Sex at the Margins in a Pleasantly Surprising African Europe

Sex At The Margins of Surprising Europe was the title given to an interesting piece mentioning my book from This is Africa last week. The occasion was a new episode of Al Jazeera‘s Surprising Europe series entitled Under Pressure, on the experiences of African migrants who sell drugs or sex in Europe.

I have to say I wish these money-making activities had not been separated off from others, reinforcing the stigma about them. In a different episode I watched from the series, a woman living in Holland without money to pay rent is told to go to the red-light district and work. She says she would rather die than do that – which fair enough – and so she had a different kind of very hard time. I could also have done without one typically moralistic condemnation of prostitution as not the way for Africans to get ahead – when the programme actually contradicts her from a practical standpoint – but in general I enjoyed and recommend Under Pressure.

I often say that the so-called illegality of sex jobs is a moot point when workers have no right to be where they are in the first place: you are already breaking the law so why not earn more money while you are at it? Sex At The Margins of Surprising Europe says

Imagine trying to survive without the permission to do any kind of work. You’ve got to eat, which isn’t free, and you’ve got to sleep somewhere, so you need money for this, too. What would you do? This is the problem faced by undocumented African immigrants in Europe. There are only so many cash-in-hand positions for cleaners, fruit-pickers and building-site workers, so many find themselves having to turn to the more ‘illegal’ professions, such as prostitution or selling drugs. Your existence in the country is already seen as ‘illegal’, so what difference does it make?

On the topic of Sex at the Margins (the book) and selling sex they say

The women also possess agency, the capacity to make their own choices, even if these choices undermine the picture of the world that others choose to hold. The remittances, however, can make a huge difference back home, not just for the immediate family but for an entire community.

In this photo, migrant Africans in Italy can be seen possessing agency with Don Benzi, who spent his life trying to convince them to leave prostitution but only succeeded with some. One reason has to do with those remittances. It’s rarely acknowledged, but sex work is undoubtedly responsible for a large proportion of money sent back home, given the fact that it pays so much better than other jobs available to migrants. Read Contributing to Development: Money Made Selling Sex.

Here is the trailer for Under Pressure. Enjoy how it focuses on life for undocumented Africans not from the point of view of horrified or angry white people but from Africans themselves.

See the whole episode and others at Al Jazeera’s Surprising Europe website.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

One thought on “Sex at the Margins in a Pleasantly Surprising African Europe

  1. Maggie McNeill

    It’s great to see your book referenced in a mainstream television program; now if we can only get the North American media to open their eyes…


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