Prostitutes in Germany are demanding the right to go back to work as the country's brothels remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Around 400 prostitutes and brothel operators from all over Germany demonstrated on Saturday in the Hamburg red light district, the German news agency Deutsche Welle reported on Sunday.
Prostitution is legal and regulated in Germany, but the country's brothels have been closed for almost four months due to the outbreak.
Now sex workers say they are being treated unfairly and are demanding the right to return to work, especially since other companies that allow close contact, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, have been reopened.
The protest was organized by the Association of Sex Workers with the group's warning that the closure of licensed venues forced some prostitutes onto the street and put them at risk both in terms of their health and their personal safety.
Before the protest in Herbertstrasse, a street in Hamburg's St. Pauli district and the only street in the city's "red light district" in which sex workers occupy windows, similar to the Amsterdam red light district, the association published a statement on the website asking sex workers to do so to be able to work again.
"Prostitutes stand up and ask politicians to open the brothels," said the association. "While normal life returns to the infamous Herbertstrasse in Hamburg / St. Pauli after the Coronavirus is closed, shops, hotels, bars and restaurants are reopened, tourists are guided through the world famous district, the windows in Herbertstrasse remain dark (and there is) no life, no business, no joy. Nothing is going on. "
The statement added that "prostitutes are upset about the ongoing ban on sex work" and are concerned about their livelihood.
"They met all government requirements, paid taxes, received little corona support, stood with their backs to the wall, and were fed up with politicians taking no action."
The group argues that prostitution does not pose a higher risk of infection than other body-related services such as massages, cosmetics, dancing and contact sports, and that hygiene "has always been part of the business for prostitutes". The group added that workers are ready to take further protective measures such as partitions in the windows, ventilation, and recording customer contact information.
The group has questioned whether keeping the German brothels closed is proportionate to the declining number of coronavirus infections in the country. Germany, like its European counterparts, has had a high number of coronavirus cases (with almost 200,000 cases so far), but unlike its neighbors, it has kept the death toll low with 9,071 deaths. Germany has attributed its low death toll to several factors, including a robust contact tracking system and modern hospital infrastructure.
There are an estimated 400,000 sex workers in Germany, although no official data are available. The Association of Sex Workers cited members who feel humiliated that they need to contact the state for financial support and those who insist that they can offer their services safely. A worker, Anna, was quoted as saying that partitions had been placed in the windows of Herbertstrasse.
"Mouth-and-nose masks are already in place. We have worked everything through carefully: we can also offer sexual services as part of coronavirus protection measures. We find it insulting and inept if we are not trusted," she said.
The association announced that sex workers in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic have been able to work again since the beginning of June.
In Amsterdam, where Europe's best-known red light district is located, sex workers were allowed to return to work last month after the government proposed a first return to work on September 1.
Red Light United, a group that represents the interests of sex workers in the Netherlands, said that banning sex work during the coronavirus crisis forced many women to work illegally with little or no financial buffers.