlords benefiting from leasing their houses to brothels and escort services, tabloid and local newspapers which will derive an income and profit from advertisements placed by brothels, and escort agency that will mushroom once we legalise prostitution. For the above cited examples, beneficiaries will sustain prostitution by making profits from its legalisation.

Not only will the legislator be a "pimp," legalising prostitution reveals what the proponents of the legalisation of prostitution think of women. We already exist in a patriarchal and misogynist culture that narrowly views sex as an entitlement of male needs (see Chilume's Monitor opinion columns, 2005). Hence, how will we separate prostitution from the patriarchal culture, which already marginalises, stereotypes and stigmatises women? Proponents of prostitution advocate for the violation of the woman's right to dignity.

Proponents yearn and long to deny women prostitutes the right to own their bodies. Proponents desire women prostitutes to be reduced to commodities. Proponents deny women prostitutes' emotional stability. The legislator will encourage women and child trafficking, a crisis countries that have legalised prostitution are now facing.

Consequently, the legislator will institutionalise women's poverty and degradation.
Proponents of prostitution are requesting us to imagine a society in which we will socialise our daughters and sons to think of their sexuality as a commodity, and to dream of prostitution as a profession to be pursued. Since we tend to flourish on 'copy-cating,' we can either follow the example of Thailand or of Germany (a country that espouses a strong support for human rights) yet both countries are unable to control women and child trafficking. Alternatively, we can follow Sweden by criminalising the buying of sex.

For once the legislator (and the nation) creates a space where the relationship between prostitution and client takes places in a specific legal, institutional, social, political and ideological context, Batswana will become a pimp nation!! Is this what development is about? Is this what Vision 2016 envisions?

Malebogo Kgalemang
Drew University
Madison, NJ USA




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