Friday 19 July 2019

Female mayor plans reform of red light district in Amsterdam

Protect women: Femke Halsema says the district needs to change. Photo:Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters
Protect women: Femke Halsema says the district needs to change. Photo:Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling

Amsterdam's first female mayor has launched plans to overhaul its red light district and window displays, in a bid to protect sex workers from gawping tourists.

In what would be the most radical revamp of the sex trade there since the Dutch legalised prostitution nearly two decades ago, Femke Halsema suggested stopping the practice of sex workers standing in window-fronted rooms, among other options. Changes were needed because of social shifts, she said, including the rise of human trafficking and an increase in the number of tourists visiting the area and using their phones to take and post pictures of the women.

"We're forced by circumstances because Amsterdam changes," Ms Halsema said in an interview before the launch.

"I think a lot of the women who work there feel humiliated, laughed at and that's one of the reasons we are thinking about changing," she added.

The plans included four main scenarios to overhaul the famous part of the Netherlands' capital: ending street window displays, closing down city centre brothels and moving them elsewhere, reducing the number of city centre brothels, and stepping up the licensing of window workers. The scenarios, drawn up in a report titled 'The Future of Window Prostitution in Amsterdam', also included a broader proposal for an "erotic city zone" that would have a clear entrance gate, similar to a system used in Hamburg, she added.

Those options will be presented to residents and businesses at town hall meetings this month before one is chosen and put to a vote in the city council later this year, Ms Halsema said.

Past efforts to control the red light district have faced opposition from sex workers and businesses involved in the lucrative trade.

The mayor said there were no plans to outlaw prostitution outright. "We legalised prostitution because we thought and still think that legal prostitution gives a woman a chance to be autonomous, independent. Criminalising prostitution has been done in the United States [and], I think, [it] makes women extra vulnerable."

The changes had three main aims, she said: to protect women from degrading work conditions, to cut crime and to revive the 500-year-old neighbourhood which, along with Amsterdam's canals, is part of a Unesco world heritage site.

One sex worker and member of Proud, a union defending the prostitutes' interests, told Reuters the women there were facing increasingly disrespectful behaviour.

"The tourists don't know how to behave themselves in this area," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Irish Independent

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