Feminist approaches to the regulation of sex work: Patterns in transnational governance feminist law making

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Worldwide, through the effective spread of feminist ideas and modes of governance (Governance Feminism), two main feminist regulatory approaches to sex work/prostitution became widely accepted: neo-abolitionism and regulation and decriminalization. This Article argues that in reality both feminist approaches are characterized by inherent flaws in their implementation that end up causing distinct harms to the most vulnerable sex workers. As a possible alternative to both of these regulatory approaches, this Article uses an Israeli case study to propose a hybrid approach to the regulation of sex work. This approach consists of a formally declared abolitionist goal with wide informal characteristics of decriminalization—a form of what Annelise Riles calls, in a different context, a formalist law with a "hollow core." I argue that such postmodern law making of a symbolic gesture with no content, such an apparently contradictory approach, can be beneficial, in certain circumstances and political climates, to sex workers, compared with both of the traditional governance feminist approaches. The hybrid approach is far from perfect, but in an imperfect world, it can possibly lead to a better outcome from the perspective of the most vulnerable sex workers than that achieved by the two distinct feminist approaches. The Article stresses the advantages that are potentially embedded in a policy intended to create a gap between law in books and law in action, as well as its costs, and explores why transnational governance feminist regulatory stances tend to reject this regulatory approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-233
Number of pages57
JournalCornell International Law Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law
  • Political Science and International Relations


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