Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Justice and Civil Liberties on Sex Work in Contemporary International Human Rights Law

Brooks-Gordon, Belinda; Wijers, Marjan; Jobe, Alison

Justice and Civil Liberties on Sex Work in Contemporary International Human Rights Law Thumbnail


Belinda Brooks-Gordon

Marjan Wijers


To fulfil obligations in international law State parties have to take the issue of human trafficking seriously. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) provides General Recommendations (GR) to member states on the interpretation of the Women’s Convention. In 2018 the CEDAW Committee started to develop a GR on trafficking in women and girls in a process planned to conclude in 2020. The first stage towards this was through the publication of a Concept Note to serve as a basis for dialogue during the two-year international consultation period. The Concept Note is a vital link in a textual chain because it frames the policy problem and actively constructs its own ‘documentary reality’. This article provides a critical analysis of the CEDAW Concept Note on the grounds that such analysis provides an understanding of its discursive construction of trafficking, migrant labour and sex work, by an institution responsible for international jurisprudence on human rights. Analysis of the Concept Note explores the documentary constructions including narratives that merge adult women with girls, the symbolism of exploitation, the silencing of scientific research, the elision of sex worker voices, and sex work as work. The analysis leads us to conclude that the General Recommendation should define what counts as ‘exploitation’, and ‘forced labour’, and address the growing international recognition of best evidence on the wider impact of sex work laws, in order that legal framing and constructions of sex trafficking are not erroneously used to curtail rights of sex workers.


Brooks-Gordon, B., Wijers, M., & Jobe, A. (2020). Justice and Civil Liberties on Sex Work in Contemporary International Human Rights Law. Social Sciences, 9(1), Article 4.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 22, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 10, 2020
Publication Date Jan 10, 2020
Deposit Date Jan 15, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jan 19, 2020
Journal Social Sciences
Publisher MDPI
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Issue 1
Article Number 4


Published Journal Article (293 Kb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations