“Other Voices makes space for interesting and inspiring speakers to talk on various topics. In the media or other debates we notice the same people again and again. It is no surprise that this little elite consists mostly of white higher middle class men. We want to work differently.”
– Other Voices website

In March 2015 I was invited to speak at Other Voices, a meeting space in Brussels (Belgium) where host Bleri Lleshi invites people to discuss diverse topics.

Other Voices wants to provide space for more voices than just old white men, to this end normally Bleri always invites a man and a woman, at least one with a migration background. This time for feminism he was forced to concede defeat and invite two women to speak 😉

This year’s main theme was visions of the future, and for the topic of the future of feminism, Samira Azabar and I were invited. Samira Azabar is a sociologist and member of the collective BOEH – boss over our own heads – a feminist organisation that became famous for fighting for the right to wear the veil. They sued the public schools  for forbidding the students the right to wear veils – as e.g. some Muslims choose to do. That lawsuit really pisses off all the right people 😉

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© Evie Embrechts

notforsale2Amnesty International recently voted for promoting a policy of decriminalisation of prostitution. Some are in favour, others vehemently disagree. What’s going on? I’m writing this from my perspective as a feminist in Belgium.

  1. Definitions
  2. The voices of prostitutes – who’s talking?
  3. The voice of money
  4. Research and decriminalisation
  5. What can be done in Belgium?

Definitions

Legalisation, criminalisation, decriminalisation… looking through a dictionary doesn’t help a lot to understand the debate. Instead, I’ll give three real-world examples:

In The Netherlands there is a partial legalisation. In 2000 the laws against owning brothels were struck. Pimping became legal, just like selling and buying sex – but only in certain designated places like official brothels. There is a large – and growing – illegal sector, and a lot of human trafficking. Germany has more or less the same situation – with so much trafficking into it that Germany is referred to as “the brothel of Europe” – and the conditions for prostitutes are horrible there.

In Belgium things are pretty muddy. Officially, the law forbids pimping but in reality there’s a politics of tolerance – mostly that means politicians and the police do what they want. There are some small organisations that “aid” prostitutes but there are no exit programmes so the aid is limited to “doing the best you can in bad circumstances”.

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This is the first part of – hopefully – a long series of articles on feminism and socialism. This post tells a part of my story: how did I end up as a socialist and a feminist.

When I grew up, I wasn’t really interested in politics. My parents were progressive but they weren’t members of any political parties or advocating for any causes. Well, we sent a Greenpeace postcard to a politician once 😉 While my understanding of the rotten state of today’s world grew, I became cynical and sarcastic at first.

The first political book I ever read - about the lies of the Flemish Block

The first political book I ever read – about the lies of the Flemish Block

It took a major victory of a “neofascist” racist, extreme right political party (the Flemish Block, or Vlaams Blok  in Dutch) to push me into becoming an activist. They got 30% of the votes in the city where I was born and I thought, I want to do something about that. So I became an activist overnight: I started reading about racism and making posters – that’s when I discovered that there were other people active against racism too. Before that I didn’t even have a notion of the concept of activist groups.

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© Evie Embrechts & Ida Dequeecker

393426_391510797582883_230792089_nUnderneath many of the debates in the contemporary feminist movement is a hidden discussion about free choice versus structural impact. To put it simplistically, there’s two sides: those who defend women’s freedom of choice, and don’t want (to see) any limitation on this choice, and on the other side those who stress the impact of societal structures and the way those structures can limit and hide our choices.

In reality many people try to combine both aspects in their theory and praxis. However, this isn’t easy and there is a lot of misunderstanding and bad blood between both sides. Are these positions actually that different or is this mostly due to misunderstanding? Read more