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…

Perfume ads

A co-worker sent me this photo he took on the busy streets of Brussels. It is a perfume ad featuring Uma Thurman in a seductive pose. (Remember this?)

I wonder, why do 99% of perfume ads need to show (barely dressed) women in such poses and usually open mouths? Do advertisers think this will make women buy the perfume hoping that we might look like Uma if we spray it on, or is this targeted at men because they are “supposed to” buy these as gifts for us (while maybe secretly hoping we do turn into Uma if we spray it on)?

Just for the fun of it, I did a Google search on ‘perfume ad’ images. Here is the (not so surprising) result.

It’s Your Fault

We have all heard the gruesome stories of rape that came out of India in the past months, starting with the “bus” case of last December which became so well-known that it even has its own Wikipedia entry. All India Bakchod (AIB), an Indian (all men!) comedy collective had enough of that “every sexual assault case in India inspires a string of stupid and hateful remarks against women.” They decided to do something about this which resulted in a satirical response video that discusses victim blaming from a non-PC perspective. Food for thought.

WHO report highlights violence against women as a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions’

A report came out today from the Wold Health Organization on violence against women and asserts that “physical or sexual violence is a public health problem that affects more than one third of all women globally.”

Let me just quote a few of the shocking numbers:

  • Globally, 38% of all women who were murdered were murdered by their intimate partners, and 42% of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner had experienced injuries as a result.
  • Women who have experienced partner violence are almost twice as likely to experience depression compared to women who have not experienced any violence. (Same number for women to have alcohol-use problems.)
  • Women who experience physical and/or sexual partner violence are
    • 1.5 times more likely to acquire syphilis infection, chlamydia, or gonorrhea. In some regions this applies to HIV.
    • twice as likely to have an abortion than women who do not experience this violence.

In the report WHO has identified the key elements of a health sector response to violence against women which result in the following recommendations:

  • Women centered care
  • Identification and care for survivors of intimate  partner violence
  • Clinical care for survivors of sexual violence
  • Training of health-care providers on intimate partner violence and sexual violence
  • Health-care policy and provision
  • Mandatory reporting of intimate partner violence


Click on the image for the full infographic and for the detailed explanation of the recommendations.


Shoes and boobs

I am pretty sure Converse knows the answer to what the links is between shoes for men and female breasts… How sad from a brand that otherwise desperately tries to project the image of being hip. This is all you got??? Total lack of creativity. (By the way, while we are at it, why does she even need to wear panties? Hypocrites.)

Notbuyingit – a hashtag, an app, a movement

After the mobile app against street harassment, here is the next one: this time against sexism in the media. Based on the idea that the consumer makes the ultimate choice in our society by voting with her money, believes we have the right and opportunity to talk back and influence the media we buy. Can we teach the media a lesson and demand a change in how women are represented? Can we together put pressure on certain companies and make them produce different ads? And if at all, will a mobile app help in this?

The NotBuyingIt app is a project initiated by the people behind Missrepresentation who are are partnering with body image experts at to create a mobile app to fight sexist and damaging media and celebrate the positive. It is asserted that 3 out of 4 teen girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful after spending just 3 minutes looking through a fashion magazine. (These seem to be the US stats – but surely cannot be far from the European ones. If we have stats on this at all.)

So how did this idea came about? During the 2013 Super Bowl (the most watched and tweeted about media event of the year in the United Stated) the #NotBuyingIt hashtag was used by thousands and it became a trending topic on Twitter.

For the skeptics, here are some of the past successes from the MissRepresentation website this hashtag has had on Twitter:

  • Pressured to remove a line of t-shirts promoting rape in under 24 hours
  • Forced America’s leading Halloween costume seller to change how it markets girls’ costumes
  • Pressured a solar company to rescind a sexist ad campaign and delete their Facebook page
  • Helped get Hallmark to remove a sexist greeting card in under 24 hours
  • Helped get two children’s books that promoted gender stereotypes removed from the shelves of Harrod’s in London in under 24 hours

So how will the app work? “Using GPS technology we will pinpoint where the worst advertising is coming from and which communities are most active in fighting back. You’ll have the ability to document all the billboards and posters impacting your local community, putting pressure on brands and local officials to respond. Our scoreboard will keep track of progress in real time, ranking which products are deemed most sexist by the community and which ones we support.”

MissRepresentation has launched a campaign on Indiegogo, where you have 7 days left (till April 28) to contribute to the making of the app. Doubtful? Here is a quick motivational video 🙂

An oldie but goldie

A few years ago, when I was working for a television company that had many niche channels in its portfolio (among them a cooking channel), we received an invitation to the “grand opening” of a new candy shop/ patisserie in downtown Budapest because we featured their cakes previously in one of our shows.

O p e n i n g  party. I did not find it funny then, and I don’t find it funny now – I have found it quite offensive in fact. #notbuyingit, Sugar Shop.


(I will discuss the hashtag in another post in detail, but here is more info from the Missrepresentation website: “People worldwide are using hashtag #NotBuyingIt to call-out sexism in the media. Let the media know: sexism won’t sell. Use #NotBuyingIt on Twitter to challenge the misrepresentation of women and girls.”)