The Position Of The European Women's Lobby On Prostitution And Trafficking In Women

Lecture by Colette Detroy - Observatory on violence, European Women's Lobby, West-European regional coordinator



The EWL, created in 1990, regroups 3000 women's associations in the EU, with a permanent secretariat in Brussels and is structured in national coordination in the Member States (18) or at European level (BPW, University Women, COPA etc...).

Beside, the EWL is in regular contact with Baltic, Eastern Central Europe NGOs and has adapted it legal statutes in order to welcome new member organisations in candidate countries. EWL has an Observer status at the Council of Europe and plays an international role beyond Europe through its Consultative Status at the UN Ecosoc.

The EWL's function is to coordinate the activities of its members and to serve as an instrument of pressure with the EU institutions and through its national co-ordinations in the Members states, with the aim to achieve equality of women and men in Europe.

While the situation of women, especially in Western Europe has notably improved in the last 50 years and while equality before the law exists in most areas in the EU, a lot remains to be done for equality in reality to be achieved.

EWL was also created in response to a growing awareness of the need to defend women's interests at European level, for the reasons linked to the characteristics and structure of the European Union.

The creation of EWL is therefore linked to the creation of a new form of public space at European level and a new form of interaction between citizens and political officials. As women are still largely under-represented in political decision-making in most EU country and at European level, this new way of interaction is another way to make their voice heard.

The EWL's activities therefore meet two types of need:

  • To lobby at European level and to provide information to decision-makers to ensure that a gender perspective and women's point of view and their needs are taken into account in legislation and programmes;
  • To provide women's organisations with the information they lack and promote their participation at EU level.
EWL thus plays a dual role as a link between women's organisations and institutions. EWL facilitates dialogue and exchanges between citizens and European political officials. It is important to note that this dialogue is not one-sided and that the European institutions very often call on the experience of EWL and women's organisations.

The main focuses of EWL are:

  • The legislative work and programs of the EU institutions, including the revisions of the European treaties (Convention on the Future of Europe and IGC 2003)
  • Decision-making and parity democracy
  • Employment and social policies
  • Women's human rights and its European Centre on Violence with an observatory
  • Enlargement of the EU and setting up of the EWL Centre on Enlargement
  • The work at international level in relation to gender issues, including the implementation of the Beijing Platform for action, the CEDAW and the yearly UN Commission on the Status of Women.


2.1. Member organisations
EWL is an umbrella organisation co-ordinating the activities of its 3000 member organisations throughout the Union. In 2003, 3 new national coordinations in new EU Member States: Hungary, Bulgaria and Latvia were created.
2.2. Internal organisation

The General Assembly of EWL meets once a year, bringing together some 100 delegates who decide on a programme of activities, vote on financial matters and elect a Board of Administration.

The Board is composed of 25 members and meets every other month to take decisions concerning actions to be conducted, priorities and so forth. The Board is also frequently consulted in regards to the EWL's day-to-day activities.

The Board of Administration elects the Executive of the EWL, which consists of a President, two Vice-Presidents and a Treasurer. The Executive meets regularly, is consulted on urgent decisions and represents and lobbies actively on behalf of EWL at meetings and conferences.

The organisation's activities are co-ordinated by the Secretariat in Brussels, which prepares documents and position statements, provides information to members, conducts projects and produces publications.

2.3. Financing
EWL is co-financed by a subsidy from the European Union, contributions from its member organisations and private sponsors.

3. Equality in Europe - EWL approach.

Why a European Women's Lobby

Despite great progresses in legislations and mentalities in the last decades, inequalities between women and men persist and concern women of all countries, all ages and all social groups:

  • As many more women are entering the work force they are still carrying the so-called "double burden" (women still do on average in the EU 80% of housework) of reconciling work and family life with enormous implications for women's physical and mental health. Women also spend in average almost the double amount of time as men to care for children (respectively 41 hours and 21 hours / week).
  • At the same time according to a recent Eurostat survey, women earn only 76.9% of men's gross hourly pay (EU average) for the same job.
  • If we look at the representation of women in decision-making we see that women represent only 24.1% of members of governments in the EU and 26% in the European Parliament.
  • Despite the lack of data available, it is estimated that one woman in five in Europe has been subjected to some form of violence. Women are most at risk from men they know and are most likely to experience a violent attack in their own home.


"Violence against women is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between women and men, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of women's full advancement" (Beijing Platform for Action, paragraph 118)

In 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women, all fifteen Member States of the European Union made commitments to address the issue of violence against women. They also agreed that together as the European Union, they shared responsibility for this issue and correspondingly would develop European strategies to combat violence against women. The EWL carried out an evaluation of Member States progress one year following the 4th World Conference on Women in which it emerged that measures to address violence against women were high on their agenda. Therefore, the EWL decided that the time had come to set up, within its own structures, the European Policy Action Centre on Violence against Women.

A European Policy Action Centre for NGOs working on violence against women

Formally established in 1997, the European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women was set up to provide a forum for women's NGOs to enable them to take a leadership role in engaging policy and decision-makers to move forward in combating violence against women. Women's NGOs have been providing services and support to women in situations of violence and thus are the most competent in assisting policy-makers to translate government commitments into real action.

