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Amsterdam mayor under fire for red-light district closure idea

City’s first female mayor faces battle with sex workers over proposal intended to tackle human trafficking

by Daniel Boffey in Brussels, The Guardian, 4 Jul 2019

Amsterdam’s red-light district. Photograph: Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images Amsterdam’s first female mayor is facing a battle with sex workers in the city’s famous red-light district after raising the prospect of closing it down.

Femke Halsema, a former leader of the national Green party who became burgemeester last year, is under fire for suggesting that the city “must dare to think about the red-light district without prostitution”. A newly formed lobby group, named Red Light United, claims that 90% of the 170 female sex workers they surveyed wanted to work in the windows found in the narrow alleys and canalside streets of the Singel and De Wallen.

One member of the lobby group, going by the pseudonym Foxxy, told the Het Parool newspaper: “Sex workers are people and they are entitled to a workplace. “Relocating those workplaces is not an option because then the customers will not know where to find the sex workers.

Will Halsema also sometimes organise bus trips for them to the Westelijk Havengebied?”

Banning sex work in the famous red-light district is one of the options on which the mayor has said she will consult over the summer with the aim of tackling human trafficking and reducing the number of tourists.

“These goals are not negotiable,” Halsema said at the launch of her consultation. “For a long time, there was a sentiment of sailors around the red-light district who, after months of sailing, go to a ‘stout’ Dutch woman.

The situation now is that predominantly foreign women, of whom we do not know how they ended up here, are laughed at and photographed.” “Trafficking in human beings takes place in the most beautiful and oldest part of our city,” she added. “Over the course of a few hundred years, situations have arisen that are not acceptable.”

Halsema said the women behind the red-light district’s 330 windows had become just another tourist attraction for people visiting Amsterdam. Advertisement “They are laughed at, often called names and photographed against their will,” she said. “In addition, human trafficking, fraud and money laundering must be reduced, and thirdly, I want less inconvenience for residents and entrepreneurs. It must be quieter, cleaner and more livable there than now.”

Short of closing down the red-light district entirely, other possible options include a ban on the brothel windows while allowing sex work to continue, the relocation of some of the windows or, finally, opening more windows to reduce demand but potentially setting up turnstiles on certain streets “so that you shield off pieces of public space for passersby who don’t need to be there”. Cor van Dijk, chairman of the Ondernemersvereniging Oudezijds Achterburgwal, representing businesses in the red-light quarter, claimed in response that it was the forced closure of about 100 windows by a previous administration that was the cause of problems.

He said: “Many windows have been cleaned up for project 1012, the previous red-light district approach. Those were precisely the windows in the alleys, where customers still had a certain anonymity.

“If more windows are added, you also relieve pressure on a certain part of the red-light district. We don’t think there have been more tourists in recent years, but we’ve compressed the same number of people into a smaller area.” Debates on the issue are to be held next week in the city centre’s Compagnietheater.

Later in the summer, “stakeholders” will be asked for their views with the hope of reducing the possible options to two for consideration by the council. The Greens hold 10 of the 45 seats on the council but the party has secured the support of the liberal D66 group and the Socialists for its preference for moving sex work on from the city centre.

Halsema has declined to say which of the policies she supports. “Modern leadership serves and is not dictatorial,” she said.

“The discussion about prostitution is now very polarised and moralistic. Prostitution is a historical phenomenon in the city centre. It takes time and money to do something about it. Consensus is needed for that, but the final decision lies with the college and the council.

I lead the discussion.” Halsema said she was “pragmatic” and would not challenge the right for women to be involved in sex work in Amsterdam.

Should the red-light district close down, the council would consider establishing in other parts of the city “prostitution hotels where sex workers rent a room and where only visitors come to make use of their services”, she said.

“Yes, that will probably be accompanied by a lot of protest,” Halsema added. “But also remember that prostitution is now also located in an area where people live relatively safely and pleasantly. Everyone has things that we would rather not see in our backyard. But in general Amsterdammers are tolerant.”

