Prostitution… legalize or not?

Recently the French parliament passed a law (based on what is known as the Swedish or Nordic model) which criminalizes the demand side of prostitution instead of the “supply”. This law sparked a debate nationally but also internationally. According to the article in the Daily Beast, “the most controversial provision would fine a prostitute’s clients up to 1,500 euros ($2,100) if they’re caught.” One of the opponents of the new law is the organization Médécins du Monde, “the respected international organization of doctors best known for their work in developing countries.” They argue that this law “forces sex workers into places that are more out of the way, more exposed to violence and more dangerous, as in such circumstances a prostitute’s ability to negotiate is diminished, whether arguing about a fee, or personal safety. It’s harder for medical and social workers to find the prostitutes and check up on them; they grow more suspicious of law enforcement agencies, and are ever more reluctant to go to the cops when they are victimized.”

On the other side stand all those supporting the law, claiming that despite of the “intended goal of making prostitution better and safer for those involved, survivors of sex trafficking have repeatedly stated that legalisation and decriminalisation of the commercial sex industry does just the opposite,” as it is stated in an opinion piece in the Guardian. The author is happy that “Europe is finally starting to listen. A new trend is emerging – criminalising the buyers, traffickers and pimps that fuel the commercial sex industry, while decriminalising and providing services and exit options to people in prostitution.” Importantly, she defends the “Nordic model” of prostitution policy, implemented in those countries in 1999, stating that these laws “recognise that due to the widespread coercion within legal prostitution sectors, it is simply not possible to differentiate the demand which is exploitative from that which is not.”

As it is also stated in the Guardian article, it is a sad and well-known fact that my country, Hungary is a key “source location for women and girls being trafficked to countries where prostitution is legal, such as Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands” (…according to some statistics, in Zurich 80% of prostitutes come from Hungary). “In those countries, women and girls are brought in to supply the legally sanctioned demand.”

So where does the truth lie? Should prostitution be legal? Should the demand be criminalized? After having read extensively on the subject, I tend to agree with the Nordic model. If you feel you are not convinced, read further.

Last year, the second place in the EU Journalist Award ‘Together against discrimination’ went to Dóra Ónody-Molnár (Hungary), for her article Hungarian Girls on Every Street Corner, “which examines the reality of prostitution in Europe and its impact on the women involved. The jury found the article to be a well documented and painstakingly researched piece of journalism” – very much worth a read.

On female scientists and engineers… and why toys matter

I work in a research and educational institution which specializes in (tropical) medicine. While the gender balance is quite good if we look at all employees, there is certainly much less balance if we see the number of women in leadership positions. In my department only 3 out of the 11 professors in tenured positions are female, so less than 1/3rd.

So why are there so few women holding leadership positions in research and academia? And why are there even less women in science than in other fields of academia? Recently I have had a number of discussions on these issues (mostly on Facebook), and it struck me how many men (and women!) think (=read: have been lead to believe) that women don’t study science and engineering because they are not interested, because their “brains are wired differently”, etc…

Some of these discussions ended up being about nature vs nurture, in which I was trying to argue that if, from an early age you wire little girls in way that they think that science is for boys, then they will not see that as a valid option for themselves regardless of their otherwise inherent interests. And where does this begin? Some argue it begins with toys. For example, there is a UK parent-led campaign called Let Toys Be Toys which is asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. Because if you so do, this is what happens:


You may have also seen the video by GoldieBlox that went viral on social media after being picked up by Upworthy. GoldieBlox is a toy company that is trying to show the world that “girls deserve more choices than dolls and princesses. Their founder, Debbie Sterling, is a Stanford engineer who decided last year that girls need more choices than the pink aisle has to offer. She developed GoldieBlox, an interactive book series + construction set starring Goldie, the kid inventor who loves to build.”

OK. So what happens after these little girls grow up, and despite all the playtime with dolls and make-up, they still decide to enter the masculine world of science? In her video, Emily Graslie, the “Chief Curiosity Correspondent of The Field Museum in Chicago, former volunteer of the University of Montana Zoological Museum”, who has a channel a YouTube, gives the audience an honest (and funny) recount on some of her daily struggles…