Society

When A Mid-Sized City Meets The World's Oldest Profession

Lyon is the hometown of France's new Women’s Rights Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who wants new measures to stamp out prostitution. With French sex workers demonstrating in the streets, Le Monde looks at how prostitution has evolved in Lyon.

A municipal police team in a Lyon suburb (sammydavisdog)
A municipal police team in a Lyon suburb (sammydavisdog)
Richard Schittly

LYON - The streetwalkers of Lyon are furious. Abolishing prostitution? They are outraged by the very idea, as laid out on June 24 by the Women's Rights Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who is also a leading politician in Lyon in charge of youth and community activities.

"The first thing that always comes to her mind is to beat us whores up," says Karen, a 46-year-old spokesperson for local prostitutes. "We are going to defend ourselves, we're not going to go away with one sweep of a broom."

For prostitutes, abolitionism is a new way of banishing them even farther away, of scrubbing them out of the picture, all under a pretext of moralism. Vallaud-Belkacem wants France to begin to punish the clients of prostitutes, as is already done in Sweden, Norway and Iceland. The prostitutes instead want to see the recognition of their work as a legitimate occupation with regulated practices. Over the next two days, prostitutes and associations are will be marching for their rights in the streets in Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille and Paris .

Borislava, a 27-year-old Bulgarian, thinks that the minister "is saying this to win over votes, but guys won't be OK with it."

Karen discovered dark back-alleys when she was 20. In the 1990s, she worked at Tina's, a popular hostess bar in the posh 6th district. She left the sidewalk for a short stint as a secretary before coming back to "this real job." She drove her van and parked behind Perrache train station, where prostitution was concentrated, in the abandoned grounds of southern Lyon.

This is where the left-wing municipality fought against prostitution for 10 years, by means of parking bans for "equipped vehicles." Behind this mundane legal justification, the goal really was to push prostitutes away from a sector destined for a key urban development project. In 2003, then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's law on passive soliciting strengthened the crackdown, as police raids multiplied and the local prefect made it a major priority: "Only the army didn't intervene!" quips Karen.

As a result, the prostitutes moved from Confluent to Gerland, in an industrial sector that stretches between the beltway and the railway.

Jean-Louis Tourraine, the 66-year-old deputy to mayor Gérard Collomb, is worried about this debate. He is in charge of security and he knows too well that controlling prostitution in a metropolis is an "extremely difficult" question, packed with paradoxes and false solutions. "No absolute prohibition nor excessive tolerance: we aim for a balance," says Touraine.

Part of the policy is to assuage the riverside residents, who are shocked by the vans and scantily clad women at the foot of apartment buildings and schools.

"Hardline abolition is doomed to fail," says Tourraine, who advocates a subtle mix of "deterrence and pedagogy" by calling for a "general assembly" that would place prostitution in the center of national public debate. Even though it is pushing prostitution away from public spaces, the municipality gives 30,000 euros in subsidies to Cabiria, an association that assists prostitutes - subsidies that now minister Vallaud-Belkacem voted for.

Abolition: ideal or impossible?

"Prostitution has always existed, no one wants to see it because society is hypocritical," says Evelyne in her van in Gerland. She is 61 and carries all the memories of prostitution in Lyon. In 1975, she was part of a group of prostitutes who occupied the Saint-Nizier church during a historic 10-day protest.

They were asking for social recognition, for a status, during the heyday of the women's liberation movement. Evelyne keeps fond memories of those times: "We all rebelled, everybody supported us. Today, people glare at us." She doesn't understand why feminists, who supported them yesterday, are now against them.

The Women's Rights Minister justifies her choice: "I didn't set out to convince those who chose prostitution, I'm thinking of the much larger group of those who are victims of violence," says Vallaud-Belkacem, who was in Lyon on June 29. The minister chimes out her policy points: she mentions "80% of victims of pimping," considers a "consensus conference," similar to those on health ethics. But it is out of the question to take a step back: the abolitionist position is "an ideal whose ways and means are to explore, but not to challenge."

Even associations that help prostitutes are fiercely debating the topic. "Abolition is part of our human ideals, of principles that help society rely on ethical markers," explains Daniel Mellier, a delegate from the abolitionist Nest Movement.

Laura Garby, the Cabiria spokeswoman, is not convinced: "A law that would meddle with sexual relations between consenting adults is very worrying, it's a step back for the left, which had abolished the law punishing homosexuality."

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo - sammydavisdog

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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