Margareta Winberg is the chairperson of UN Women National Committee Sweden.

Open letter to UN Women

2013-10-27 | Margareta Winberg padlock


UN Women National Committee Sweden, expresses its concern about the content of Note issued by UN Women on prostitution and trafficking. In this open letter chairperson Margareta Winberg states that UN Women should not have taken a position regarding this matter, and also that the position taken is the wrong one.


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UN Women National Committee Sweden, expresses its concern about the content of Note issued by UN Women on prostitution and trafficking and which has come to our attention through other organizations.

Women’s rights are human rights. They are universal and indivisible. Every human being has the right to life in dignity, freedom and security.

We refute vividly both the way the note has been brought to our attention and its political standpoint.

On issues which are controversial the UN Women are not supposed to express an opinion. This position was communicated to the chairperson of UN Women National Committee Sweden, about a year ago, when she asked about the position of UN Women on surrogate motherhood. UN Women responded that it does not express an opinion on controversial issues, but leave it to each member state to form an opinion. From the present note, we find that UN Women has made a policy change on an issue that divides the world, and where the Northern European and the global women’s movement fight for recognition of fundamentally different values.

UN Women indicates that a discussion of issues is due in the middle of the month of November 2013. This discussion should have preceded any position on the issue and prior to issuing to present note. This note has caused an intensive discussion within the progressive women’s movement and has harmed and continues to harm the good name and reputation of UN Women.

In addition to the criticism of the manner in which this note was established, UN Women National Committee Sweden does not share the political opinion expressed in the note. Our arguments are as follows:

We are of the opinion that prostitution never is a voluntary act. There are factors behind why a woman – and occasionally a man – is forced to sell her/his body.

The only person with a choice in the situation of prostitution is the buyer. Through the act of buying sex, the buyer exploits and strengthens a position of force. Therefore our position is a strong support to feminist society.

To legalize and formulating rules for prostitution has led to acknowledging and legitimizing the pimp and other profiteers, shown in well documented research around national legal systems since 2000.

Studies from e.g. Australia (State of Victoria) prove legalizing prostitution to increase organized crime, to increase illegal prostitution, and to increase trafficking (when prostitution is normalized, local women are not enough – new ones need to be imported). Similar situations have occurred in Germany and the Netherlands.

It is with surprise that we read the note of UN Women and its focus solely on prostitutes. The one with the choice, from our point of view, is generally a man, who is absent in the reasoning. How does UN Women view the buyer, pimps, and other profiteers in this matter?

We take the stand that it is the demand of prostitution that should be questioned. Men’s self-proclaimed right to buy another human being’s body is unreasonable, old-fashioned, and proves a standpoint that is by no means compatible with the acknowledgement of women’s human rights.

Our goal is to give the women of the world the possibility to live a life free from violence and exploitation. To be forced to prostitution is in our understanding a very brutal form of violence.

Our means to reach our goal are to fight poverty, fight for women’s equal rights, and we see work and education as key factors in this process.

Our means is also a criminalization of those who buy and exploit women’s bodies.

Such legislation was initiated by the Swedish women’s movement in 1999. This law has been regulating but also been helping the Swedish police force’s work in recognizing and fighting trafficking and prostitution.

We see this Swedish movement slowly finding followers and gaining ground. More countries, among them Norway and Iceland, have implemented similar laws.

In France the National Assembly will shortly vote on the topic. Finland and Ireland are currently debating intensely on similar suggestions.

In the light of these debates the pro-prostitution lobby sees its task to prove their point, which however is not compatible with a care for women’s human rights, the main purpose of UN Women.


UN Women’s note is incorrect, thus the reaction of UN Women National Committee Sweden, together with sisters and brothers around the world.

We are numerous actors who have worked with this issue for many decades. We have been very successful in our fight against prostitution and can therefore not accept the views expressed in the note by UN Women.

Statement unanimously adopted by the Board of UN Women National Committee

Sweden, 23 October 2013.

Margareta Winberg

Chairperson UN Women NC Sweden


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