02 Jun

The Creation of the Red Umbrella Fund

RedUmbrellaFund History cover

Five years after itsstoryofredumbrellafund creation, the Red Umbrella Fund is proud to publish a part of its history. This report brings out the energy, commitment, and courage of the people involved in setting up this pioneering funding mechanism for sex workers. We have been eager to document this story to share our learning from this process with other activists and donors.

“We never thought this could be possible” – Ana Luz Mamani Silva, Mujeres del Sur

Starting with a meeting on sex work and trafficking in 2008, the story highlights  perspectives and experiences from sex workers and funders involved in the process up to 2012 when the Fund was officially launched.

Discover how the sex workers activists and funders overcame their differences, and worked to build common understanding and consensus. Find out what key ingredients to success have been identified.

“If you’re genuinely interested in supporting our rights, you should set up a fund where we set the priorities ourselves” – Ruth Morgan Thomas, NSWP

RedUmbrellaFund History cover

 

Download the report here

 

15 May

Funders Need to Let Go

Dennis blog photo 2

“During the conference, it occurred to me that we do not need everyone to become a participatory grantmaker. It makes sense that some organisations may not fully be able commit to this ethos. Rather, what we need is to scale up participatory grantmaking.”

Dennis van Wanrooij, a Programme Associate at the Red Umbrella Fund attended the 2017 EDGE Funders Alliance annual conference in Barcelona. Dennis was enthusiastic to share information about participatory grantmaking and it turned out that many of the conference’s participants were eager to learn more about it!

Dennis blog photo 2

Dennis speaking the closing panel with Chris Stone (OSF) and Sarah Gunther (Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice)

 

Dennis emphasized the need for funders to let go, and to acknowledge the privilege funders have as funders.

“Let’s stop talking about the risks funders make when they cede power. What I want to talk about is the risks sex workers and other populations take when advocating for their rights in highly criminalized and hostile environments. The risks we take, as funders,  pale in comparison.”

dennis blog photo 1

PAC members and volunteer in 2013.

 

As a former member of the Red Umbrella Fund’s peer review panel and current staff member, Dennis has learned that participation is more than just making decisions about grants—it’s about re-thinking your role as a funder on a daily basis, and seeking community participation in all layers of work. In order to achieve a fully participatory process, funder need to partner with, support and learn with their grantees.

Read Dennis’ full blog post published in Alliance magazine here.

11 Jan

Not Victims

buttons_credit Dale Kongmont APNSW

I come from quite a conservative religious background. I remember, as a young girl, feeling upset and sad when walking through the Red Light District in Amsterdam, wishing someday all these women would be ‘free’. No, I could never see myself behind those windows.

Based on my personal ideas and feelings, I assumed that sex work was not a job that anyone would ever choose to do. I imagined that most people working in the sex industry must have been forced somehow. I have learned that my assumptions are not always right.

During my research of sex worker organisations and anti-trafficking measures, I also learned that assumptions can have harmful consequences. I interviewed sex worker activists from twelve organisations about their understanding of and response to trafficking. The stories I heard taught me that sex workers are often far from disempowered. And that all of them are in fact already taking action to influence the debate – as well as the practices – around preventing and addressing cases of trafficking into sex work.

The public discourse13336434_10154107603289627_1564694405_n

In the public discourse, sex workers are often portrayed as women who are poor, powerless victims who have had no other choice but to ‘sell their bodies’. They may be a victim of unfortunate circumstances or they may have fallen prey to abusive boyfriends or criminals who forced them into the sex industry[1].

The latter category, often referred to as ‘human trafficking’ is a popular topic. Millions of dollars are invested into anti-trafficking campaigns and programs every year. However, the topic is widely debated with diverse stories, statistics and popular rhetoric, allowing for a distorted image of reality. Discourses around sex work and trafficking are often linked, based on prejudices, morals and somewhat dramatic rhetoric and images. But repeating this conflation time and time again has harmful consequences.

The European anti-trafficking network La Strada International states that:

“unbalanced media coverage on trafficking can … create false perceptions and damage the interests of trafficked persons rather than servicing them”.

They argue that media coverage on trafficking is problematic because of the ‘portrayal of the scope and nature of trafficking, in particular with regard to estimates of the number of trafficked persons and its occurrence in the sex industry or other economic sectors’.

Taking action

Today, over 200 sex worker-led organizations are members of the Global Network for Sex Worker Projects (NSWP). The Red Umbrella Fund, the only sex worker-led fund for sex worker organizations in the world, has received applications from over 225 different sex worker organizations and networks in the past five years. These diverse groups all stand up for sex workers rights but each have their own priorities, with some more focused on health where others on protection against violence. Others focus on influencing policy-making processes for protective laws and policies on sex work or migration. These organisations generally acknowledge that exploitation and human trafficking happens in their sector, however, not on the exaggerated scale as often suggested by the media and in politics.

Some of these groups have themselves set up programs to combat trafficking in their sector. The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) in India consists of over 65,000 sex workers. Since 1997, the DMSC has been highly concerned with human trafficking and established Self-Regulatory Boards to prevent and counter trafficking. These boards consist of both sex workers and other local professionals such as doctors, lawyers and government officials. They ensure that women who start working in their district are not underage, and not coerced into sex work. The DMSC also provides information about the work and about the services and support that are available for sex workers. They note that:

“there was no existing effective mechanism to combat trafficking in destination (of sex work) sites and only a committed group of sex workers could prevent entry of trafficked underage girls or unwilling women into the sex sector.”

