Macedonia: Overview of the 54-the CEDAW session regarding sex workers
At its 54-th session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) had a constructive dialogue with Macedonian delegation on the improvement of the situation of women’s rights in the Republic of Macedonia since the last reporting in 2006. There were submitted two national shadow reports, the first one was prepared and submitted by the Association ESE and Akcija Zdruzneska and the second was submitted by Roma Center Skopje. The Coalition for Sexual and Health rights of marginalized communities Skopje (Coalition) gave contribution in the preparation of the shadow report of Association ESE and Akcija Zdruzneska regarding the situation of female members of marginalized communities such as sex workers, drug users, lesbian, bisexual women and transgender. The representative of the Coalition took part in the informal meeting with the Committee and in lunch briefing with experts, members of the Committee in Geneva.
In the shadow report there was a separate section on prostitution under Article 6 of CEDAW where the Coalition reported on the legal framework regarding prostitution and factual inconsistence with the law. The report raised two main problems that sex workers in Macedonia face: violation of rights and inadequate response of reporting violence against sex workers and lack of social and health services that meet the needs of sex workers. It was emphasized that there is a serious violation on the part of the state institutions with regard to sex workers. Prostitution is still treated as an individual problem in our country and there is complete absence of official response to this phenomenon. The lack of adequate system for protection and processing the cases of violation of their rights results with non –reporting of these cases to the competent institution. In addition to this, the report gave short overview of the police raid called "Street prostitution" that happened in November 2008 when 23 sex workers were arbitrarily arrested and tested for HIV and STD without consent and afterwards seven of them were criminally charged for transmission of infectious diseases. In that respect the shadow report recommends that the state should take measures to address all serious violations of human rights of sex workers, in particular violations made by the state institutions.
Regarding social and health services, it was emphasized that there are neither special programmes for social protection of sex workers, nor measures to eliminate health and safety risks of these women. These aspects are provided by non-governmental sector in the sense of provision of the following: free gynecological check-ups regardless if they have health insurance coverage, free, voluntary and confidential testing for HIV/AIDS, support for obtaining personal identification documents, health insurance as well as exercising the social welfare rights before competent institutions. Respectively, it was recommended that special programmes for support and assistance to sex workers need to be introduced, especially with regard to the provision of social protection and elimination of health and safety risks.
After the pre-session of the working group that considered the combined fourth and fifth reports in July 2012, CEDAW provided a list of issues and questions with regard to the consideration of the periodic report for the state. Under this list of issues, regarding trafficking and prostitution, with separate paragraph, Sate of Macedonia was asked to provide information on measures taken to suppress the phenomenon of ‘exploitation of prostitution’. The Committee also asked the state to indicate measures taken to prevent the sexual exploitation of women and girls, to raise awareness on the health and safety risks of prostitution and also to ensure the social reintegration of prostitution. In the reply, Macedonia failed to provide the Committee with this information, instead, they stuck only to the replies regarding the phenomenon of trafficking of women.
Prior to the CEDAW session, NGO delegation had a chance to communicate with the Committee trough their oral statements and meetings with Committee members. During the oral statement, there was raised an issue on the complete absence of official state response towards the phenomenon of prostitution. Regarding the drug use, it was stated that the current treatment does not meet the needs of female drug users. It was emphasized that there is an increase in the number of girls and boys using drugs and developing drug dependence. Respectively, there is a lack of access to treatment, rehabilitation and re-socialization for girls and boys.
During the briefing with Committee members, the attempt of authorities to criminalize sex work and HIV was discussed. The briefing was used for more extensive presentation of the police raid "Street prostitution" and its impact on the situation with sex workers in Macedonia. It was emphasized that this case for the first time, put into force the provision that criminalizes transmission of infectious disease including HIV. The Committee members showed interest on the issue of the regulation of sex work where it was clarified that involvement in prostitution is considered misdemeanor and only sex workers are being punished and pimping is considered as crime. There was also interest in the flow of the case "Street prostitution" and weather it was reviewed under the non-discrimination clause since such conduct is considered discrimination against women.
During the constructive dialogue, almost all of the questions previously prepared by the Association ESE and Coalition in the List of questions distributed to the CEDAW Committee members were asked by the experts. Moreover, questions regarding the treatment of sex workers and the availability of specific health services targeted for sex workers were raised. Having in mind that most frequent reference of the Committee regarding prostitution is related to exploitation or trafficking, it was surprising to hear how some of the Committee members while framing the question to the state, made clear distinction between sex work/voluntary prostitution, exploitation of prostitution and trafficking. This situation demonstrates new trend in treatment of this issue by the Committee that recognizes the voice and need of specific treatment that meets their need contrary to the constant victimization and presumption that all women involved in prostitution are exploited. However, the Committee concluded that "while noting that prostitution is a misdemeanour in the State party only for persons in prostitution, the Committee regrets the absence of information on the prevalence of prostitution and is concerned by the lack of efforts to prevent the exploitation of prostitution and to address its root causes, and the lack of protection, health services, exit and reintegration programmes for victims of this form of exploitation." (CEDAW c/mkd/co 4-5 para. 25) Furthermore, it was recommended to the State "to pursue a comprehensive approach in addressing the exploitation of prostitution, including the development of strategies and implementation of programmes to support and provide rehabilitation for women who wish to leave prostitution, and ensure the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those who exploit prostitution." (CEDAW c/mkd/co 4-5 para. 26 c)
After returning from Geneva, a number of immediate follow-up activities was implemented. Association ESE in cooperation with association Akcija Zdruzenska organized a press conference and a round table for civil society organizations to present the Shadow report and at the same time to inform the public on our participation on the 54 session. Association ESE translated the Concluding Observations to Macedonian and published the full text of the concluding observations in the daily newspaper Dnevnik on 8th of March - International women’s day.
This experience with CEDAW is inspiring and gives additional impetus to continue the work on sex workers rights. In the future, we should all use the opportunity to bring closer the issue of women’s rights through the prism of sex workers before CEDAW because criminalization of sex work is the practice that mostly affects and discriminates women.
Contact the author: Natalia Boshkova firstname.lastname@example.org