Photo credit: BRUNO DOMINGOS/REUTERS
Today, the AP reports that prostitutes in one of Brazil’s biggest cities are beginning to sign up for English classes in preparation for the influx of tourists that the 2014 World Cup will bring – one of the more interesting pieces of news to come out of the World Cup Prep Files. Entire Urban Studies books could probably be written about what happens to cities that host major world events like the Olympics or the World Cup. In fact, they probably already have and people smarter than I am should tell me about them in the comments. Part economic/tourism boon, part large-scale forced displacement project, these types of events can fundamentally transform the cities where they take place, and often, it is a city’s marginalized communities who are most deeply affected.
For example, in 2007, Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) estimated that 2 million people were moved from their homes over the past 20 years, many of them forcibly, to clear space for the Olympic Games. Similarly, last year it was widely reported that Rio de Janeiro was attempting to raze favelas and resettle thousands of the city’s poor in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
In light of the fact that the economic benefits of being a Host City rarely trickle down to the disenfranchised, some might argue it’s encouraging that Brazilian sex workers are gearing up to get a piece of the pie. Certainly, there is a healthy debate to be had about the sex work industry – which is often structured by capitalist exploitation, poverty and women’s oppression. However, in Brazil prostitution is legal (although sexual exploitation and pimping are not), and there are a number of organized unions there that work to empower sex workers. In fact, these English classes are being offered by the Association of Prostitutes of the city of Belo Horizonte, an area that will be hosting six World Cup matches – and the Association is in talks with teachers to offer the classes free of charge.
Is this sex tourism news a depressing extension of exploitative colonial attitudes or an empowering way for sex workers to exert their agency? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!