That was the advice to Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean from social scientist Dr Kamala Kempadoo.
The Professor in the Department of Social Science at York University in Canada last night argued that legitimizing the world’s oldest profession would reduce human trafficking and bring security and respectability to women in the profession.
Kempadoo, who delivered the Sir Arthur Lewis Distinguished Lecture on Who is Trafficking What? – The Caribbean and Human Tafficking Discourse, contended that most of the region’s laws against trafficking in people unfairly targeted women in the sex trade.
She called on regional governments to take a second look at their definition of human trafficking and sexual slavery, and recognize that prostitution ought not automatically be construed as violence to women or enslavement.
“The decriminalization of prostitution would go a long way towards making the sex trade a safer place to work,” she told her audience at the Frank Collymore Hall.
The specialist in Caribbean and transnational feminism and sexuality studies admitted that the issue was a controversial one, but stressed that legalization of the sex trade, “could eliminate underhand deals, it could eliminate extortions, false promises, the criminalisation of sex workers by immigration, smuggling of persons. It could eliminate shady businesses and it could allow working women to gain access to state protection, health care and rights as any other citizen or legal migrant”.
Kempadoo, who was born in the United Kingdom to Guyanese parents, advised: “We need more complex conceptualizations to sexual labour, and of the ways in which women participate in sexual economic activities; as well as more critical examinations of ideologies about sexuality in order to dispel the moral indignation and stigma that surrounds sexual economic relations.”
In her presentation, the social scientist was dismissive of the United States State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) reports, contending that they were politically motivated and did not recognize Caribbean practices or cultural norms.
She was particularly peeved at the impact on women of anti-trafficking laws enacted by Caribbean governments in their quest to adjust to the TIP reports.
“The rhetoric and practice of anti-trafficking need to be exposed for the violence it visits on marginalized communities, particularly young and migrant women,” she said, while suggesting that in its place, there should be reliance on already existing labour laws, health and safety regulations and human rights legislation.
Among the existing conventions she cited were the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, both of which Barbados has ratified.
Kempadoo charged that in responding to the pressure exerted on regional countries that receive bad marks in the TIP reports, Caribbean governments had created a regime to counter what they saw as human trafficking. However, she said that regime had itself become an industry.
“Who benefit from the anti-trafficking industry that is being created? Whose interest does it serve? Is anti-trafficking creating more trafficking by trying to keep people in states of unfreedom (sic), denying the possibility of making a better living for themselves, preventing them from employing their sexual labour in ways that benefit them the most; keeping them locked in poverty and inequality forcing them to stay at home, go underground limiting women’s autonomy?”
She admitted that she did not have the answers, “but I do know the problems involving forced labour, illegal migration, or sex work are not new and their causes are much bigger than can be tackled through anti-trafficking programmes”.
She also advised that it was important to clearly determine who was really involved in trafficking in order to chart “viable freedoms” in the Caribbean. (GA)