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Using CEDAW to advocate for the elimination of discrimination and violence against Hungarian sex workers

The Association of Hungarian Sex Workers recently represented Hungarian sex workers at the 54th Session of CEDAW, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva, in February 2013. By using the submission of a shadow report and active advocacy at the session , the Association achieved a landmark success in its history: the Committee recommended that the Hungarian government ‘adopt measures aimed at preventing discrimination against sex workers and ensure that legislation on their rights to safe working conditions is guaranteed at national and local levels’. 

The CEDAW Committee is an expert body established in 1982, composed of 23 experts on women's issues from around the world. The Committee's mandate is to watch over the progress for women’ made in those countries that are the States parties to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. At each of its sessions, the Committee reviews national reports submitted by the States parties within one year of ratification or accession, and thereafter every four years. These reports, which cover national action taken to improve the situation of women, are presented to the Committee by Government representatives. In discussions with these officials, the CEDAW experts comment on the report and obtain additional information. This procedure of actual dialogue, developed by the Committee, has proven valuable because it allows for an exchange of views and a clearer analysis of anti-discrimination policies in the various countries, giving space for the voices of non-governmental grassroots organizations from the national level.

The inclusive NGO engagement during the CEDAW review process is largely made available by the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific). Through their From Global to Local program, continuous NGO presence is secured at CEDAW Sessions since 1997. The Association of Hungarian Sex Workers in partnership with Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN) prepared a shadow report and attended the training program to effectively prepare for advocacy at the CEDAW Session. The shadow report, oral statement and informal lunch briefing proved to be very informative for Committee members who utilized the available evidence presented by the Association to a large extent in the Constructive Dialogue between the Hungarian Government and CEDAW and in the formulation of the Concluding Observations to Hungary, which highlight the main concerns of the Committee on the discrimination of sex workers and lack of safe working conditions for them.

The Association has already started implementing its national follow-up advocacy strategy aiming to bring the international standards of the CEDAW Convention back home, promote the recommendation and monitor its implementation. Several MPs were contacted and discussions at high political level started on how to advance sex workers’ status in the country.

The Association also wishes to use this success to build a coalition of practitioners, women’s groups, NGOs and sex workers that could powerfully raise awareness on the negative stereotypes and harassment sex workers face in the country. As a first step, a meeting will be organized to explain the importance of the CEDAW recommendations for diverse stakeholders and to create action plans for influencing decision making on sex work.

Shadow report (English)