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Framework on Rights of Sex Workers & Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

7 Jan 2020 21:01:34

International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) and Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) in partnership and supported by Open Society Foundations are presenting 29-page framework, in PDF format, which seeks to connect human rights principles to the debates around prostitution laws and sex work, and is intended to be a tool to inform the rights discourse on sex work in the context of CEDAW.

International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific is a feminist organisation committed  to the full realization of women’s rights through the pursuit of equality.
IWRAW act to disrupt structures, systems and institutions that violate women’s human rights and is egaged in movement building that amplifies women’s voices and activism to create alternative political narratives and spaces.

Since 1993, IWRAW AP has worked towards the realisation of women’s human rights, mainly through the lens of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).


  • Access to Justice and Women’s Human Rights
  • Business and Women’s Human Rights
  • Extremisms and Challenges to Universality of Women’s Human Rights
  • Influencing the Global Human Rights Agenda
  • Peace and Conflict
  • Rights of Marginalised Groups of Women
  • Sustainable Development
  • Violence Against Women
  • Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

IWRAW AP is an NGO in Special Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.  IWRAW is facilitating and monitoring CEDAW implementation.

Full 29-page framework, in PDF format is awailable under this link


Sex workers across the world face acute human rights violations that occur in a variety of social, economic, political and legal contexts. Discriminated against by law and often socially stigmatized and marginalized, sex workers confront abuse in the context of health and social care, housing, employment, and education, often perpetrated by police and other state actors. A comprehensive, human rights-based response to these multiple levels of discrimination and violations requires a nuanced approach to protecting sex workers — one that not only recognises the contexts within which such violations occur, but also addresses diversity among people in sex work, as well as the structural inequality and systematic exclusion that produces these cycles of victimization and violence.

Radically different viewpoints and tough debates— discussed more fully in this Introduction— have characterized efforts to develop coherent responses. The debate is often fierce, in part because some participants think there are essential truths at stake about ‘women’, sex, and the exchange of sex for money. Here, gendered (and often racialized) dichotomies have dominated the human rights debates around sex work, so that any word must be understood as making a choice: distinctions between “sex work” and “prostitution”; “agency and “victimhood”; and “consent” and “coercion” have proven to be pivotal in legal and policy responses to sex work. Human rights embrace both formal and informal discourses and systems which value and respond to variety in humanity, while also promoting the conditions for equality and freedom of selfdetermination for all. Within the formal architecture of human rights, international human rights treaties and treaty bodies address the rights accorded to or withheld from people as they act on or carry out different sexual practices. As such, treaty bodies can bring special weight to these discussions; moreover, treaties set the standards, norms, and values by which national policies and laws are both formulated and critiqued.

This Framework seeks to connect human rights principles to the debates around prostitution laws and sex work. It is intended to be a tool to inform the rights discourse on sex work in the context of one such international human rights treaty— the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, hereinafter the Convention). As such, this Framework reflects on the dichotomies mentioned above, particularly the ways in which they have been treated within the feminist and women’s movements over the last few decades.

Although feminist debates provide an important backdrop for the discussion over and development of current laws and policies that impact sex workers, these legal frames have also been influenced by long histories of patriarchal, age, and race-based ideologies. All these ideologies are embedded in human rights treaties as well. IWRAW Asia Pacific is committed to engaging with feminists to understand their concerns, but in drafting this Framework, the project began from a practical and conceptual agreement that International Human Rights Law (IHRL) can be applied to sex worker lives as defined by the needs of diverse sex workers and as relevant to the ongoing evolution of IHRL.

Thus, the framework aims to provide historical, theoretical, and practical perspectives on the relationship between sex work, international human rights law, and various feminisms To do this, the Framework proceeds from a specific perspective: it catalogues the kinds of rights violations from which sex workers suffer from, as defined by sex workers; and ultimately suggest opportunities for rights-claiming by sex worker networks and NGOs using specific articles contained within the Convention and referenced by other international treaties.

This framework works from the premise that using a rights-based legal discourse will be helpful for sex worker rights advocacy groups to redirect attention from the “abolitionist’ narrative espoused by some feminists towards the voices and experiences of sex workers themselves, taking into account their diverse historical, political and cultural contexts.

Cover, Layout and Design by: Thilini Perera

Cover image: Sally T. Buck