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Of privilege and prostitution

Women advocating for the abolition of prostitution on the steps of the Supreme Court (source: www.ctvnews.ca)

For a few years in the 1990s I had the enormous privilege of a regular column in the Vancouver Sun. Every week, I’d write 750 words on pretty much any topic I wanted, and the Sun (a broadsheet not affiliated with the tabloid chain) would disseminate it to hundreds of thousands of readers.

That’s where the privilege came in. Pre-Facebook, Twitter and widespread Internet use, having a newspaper column gave you a singularly influential platform.

After three years, a new editor-in-chief decided to replace my overtly feminist voice with that of another more conservative-minded woman whose opinions more often aligned with those of the new owner (and yes, his name was Conrad Black).  I doubt that my views ever registered on Mr. Black’s consciousness, but from the day he became the major shareholder of the paper, my own editor began second-guessing my commentary, calling me up to inquire, “Are you sure you want to (write about breast feeding, contradict yesterday’s editorial about same-sex parents, or encourage police to do a better job of investigating the disappearance of aboriginal women on the Downtown Eastside)?”

(This was years before the Port Coquitlam pig farmer was finally identified as the man behind those disappearances, and I continue to regret that I only devoted one column to the topic, instead of 5, or 10.)

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen gave me space to write about some of the issues currently being considered by the Supreme Court regarding the decriminalization of prostitution. The debate over the wisdom of what’s being advocated by Bedford and company is one that divides feminists, and I respect the perspectives of those who take a different view on the matter.

But I’m siding with Aboriginal women on this one. The Native Women’s Association of Canada is one of seven organizations that make up the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution. The Coalition used its intervener status at this week’s Supreme Court hearing to advocate for the decriminalization of prostituted women, but not the legalization of brothels or pimping. (You can read the full column here.)

Although mainstream newspaper columns don’t have quite the same dominance as they once did, being able to focus thousands of readers’ attention on an issue you think is important remains a privilege. I appreciate it every time I’m given the opportunity.

And I am genuinely thrilled every time a woman who has attended an Informed Opinions workshop, or heard me speak, takes advantage of a similar forum to amplify her voice on a topic she knows and cares about.

Our site now features more than 100 of these interventions, with many more to come…