Picture: AP / Washington Post
In a week when a ban on Muslim face veils came into effect
in France, a group of MPs there have called for a rethink of laws on
prostitution. A cross-party commission recommends criminalizing all clients of “sex
workers”, so that anyone who buys sex from any kind of prostitute would face
prison and fine, reports the UK Guardian.
Sweden took the lead in this in 1999, followed by Norway and
Iceland. The earliest such a law would be enacted in France is next year. The
French MPs say that any patronising a prostitute is encouraging slavery and
trafficking, which they say 80 per cent of France’s estimated 20,000
prostitutes are victims of.
Roselyne Bachelot, the social affairs minister, favours
criminalising clients. She told the commission inquiry: “There is no such
thing as freely chosen and consenting prostitution. The sale of sexual acts
means women’s bodies are made available for men, independently of the wishes of
The move seems fair in view of the face veil ban,
if for no
other reason. If France thinks it should liberate Muslim women from what
seen as religious male oppression (the other reason for the ban is
France’s public secularism), it is only right that it should rescue
women from secular male exploitation.
Of course, there are prostitutes who say they are not
exploited and defend their “work” — just as there are Muslim women who defend
the custom of appearing in public completely covered except for an
eye-slit. I should not mention them in the same breath, but, despite the moral
difference, the two groups of women (leaving aside the question of male
prostitutes) do illustrate extremes of female presence in society. And
consistency demands that if one extreme is to be suppressed, the other ought to
be as well.
And going by numbers, prostitution is the greater evil,
involving 20,000 women who sell their flesh compared with barely 2000 Muslim
women who cover their faces.