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In 2017 I was mentally struggling for a while. Mostly this had to do with the state of the world. I’ve been a human rights activist for 18 years now, which means I’ve seen a lot of change. Sometimes for the better, often for the worse.

I lost it temporarily at the end of 2015 when I went to volunteer in Calais, France – a camp where thousands of refugees were trying to survive. They didn’t get enough food, water or medicine, they were attack by the police and neonazi forces. These kinds of experiences make me question humanity.

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Earlier I wrote that my first book was quite a struggle, during the middle of the writing and especially near the end. The circumstances were difficult, but something else that I’m sure mattered is that the book was so eclectic. I wanted to give an overview of a number of different topics, which slowed down the research. When writing about introductory aspects of feminism, and porn culture, and sexual and physical violence, and trans liberation, and the future of feminism and some of the history, and and and… it becomes difficult to maintain focus and to keep the number of pages acceptable. I never felt  had said all I wanted to say and I hope to be able to revisit many of these topics in perhaps a second revised edition or new articles and books.

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Last year I finished my first book, called Feminisme – een nieuw begin (Feminism – a new beginning). Since then people have asked questions about the writing. How did it feel to write it? How does it feel to have finished? My writer friend, working on her own first book, was watching me closely to see what would happen, how this would change me.

So how does it feel? Let’s talk about the writing process first.

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I’m not putting up any recognizable pictures or details of refugees because I don’t want to endanger them: they may risk persecution or have their request for asylum denied.

Due to the war in Syria many people have fled their war-torn country. Some have died – the pictures of this the world over ignited a new wave of protest against the “Fortress Europe” policies. Some of the survivors are in Calais, France now. Many of them try to reach England through the canal tunnel.

Belgium has started organising to help out the refugees in Calais. We’ve been collecting goods – clothes, tents, food, soap and so on. Many people must have been waiting for something to do, getting fed up with the news and the inhuman reactions of politicians, there have been so much donations… Yesterday, September 4th, we went to Calais. All in all about 80 to 100 cars/vans/trucks came from Belgium to help out in Calais. People from many different countries are there to help in an amazing show of solidarity.

army truckAfter hours of travelling and sorting stuff, we ended up with about 18 people in the army truck of L, one of the two women who are the main organisers of the solidarity.

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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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transWomyn© Evie Embrechts. This article was first published in the trilingual Belgian magazine Scumgrrrls, #19, Summer 2012.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.

—Audre Lorde

What unites us is not a common sexuality or experiences or identities or self-expression. It’s that we’re up against a common enemy.
—Leslie Feinberg

Personal history

Growing up, I slowly gained an understanding of oppression. I still remember when I first joined an anti-racist group, sitting in a student restaurant and suddenly grasping the idea of a structure that oppresses us, that it is not just “bad people” that are the problem.

Later, sometimes slow and sometimes with sudden bolts of understanding I gained some gender awareness. I became a member of a gender action group. I was very happy to be a part of that group, Read more

Evie Embrechts

This article was first published in 2014 in International Viewpoint and LinksFeminisme. It was based on an earlier article in Dutch and then expanded and translated.

Recent years have seen renewed debate about prostitution in European countries. Both the Swedish and the Dutch models have been in effect for over 10 years and a lot of research has been done on the various implementations. What are the opinions and results?

CONTENTS

  • Different models
    • Present-day reality
    • Harm Reduction
    • Harm Elimination
  • Effects in the Netherlands
  • Effects in Sweden
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Conclusion

Different models

There are of course countless opinions about prostitution. Most of these are problematic because they are based on myopic, selfish or conservative thinking, or on abstract theory far removed from the real-life situation. There are a few models that try to take reality into account and to improve on it. These can be roughly divided into two tendencies: the harm reduction and the harm elimination model.

I’ll take a short look at both models and then present the actual implementations in Sweden and the Netherlands. The Dutch paper Volkskrant had an article where a quite pessimistic author opines that both the Dutch and Swedish models have failed(1). Luckily that’s not entirely true.

Present-day reality

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This article was first published in 2013 in Dutch on DeWereldMorgen – a progressive Belgian news site. It was then translated to French and published by LCR, a socialist/ecologist/feminist organisation.

holy-war-femenpropaganda-A première vue, cela ressemble à du féminisme, mais les Femen posent de grands problèmes qui ne peuvent être négligés. Elles font leur promotion en employant une démarche de pur marketing qui les mène à s’insérer sans problèmes dans la culture porno. Qui plus est, leurs conceptions sont racistes et néocoloniales.

Au début, je ne savais pas quoi penser du phénomène Femen. Le premier reportage que j’avais vu était très contradictoire. Il commençait par un gros-plan sur les jambes d’une membre de Femen et, ensuite, cela ne s’améliorait pas vraiment. Mais c’était peut-être plus la faute des journalistes que celle de Femen en tant que telle. Ce qui me plaisait, c’était qu’elles prétendaient protester contre le trafic humain et contre la prostitution. Mais elles n’étaient pas claires dans leur démarche et il me semblait légèrement contradictoire de protester contre la prostitution en vendant son propre corps aux média et en adoptant des poses pornographiques. Entretemps, il y avait eu aussi des remarques dénigrantes sur les femmes mariées. Mais, pensais-je alors, même si leur féminisme n’est qu’à petite dose, ce n’est déjà pas mal.

Et puis, me disais-je, de quel droit jugerais-je le féminisme dans d’autres pays ? Je n’ai rien contre le fait de protester nues, c’est peut-être un moyen pour apparaître dans les médias et que savons-nous, ici, de la situation en Ukraine ?

Haine contre les musulmans

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© Evie Embrechts. This article was written in 2010 and published in Scumgrrrls, a trilingual Belgian feminist magazine that no longer appears in print. Since it is still relevant, I’m republishing it here. It was the first article I ever wrote in English – sorry for the “Belgian English” folks!

The context does seem to have changed for the better: several organisations are once again focusing on real issues and there seems more resistance to sexist remarks, porn culture, violence against women… There’s a bit more grassroots feminist organisations in Belgium now, cooperation is better too. On the other hand the academic world does seem to be lagging behind, still lost in a maze of its own creation. Violence is not less of an issue now and the media love to focus on porn culture phenomena like the group Femen.

million women rise 1024bEvie Embrechts

In this article I will attempt to link three present-day issues together to explain why the feminist movement today is in a crisis of vision. Over the years, the way we speak and the goals we try to reach have changed, and changes in the nature of capitalism and the rise of porn culture have also had a significant effect on the feminist movement.

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