The mayor of Amsterdam has intensified her crusade to change the city’s seedy image, criticizing visitors who flock to its red-light district for treating prostitutes like a tourist attraction.
Calling their treatment “unpalatable” and “humiliating,” Femke Halsema told the Amsterdam daily, Het Parool, that growing tourism to the red-light district was making it increasingly difficult for the city’s sex workers to ply their trade safely or with dignity.
With as many as 20 million visitors coming to Amsterdam every year, the city is struggling to cope with the growing number of tourists, which amounted to just 10 million in 2000. Not only has this affected the availability of housing, but it has also put increased pressure on the tiny red-light district and the women who work there.
“The circumstances in which women have to do their work have worsened,” Halsema said of the city’s current state of affairs. She added that the city’s locals did not want prostitution to be this way, or think that the current state was “how it was supposed to be.”
Halsema, who was elected to the job in June 2018, blasted such a “display of vulnerable women” and has promised a list of measures by the summer.
Issues faced by women working in the city’s sex trade include the existence of unlicensed prostitution, which has been linked to the trafficking of women.
“First and foremost, we need to ensure that they are more independent and empowered, and are not being abused or used as commodities,” she added.
The mayor’s comments were reiterated, albeit more radically, by a cross-party group of political youth activists, who have described the district as a “public meat market.”
Reforms proposed by the group include requiring women to be resident in the Netherlands for at least a year prior to taking up employment in the sex trade.
Halsema’s call for action follows her August greenlighting of a plan that would see the district’s streets temporarily closed on busy nights. This allows street cleaners to clear away the growing piles of rubbish and puddles of spilled beer, vomit, and human waste left by revelers.
Her predecessor, Eberhard van der Laan, also oversaw similar efforts. In 2017, he opened a brothel run by sex workers who leased a building owned by the city.
Dubbed the “Municipal Brothel” by Amsterdammers, the scheme aims to diminish reliance on pimps and underworld influences.
By Femke Halsema