In Oudekerksplein, or the Old Church's Square, in the heart of Amsterdam’s red-light district of De Wallen, stands a bronze statue of a full-breasted woman standing in a doorway at the top of small set of steps. The statue is named Belle, and is the world’s first and only monument dedicated to sex workers.
The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world where prostitution is legal and regulated. Sex workers are required to undergo regular health checks at the government's expense, and brothel owners require to obtain health certificates before they can employ or lease rooms. In Amsterdam, De Wallen is the largest and best known red-light district. Spread over a network of alleys, the area contains approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. Called “kamers", they are the most visible and typical kind of red light district sex work in Amsterdam and are a large tourist attraction.
Photo credit: Shubert Ciencia/Flickr
The idea for Belle was conceived by Mariska Majoor, founder of the Prostitute Information Centre and a former sex worker herself. Mariska was sixteen year old when she was drawn to the world of prostitution. At that age, she did not think of sex work as demeaning. She saw it as work and was happy with the high earnings. She only realized much later that the rest of the world did not see prostitution as something as “normal” as she saw it.
In 1994, Mariska stopped working as a prostitute and opened the Prostitution Information Centre to educate the public about sex work and to reduce the stigma faced by sex workers. The organization now runs tours of the Red Light District for tourists and students, and conducts lectures and slide presentations on prostitution and other sex-work related issues.
In 2007, she commissioned artist Els Rijerse to create Belle to show respect to the millions of women around the world who earn their living through prostitution. The statue was unveiled to the public during the Red Light District’s 2nd Annual Open Day.
The plaque on Belle reads: "Respect sex workers all over the world".
Photo credit: Ok.Lviv/Panoramio
Photo credit: Daniel Wolf/Panoramio
Photo credit: Helena/Flickr
The street where Belle stands also has a bronze relief of a hand caressing a female breast. The sculpture was set in the cobblestone in February 1993 by an anonymous artist. Photo credit: Stacey/Wikimedia
De Wallen red-light district in Amsterdam. Photo credit: Or Hiltch/Flickr
De Wallen red-light district in Amsterdam. Photo credit: Rungbachduong/Wikimedia
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