Ana Sofia Fernandes

Ana Sofia Fernandes is Vice President of the European Women’s Lobby, Secretary-General of the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights and Advisor at the Portuguese Economic and Social Council.

Between 2010 and 2015 she worked at the European Institute for Gender Equality as Stakeholders’ Coordinator and Resource & Documentation Centre Officer.

With studies in International Relations and Cooperation for Development, her civic engagement dates to 2000, when she co-founded and was the first President of the Portuguese Network of Young People for Gender Equality.

Certified gender equality trainer, she held positions as member of the consultative council of the Commission for Equality and Women’s Rights, President of the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, member of the General Assembly of the European Women’s Lobby and member of the Board of the Association of Women from Meridional Europe.

Her professional activity dates to 1995. Among others, she performed duties at the General Directorate for Health, Institute for the Management of the European Social Fund, cabinet of the Minister of Work and Social Solidarity and cabinet of the High Commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue.

Welcome and opening session

Dear Alexandra Silva and Eduarda Marques,

Dear Rachel Moran, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago in the Comission on the Status of Women of the United Nations in New York,

Dear Portuguese MPs, representatives of ministries and public administration, women’s associations, migrant associations, youth, academia, among others;

Dear participants, feminists,

I am very pleased to be here as the Vice-President of the European Women’s Lobby, the largest platform of women’s associations in the European Union, with more than 2000 organizations from all member-states and candidates.

This year we are marking 20 years since EWL first agreed our position on prostitution. Since our General Assembly in 1998, we have only strengthened our resolve in the face of ever-growing evidence that violence, sexism and racism are inherent to the system of prostitution and have worked tirelessly to end this exploitation. To mark this 20 years, we are looking back on key activities that have driven impact and promoting the opportunities that exist. We have a European Parliament that agrees that prostitution is harmful and supports holding exploiters and abusers to account. More and more EU Member States are adopting the Nordic, or ‘Equality’ Model; this is an international, evidence-based movement and we must ensure the momentum continues.

In 2018 the EWL established a new ‘Taskforce on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Sexual Exploitation’, bringing together leading experts from across Europe to create our feminist vision including issues such as reproductive rights, sexuality education, prostitution, pornography, surrogacy, etc. and to increase our European-wide engagement in this area. This builds on many years’ campaigning and advocacy work to end sexual violence, sexual oppression and sexual and gender-based inequality. It recognises that these issues are interrelated, and all impact on women’s safety, dignity and ability to lead the lives they aspire to. It connects the commonalities in particular between prostitution and pornography, and gives the EWL an internal means of collaboration between experts working across Europe on these issues.

We continue to be deeply concerned by Europe’s response to migration into Europe: the lack of resourcing, that responses speak of European “security” but not a humanitarian, human-rights and compassionate approach to those in need. We know that the number of women, children and men coming into Europe has decreased, and yet thousands remain in tented camps or are scattered across Europe without safety, long-term security, no right to work and often their basic needs not being met. This has a particular and specific impact on women and girls, and so we will continue the work begun with our “Women’s Voices” report, calling for investment into gender-specific supports and resources, and a stronger trans-national approach to ensure women and girls are protected from sexual exploitation, grooming and trafficking into prostitution.

The European Women’s Lobby continues to support coordination of the Brussels’ Call, a network of over 200 organisations committed to our vision ‘Together for a Europe Free from Prostitution’. 2019 marks the 5th anniversary of the Honeyball Resolution, which was sought by the Call and where the European Parliament recognised prostitution as violence against women, recommending 4 key actions:

  • Reducing demand for prostitution by shifting the crime to the client
  • Fight trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • Offering exit strategies to women
  • Combatting violence against women

We will mark this anniversary next year in Brussels along with other partners of the Brussels’ Call, and will be calling on the Parliament to ensure they are proactive in their continued support for this resolution. We know that the best way to support those affected by prostitution, offer better alternatives and limit the number of women and girls entering into the exploitation that is prostitution is by adopting laws criminalising the purchase of sex while decriminalising the sale of sexual services. We call for the Nordic Model to be included in a European Directive on Violence Against Women and ensure all European Member States adopt these laws as a matter of urgency.

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