Written by By Lisa O’Carroll, CNN
Some residents of one Swiss canton have received a welcome surprise: according to a vote held this week, legislation to tighten the canton’s so-called the access of sex workers to emergency housing has been approved.
Among the measures to be introduced by the early next year are: a three-month minimum evaluation period for any applicant and an initial limit of three years on how long they can be a registered sex worker.
The proposals were approved by an overwhelming majority of voters in canton Nidwalden, the country’s second largest.
There were 3,750 registered sex workers in Sodre, the heart of the canton, in 2015, according to local NGO Oïde, which has campaigned against the legislation.
Its founder and director Melanie Vogel explains why the vote marks a small victory for human rights in a nation often lauded for its progressive views on social issues.
“In Swiss cantons, how can one say that the lives of these people are normal? I’m not saying that it is just that people don’t have a problem with the prostitution trade, but people are curious to know what is happening, whether they live in Sodre and why.”
Vogel, a journalist and former justice department official, has been campaigning against the legislation for months.
“You have to remember that Sodre is the size of a city. There are about 3,000 sex workers in Sodre, living in two hotels and in rented apartments, almost all of them women who spend most of their time at the hotel and don’t want to live in some tents.”
After noticing that, “as a result of Switzerland’s strict view towards prostitution, women were disappearing from the accommodation market because they couldn’t pay the rent or had to spend hours and hours on the streets, we started a fight and realized that the law needed to be changed.”
In Switzerland, where the legalisation of prostitution has been the subject of heated debates for decades, regulated sex-trade and regulated work environments have been agreed between a wide range of groups, including social services, NGOs, the police and the church.
In other cantons, the authorities have set up temporary shelters for sex workers — funded by the canton — which are supported by local charities.
The campaign for harsher laws to be introduced in Sodre was backed by representatives of trade unions and faith groups, though others including the Catholic Church called for action against “the modern slave trade.”
One of the appeals of a shelter for sex workers is that it gives them the security to pursue their job legally, “just like any other member of society, but that also can be their worst nightmare,” says Vogel.
“We see that even when they are willing to go to a shelter for an evaluation, they’re afraid that they will be kicked out because they feel that they will be replaced by more glamorous models, so that they may be forced out.”