Prostitution was a huge breaking factor between myself and liberal feminism. As I have written several times on my site, it is quite frustrating that liberal feminist sites are so blindly “pro sex-work,” and not just because it means supporting an institution that is inherently violent and exploitative towards women. By flinging accusations of “whorephobia” at anyone who believes prostitutes are exploited and that prostitution should be abolished, liberal feminists have effectively shut down important intersectional conversations regarding climate change, environmental degradation, and the proliferation of prostitution – all as a result of intense globalization.
In “An Analysis of Global Sex Trafficking,” Cheryl O’Brien states that “Connected to neo-liberal policies, globalization has displaced people in favor of cash crop agriculture, increasing the landless and leading to increased labor migration and urbanization, which separates families. Globalization contributed to urbanization, causing people to leave rural homes in search of work in factories to serve the global market.”
Within this migration of human beings searching for labor, women continue to be the most impoverished as they suffer mass layoffs, are paid the lowest salaries, and are most likely to work in incredibly exploitative and abusive sectors such as the tourist industry.
This is the definition of the feminization of poverty, and it is being driven in large part by the environmental degradation and climate change related to globalization.
Thailand is a very good example of how losing rights to land and migrating to an urban environment is funneling women into prostitution. The World Bank, the pillar of neo-liberal globalization, is encouraging Thailand to destroy its environment and grow trees such as rubber trees and eucalyptus trees for transnational corporations – which of course mainly benefit Western peoples and economies. Indigenous Thai are being pushed of their land, fined if they plant fruit trees for themselves, and unable to access natural resources on which to make an income. This economic discrimination is exacerbated by the soil erosion that almost always results from deforestation. Victims of such environmental disregard by transnational corporations have no other option but to migrate to the cities in search of work.
It is especially easy to see how women become lured into prostitution in Thailand – mainly because sex tourism is one of the most lucrative aspects of the Thai economy (a direct result not just of environmental degradation but of the collapse of global south economies within globalization). Everyone has heard of the red-light district of Bangkok to the point where it is often the butt of jokes.
These women are not making conscious “consensual” choices to become “sex workers” as liberal feminists like to claim while giving lip service to issues such as “imperialism.” These women are being disenfranchised by globalization in every way possible – they lose access to their land and are forced to migrate to cities in what is considered the largest mass migration of people in modern history, and they become incredibly vulnerable as, due to sexism inherent in the patriarchy and racism within globalization, are locked out of any lucrative means of making a living.
Thailand is thus one of the clearest examples of how environmental degradation due to globalization has feminized poverty and led to “an increased supply of women drawn into the sex industry due to economic conditions.” The result has been an explosion of sexual trafficking and intensified recruitment of women from the global south into prostitution.
Climate change is another environmental crisis being driven by globalism, which further drives the feminization of poverty which makes women vulnerable to becoming prostituted. This makes sense and is quite obvious, of course, given that the result of climate change is intense environmental degradation, even in regions not besieged by rubber tree plantations.
The correlation between prostitution and climate change is actually not unknown or even unacknowledged in the West. In 2013, created by Democrat US Rep. Barbara Lee (California) with 11 co-sponsors, House Concurrent Resolution 36 noted that warming temperatures could push as many as 3 billion people into poverty by the year 2050, and many of those people will be already impoverished women looking for any possible way to provide for themselves and their children. The document is subtitled “Recognizing the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change.” Here are some key passages:
“Whereas women will disproportionately face harmful impacts from climate change, particularly in poor and developing nations where women regularly assume increased responsibility for growing the family’s food and collecting water, fuel, and other resources;”
“Whereas food insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health;”
“Whereas the direct and indirect effects of climate change have a disproportionate impact on marginalized women such as refugee and displaced persons, sexual minorities, religious or ethnic minorities, adolescent girls, and women and girls with disabilities and those who are HIV positive;”
Refugee and displaced women living in refugee camps and settlements are often abused and prostituted by the very people sent to protect them – including United Nation troops. As climate change intensifies conflicts, more women will flee their homes and face a greater risk of becoming prostituted.
Coverage of the resolution, however, barely registered the human rights being violated by the intersection of climate change and prostitution; often the focus was on the sex itself. Rep. Lee was understandably pissed, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It’s unfortunate that this resolution has been misrepresented as to its goals. Tragically, as women across the world are pushed to the margins, they become more vulnerable. And we’ve seen time after time that women on the edge are forced to make heartbreaking choices, this among them.” By the way, Rep. Barbara Lee, whom I had never heard of before doing a bit of research for this article, is pretty fucking awesome. If you are interested, check out her website at lee.house.gov.
Rep. Lee’s resolution ends on a very important note, and I highly encourage a full reading of the document:
“… (6) affirms the commitment to include women in economic development planning, policies, and practices that directly improve conditions that result from climate change; and (7) encourages the President to— (A) integrate a gender approach in all policies and programs in the United States that are globally related to climate change; and (B) ensure that those policies and programs support women globally to prepare for, build resilience for, and adapt to climate change.”
This is intersectional feminism in action. It’s not a very long document, nor is it well-known, but it is recognizing the direct link between the feminization of of poverty, climate change and prostitution while demanding just action as opposed to the harm-reduction and normalization of prostitution supported by liberals and libertarians. I will be frank, I’m not sure how much of an impact it had, which shows just how much our government, including under Obama, prioritizes the needs of women impoverished by climate change.
Prostitution cannot be separated from poverty, and poverty cannot be separated from environmental degradation and climate change – both of which are direct results of the spread of neo-liberal globalism and the enforcement of a market economy by the World Bank. If you are a feminist and you claim you want to smash neo-colonialism and globalization, the issue of climate change, environmental degradation and its impact on the feminizaion of poverty, particularly as it leads to prostitution and sex trafficking, should be one of your main concerns.
But it is hard to talk about the negative impacts and direct correlation of prostitution and climate change within a sex-positive intellectual environment that supports the legalization of prostitution and the normalization of “sex work” into societies. Liberal feminist websites continue to police those who disagree and sling accusations of “whorephobia” at any examination of women as a class oppressed by prostitution. There is also an obsessive focus of proper etiquette over substance, as one website made clear that the word “prostitute” is a slur and should only be used by “sex workers” – ignoring the overall discussion. Because liberal feminism dominates feminist discourse, asserting the links between climate change and prostitution into mainstream feminism seems like an impossible task.
But it must absolutely be done.
“An Analysis of Global Sex Trafficking” Cheryl O’Brien, Purdue University, Indiana Journal of Political Science, Winter 2008/2009
House Concurrent Resolution 36: http://thehill.com/images/stories/blogs/flooraction/jan2013/hconres36.pdf
“Climate change causes prostitution? Rep. Barbara Lee Explains.” http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/30/science/la-sci-sn-climate-change-women-prostitution-20130430