The European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Womenprovides a political voice for women's NGOs working in the area of violence against women and as such acts as a central co-coordinating point for information, studies, research, and exchange of models of good practice across the Members States, and above all lobbies for political action to address the issue of male violence against women at European level.

The overall mission of the EWL Policy Action Centre is:

- To achieve equality between women and men by eliminating violence against women, which is an obstacle to the empowerment of women and to the full achievement of their human rights.

The strategic objectives of the EWL Policy Action Centre are:

1) To influence and monitor EU policy and action on violence against women:

The European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women calls for a legal base within the EU treaties (and future Constitution) on violence against women in order to: standardise the concept of violence in all European Member States by defining types, causes and consequences of sexist violence and to develop legislation that sets aside social resources, focuses on prevention and initiates public awareness campaigns.

Without this legal framework, violence against women will only be addressed in a partial way on the basis of short-term programmes and actions, despite the fact that 1 in 5 women experience male violence by their partner throughout the whole of the EU. The rapid growth and expansion of trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation testifies to the urgent need for transnational policies to address and eradicate violence against women at EU level.

2) To influence and monitor EU and Member State commitments on women's human rights with a particular focus on violence against women under United Nations (UN) mechanisms:

  • Identify and track UN mechanisms, e.g.: CEDAW, CSW, Beijing Platform for Action, in order to ensure their accordance to commitments made by Member States
  • Develop links with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women
  • Lobby for ratification of UN instruments, e.g., the UN Protocol on Trafficking in Human Beings, especially Women and Children

3) To support women's NGOs in their work on violence against women:

The European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women develops tools for women's NGOs to combat violence against women. Along with lacking a legal base, the absence of adequate data, statistics and research on all aspects of violence against women impedes efforts to design specific intervention strategies. In 1999, the European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women conducted a study on official data on domestic violence in the 15 Member States of the European Union, which was published under the title "Unveiling the Hidden Data of Domestic Violence in the EU". For the first time, it presented a European overview on domestic violence and proposed recommendations to facilitate a European model for the collection of data on domestic violence and to develop more adequate policies in the EU.

The Centre also developed a table of indicators and criteria of good practice in the field of violence against women. Published in a guide entitled "Towards a common European framework to monitor progress in combating violence against women" it presents case studies in seven theme based areas: domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse of girls, sexual harassment in the workplace, prostitution, pornography and trafficking, female genital mutilation and violence against vulnerable groups of women. The proposed indicators in the publication provide a framework for monitoring governments' commitments in relation to policies and actions on violence against women.

4) Monitoring Policies Against all Forms of Violence Against Women - Observatory on Violence against Women

In the initial period, the European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women formed an Observatory on Violence Against Women, which is an expert group comprising one woman from each of the fifteen Member States of the European Union who has extensive expertise in the area of violence against women. The Observatory continues to be a central component of the Policy Action Centre and has been instrumental in maintaining a global perspective on violence against women. It defines violence against women as a continuum, i.e. a continuous series of physical, verbal and sexual assaults and acts of sexual violence committed by men against women with the explicit aim of hurting, degrading, intimidating and silencing; taking away their ability to control their life situation and killing women. Since 1997, the priority themes of the Observatory include: trafficking in women, prostitution, violence against women in the international context and violence against women as a violation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The task of the European Observatory is to advise the EWL on how it should develop recommendations for the European institutions to follow-up actions and build strategies in order to combat violence against women in the European Union. The European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women and its Observatory members are monitoring policy developments at national, European and international level. In this context, the experts are at the forefront of identifying critical and emerging issues. Examples of such issues include: a general tendency for policy makers to develop mediation services as a means of resolving male violence and the development of perpetrator programmes, which is some cases, are replacing sanctions by the criminal justice system.

Currently, the Centre and its European Observatory are working on the development of national observatories to combat violence against women (with the support of the EU Daphne programme). These observatories monitor polices on violence against women at the national level.

National observatories have been officially launched in: Ireland (April 2002); Denmark (October 2002);

Greece (May 2003) and France (November 2003).

The activities of the Centre is based upon agreed basic principles (adopted by the EWL's Board in 2002)


1. Feminist perspective

In considering the issue of violence against women, the EWL firmly adopts a feminist perspective. Violence against women is, thus, seen as a structural phenomenon the cause of which is a direct result of gender inequality. The EWL adopts the definition of violence against women as stipulated in the Beijing Platform for Action. Furthermore, it endorses the statement of the Beijing Platform for Action: "violence against women is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men an women which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of women's full advancement. " (paragraph 118). The persistence and tolerance of all forms of male violence against women is a fundamental obstacle to the achievement of full equality between women and men in all areas of life.

2. Women's Rights are Human Rights

The EWL believes in the fundamental principle of respect for Human rights.

The EWL believes that all forms of violence against women and girls in the private and public sphere by state and non-state actors must be addressed and understood as basic violations of human rights principles.

