After reading "Residents fear vice patrols" [The Phnom Penh Post, April 3, 2009], I was disturbed to learn about such regulations being imposed by the government on sex workers and how this impacts other women. My purpose in writing this letter is to express my concern about how the law banning sex workers has regulated gender.
The assumption is that laws must be gender-neutral or fair to everyone, but liberal feminists argue that the state is not neutral in its treatment of women.
Female sex workers have been dominated by laws biased towards men. Sex workers have generally been judged immoral and deserving of punishment, but such criminalisation under the law may exacerbate violence against women and subject them to further sexual exploitation.
Now, sex workers will not be able to report sexual violence committed against them, and their claims of abuse, so often dismissed in the past, will continue to go unrecognised.
Countries that criminalise sex work, including Cambodia, create conditions under which women become easy targets for state-sanctioned harassment and violence.
Prejudice against sex workers and the shame attached to them have resulted in under-reporting of rapes to authorities, despite the fact that sex workers in the past have often enjoyed some level of rights to pursue their trade for the sake of supporting their families.
The new sex worker law [in Cambodia] does not only regulate what careers women are allowed to pursue, but also increases the shame and stigma attached to sex work by a society that increasingly views sex workers as dirty or fallen women.
The Network of Sex Work Projects states: "Sex workers are individuals whose reasons for engaging in sex work, and for leaving it, are personal, economic and social - as complex as anyone's reasons for involvement in any occupation. Sex workers merit the same human rights and respect as other people."
In conclusion, women must not be subject to arrest based on when they decide to leave their homes. Such a legal practice contributes to the further objectification of women while leaving men free to act in whatever way they please.
We can no longer afford to view every issue that needs intervention as something exclusively related to women. With respect to HIV/AIDS or human rights, these are not gender issues. Men and women must work together and protect each other, and laws must do the same.
Send letters to: [email protected] or P.O.鈥圔ox 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.