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I was traveling alone, so during my first night at the hostel in Amsterdam, when I met a woman my age who offered to show me around the city, I accepted, excited to find a traveling partner. After walking through the major canals, we were nearing the heart of the city, the Red Light District.
Since we were already so close, my travel companion asked if I wanted to walk through and see a bit of it. I thought it would be cool. But when we got there, empowerment was the furthest thing from my mind. But more than just seeing women on display, what really got under my skin were the people, just like me, who were walking around the area just for some entertainment. I noticed a group of old white men walking around, clearly interested in more than just looking, as well as two young black men negotiating prices with one woman through a window.
Denmark makes a big deal about how they have one of the highest ratings of gender equality in the world, and the Netherlands ranks even higher. After being in Amsterdam, I wonder how this is possible: How can a country that is known for putting women on display and selling them also be known for gender equality? I know these ratings are based on several factors, including education opportunities, career mobility, pay equity, maternity leave, etc.
It is currently illegal to hire an unlicensed prostitute, and new measures are being taken to regulate the escort industry, which grew significantly after as a way to circumvent the prostitution licensing system. So while they acknowledge that sex slavery is still a problem , it seems like the Netherlands is not ignoring it, and is taking steps in the right direction.
But on the issue of gender equality, something still seems wrong. If women and men truly have the same opportunities in education and career mobility, why are there 25, women who see prostitution as their most viable option for supporting themselves? And while women may justify the choice to use their own body as their livelihood by claiming that doing so puts them in the position of power, there is no power in the dehumanization that is inherent in sexual objectification. This is a problem that extends beyond Amsterdam and it surely has to do with more than just prostitution, but how do we even begin to change that when countries with legalized prostitution and all that comes with that: dehumanization, objectification, violence, slavery are pointed to as the epitome of equality?