3. The autonomy and the empowerment of women

The EWL believes that the intervention of NGOs in the area of violence against women should work to achieve the autonomy and the empowerment for all women. This goal underpins all actions undertaken by the EWL to combat violence against women.

4. Prostitution and Trafficking in women

In relation to prostitution and trafficking in women, the EWL believes that:

-Prostitution and trafficking in women constitute a fundamental violation of women's human rights.

-Prostitution and trafficking in women should not be associated with the terms "forced" or "free".

-It should be recognised that "free choice" is a relative factor, situated at the intersection of economic, social, cultural and political options of women in a given society. Inequality severely restricts freedom of choice.

5. Recognition of diversity

The EWL believes that differences among women must be taken into account when dealing with issues of violence against women. Women can be affected by violence in a different way in relation to their diversity. NGOs working in the field of violence against women should develop strategies to ensure the inclusion of women marginalised because of their race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, age, belief or religion.


In 1998, the European Women's Lobby (EWL) adopted a motion at the annual General Assembly on prostitution and trafficking in women. This motion made history: for the first time, the women of the European Union (the EWL represents more than 3.000 women's associations) clearly took a position AGAINST prostitution and emphasised the link between prostitution and trafficking in human beings. By adopting this motion, they moved beyond differences in culture, tradition and political allegiances to acknowledge the reality of exploitation and misery, and stood up for the principle of the inviolability of human rights. This constituted a refusal to act as though prostitution were a profession, a refusal to allow people to believe in selling one's body by choice, as though it were a type of merchandise.

The EWL's motion on prostitution and trafficking

What says the position of EWL about prostitution and trafficking?

First of all, the EWL states a principle and focuses on the inequality of condition of women. It states that:

1. Prostitution and trafficking in women constitute a fundamental violation of women's human rights.

2. Prostitution and Trafficking in women should not be associated with the terms "forced" or "free".

3. It should be recognised that "free choice" is a relative factor, situated at the intersection of economic, social, cultural and political options of women in a given society. Inequality severely restricts freedom of choice.

This focus is extremely important while considering prostitution: it is always the most vulnerable women (vulnerable by socio-economic position or/and previous experiences of abuses and violence).

The EWL also affirms that:

4. Effective protection of women's fundamental rights will depend on raising the status of women in all areas of life and that this can be brought about through mindful strategies which enable women and men to negotiate in the form of a gender contract;

5.Strategies to confront prostitution and trafficking in women must be multi-faceted addressing on the one hand the needs of women whose human rights are violated while at the same time targeting at the client, the procurer and other people benefiting from the sex industry...

The EWL insists on multiple strategies. It is not enough to tackle human rights of victims if there is nothing done to prevent the market. Sexual industry can't be ignored in this strategy as well as the client.

6. Studies on prostitution and in particular studies about traffickers and customers must be undertaken.

7. The definition of male violence includes all forms of sexual exploitation.

8. Until these issues are rightfully recognised and adequately addressed in consultation with a broad-based coalition of women's groups, prostitutes and women, victims of trafficking must have access to all protective services.

This is difficult, regarding the difficulty to talk to women in exploitation. It is not true that women in prostitution are able to talk freely and therefore, it is most often the voice of sex industry, which is dominant.

9. These rights should include: access to health care; police protection; opportunities for training and education; legal services and representation including legal residence permits in the cases of women from non EU countries; support and counselling and all other services offered to all women regardless of their activity.

10. There must be education reflecting the view that buying and selling of bodies represents a violation of human rights and as such must be considered illegal.

We call on:

11. Governments and policy-makers at all levels to engage in a broad consultation with all groups concerned with the protection of women's human rights, in particular women's organisations, prior to considering any policy or legislation relative to prostitution. The EWL believes that the issues are global and therefore, require multi-dimensional solutions which address a number of universal issues, notably: inequality of women, globalisation of the world economy; countries in transition; poverty; immigration policies and above all the issue of incessant violation of women's human rights.

12. Governments and policy-makers to pass legislative measures against trafficking in women, and to ensure full application of these measures

The EWL's activities in this area

On the basis of its motion, the EWL lobbies national, European and international institutions to fight prostitution and recognise it as a form of violence against women and a violation of fundamental rights. The EWL exerts pressure for the introduction of global solutions:

  • Enforcement of the main international instruments of reference to human rights, in particular the 1949 Convention on the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women), the recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (2002) and the Palermo Protocol (UN Convention Against Transnational Crime).
  • Prosecution of all forms of procuring at national and international level
  • Measures to create a sense of responsibility on the part of clients so that they realise they are acting as accomplices to procurers.
  • Promotion of debate on prostitution, resituating it within the context of power relationships between women and men, a continuum of violence, economic relationships (marketing of image and the body, development of pornography and the "sex industry") and globalisation.
  • Development of prevention policies in host/origin countries and economic projects to give women alternatives to the mirages that draw them to the West.
The EWL's motion against prostitution and trafficking in women indicates that effective protection of women's human rights will depend on the status afforded to women in all areas of life.

Budapest 28/5/04

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