Swiss women strike en masse to end 'scandalous' gender pay gap

by Henry Samuel, The Telegraph, June 14, 2019

Thousands of women on Friday staged “purple” strike protests across Switzerland against the country’s “scandalous” gender pay gap after a study found they earn a fifth less than their male counterparts.

It may have a reputation for being a highly developed, affluent and progressive Western economy but Switzerland is falling behind many counterparts on pay parity, say rights groups and unions.

While the country has one of Europe’s highest proportions of women in the workforce, on average they still earn 20 per cent less than men. And for men and women with equal qualifications, the wage gap remains nearly eight per cent, according to the federal statistics office.

At 42.9 per cent, the proportion of the gap that could not be pinned down to considerations such as age or seniority in the survey had reached its highest since 2000.

Work stoppages are extremely rare in Switzerland since employers and unions signed the "Peace at Work" convention in 1937 encouraging negotiation rather than strikes.
A woman takes part in a nation-wide women's strike for wage parity, on June 14, 2019 in Swiss capital Bern.
Swiss women are on strike against the gender pay gap that means men make 20pc more than them for no particular reason Credit: STEFAN WERMUTH/AFP

But organisers called upon women to eschew jobs and housework chores for the day in protest. For those women unable to take a full day off work, they were urged to leave by 3.24 pm.

"After that, women work for free," said Anne Fritz, the main organiser of the strike and a representative of USS, an umbrella organisation that groups 16 Swiss unions.

A raft of events was planned throughout the day ranging from pram marches to whistle concerts and giant picnics.

Organisers called on women to unfurl a sea of purple, the colour of their cause, in huge demonstrations planned in several cities, including in front of the government headquarters in Bern.

Some had already started overnight Thursday.

In Lausanne, women rang the bells of the cathedral, which was lit up in purple, and lit a "bonfire of joy". Hundreds then took part in a massive breakfast celebration, blocking traffic on one of the town's main bridges.

In Zurich, demonstrators traipsed a giant, pink clitoris atop a cart through the city, while in Basel they projected the feminist fist symbol onto the skyscraper headquarters of pharmaceutical group Roche.

In Bern, MPs observed a 15-minute break to mark the occasion, with many members wearing purple or feminist badges.

Despite such parliamentary support, the strike is partly in frustration at politicians’ failure to get tough with pay inequality.
The Cathedral is lit in purple to underline the country's poor record on defending the rights of women and families in Lausanne, Switzerland,
Equal pay for equal work is inscribed in the Swiss constitution but not respected say protesters Credit: DENIS BALIBOUSE/ REUTERS

A bid to change the law to impose more oversight over salary distribution was watered down last year. The final text only applied to companies with more than 100 employees -- affecting fewer than one per cent of employers. It failed to include sanctions for persistent gender pay gap offenders, the vast majority in small companies.

“The wage divergences between women and men have become entrenched,” said the SGB union federation. “It is scandalous that women, who have now surpassed men in education, still earn about a fifth less than men.”

The strikes come exactly 28 years after half a million women snubbed their workplaces or homes across Switzerland to protest persistent inequalities. That was 10 years after equality between the sexes was enshrined in the Swiss constitution.

Michelle Rangosch, 22, political science and law student protesting in Zurich, said Switzerland was behind the #Metoo curve.

“The Swiss constitution promises equal pay for equal work but it’s still not reality. In academia or on boards of directors and management, there are almost no women the higher you go up the career ladder,” she told the Telegraph.

She added: “We are an economically progressive country but culturally we are always a bit behind the rest of Europe. Women only got the right to vote in 1971, which is one of the latest in the world.”

Last month, a survey by the International Labour Organisation placed Switzerland bottom of the list in pay rates between men and women in senior roles.

A 2018 report by the World Economic Forum put it 44th in the world for wage equality for similar work; the United Kingdom fared even worse, coming in 64th place.


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