Research shows that the self-regulatory boards are an effective solution to prevent trafficking, and that sex workers can play a critical role against trafficking.

The example of the DMSC has inspired other collectives to implement similar initiatives, adjusted to their local context. For instance, the sex worker collective Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP) recently published a book about their own anti-trafficking efforts.daughter-of-the-hills

But if these strategies are so successful, why have they not (yet) been widely replicated in other countries?

The Biggest Challenge

One of the challenges faced by sex worker groups is that they are not recognized as partners against trafficking. Because sex workers are often considered ‘victims in need of rescue,’ sex worker organisations tend to spend most of their time and resources in both gaining recognition of sex work as a legitimate profession, and representing the voice of these workers. German sex worker group Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen (BesD) has stated that:

“they apparently don’t think it’s important to support sex worker-led organizations in the whole quest of saving and rescuing sex workers”.

Moreover, many anti-trafficking programs in practice are focused on anti-sex work policies, induced by the highly stigmatising popular discourse surrounding sex work. Therefore, many sex worker groups are focused on debunking the myths on sex work and human trafficking, and changing the rhetoric. They feel that the tone of the discussion needs to be changed in order to protect both sex workers and trafficking victims.

“The authorities think that wherever prostitution is practiced, there are women who are forced into it. And we are trying to sensitize the authorities to demystify their myths and prejudices” – representative from sex worker organisation Mujeres del Sur, Peru

Many sex worker organisations monitorlastrescueinsiam_empower and critique existing anti-trafficking initiatives, as they themselves experience the harms resulting from these programmes and campaigns. Sex worker group Empower in Thailand criticises current anti-trafficking ‘raid & rescue’ operations in a playful yet spot-on video.

First do no harm

Although I have adjusted my understanding of sex work and can accept it as a job, I still think I could never be a sex worker myself. Why? Because I think I would feel very uncomfortable setting my own boundaries with my body, my clients and myself. I will never forget the reply I got from a sex worker when I shared this thought: “Well, if you don’t think sex work is for you, then you’re probably right”. And I think he was right. Just like being a banker, a butcher, or a dentist are definitely not the jobs for me either.

donoharm
But I learned that a young woman’s pity based on assumptions is not helpful for anyone. Rather, what sex workers need is to be recognized as workers. We need to challenge and change the current discourse on sex work and human trafficking. We have to be critical of popular discourses that reduce sex workers to victims with no agency. We need to support sex workers’ rights, decriminalise sex work and fund sex workers’ rights organisations. Furthermore, we should invite sex workers as experts in anti-trafficking spaces and acknowledge them as allies in the fight against trafficking.

Not victims. Rather, sex workers are crucial partners in the fight against human trafficking. Only when we take a human rights based approach, stopping the discrimination and recognising the important contribution of sex workers in this area, can we work together to effectively counter human trafficking in the sex industry.


This blog was written by Wendelijn Vollbehr,  who conducted qualitative research in partnership with the Red Umbrella Fund in 2016. Her masters thesis, “Sex workers against human trafficking. Strategies and challenges of sex worker-led organizations in the fight against human trafficking,” was nominated for the FSW Johannes van der Zouwen Masters Thesis Prize 2016 and is available here.

 

[1] Weitzer, R. (2007). The social construction of sex trafficking: Ideology and institutionalization of a moral crusade. Politics & Society, 35(3), 447-475.

16 Nov

Who will join our ISC?

ISC May2016s

ISC May2016sThe Red Umbrella Fund is looking for committed sex worker activists to join our International Steering Committee (ISC)!

Are you an experienced sex worker and activist interested in supporting the sex workers’ rights movements at a global level? 

Do you agree with the need to respect sex work as work and ensure that sex workers everywhere can organize themselves to claim their human rights?

We currently have 4 positions open on our ISC for sex workers from:
1)      any of the non-Spanish speaking countries in Latin America or the Caribbean;
2)      any of the English speaking countries in Africa;
3)      any country in South Asia;
4)      any country in East Asia, Southeast Asia or the Pacific (except for Australia or New Zealand)

Deadline for nomination forms and endorsement letters: 6 December 2016.

Note that applications will be accepted in English, Spanish or Russian only.

Download the self-nomination form here.

Interested? Keep reading!


About the Red Umbrella Fund

The Red Umbrella Fund is the only global fund dedicated to supporting and promoting the rights of sex workers. We exist to mobilise new money to support a strong and sustainable global sex workers’ rights movement that can create the changes sex workers want to see. The Red Umbrella Fund has made 78 core-funding grants to sex worker-led organisations in all regions since it was launched in 2012. Click here for more information about us.

How we are organised

ISC tour Belle2s

ISC members, staff and volunteers at the sex worker statue of Belle in Amsterdam

The Red Umbrella Fund is led by a partnership of sex workers and donors, with a sex worker majority in both grantmaking decisions and overall governance. Our International Steering Committee (ISC) provides oversight and is responsible for making strategic decisions. We also have a Programme Advisory Committee (PAC), which is our peer review panel that advises the ISC on the groups to fund. The work is coordinated and supported through a small secretariat (office), hosted by the international women’s fund Mama Cash, in the Netherlands.

Roles and Responsibilities of ISC Members

The International Steering Committee (ISC) is responsible for the key strategic and programmatic decisions of the Red Umbrella Fund. While its members come from different parts of the world, all ISC members are expected to keep the global perspective of the Red Umbrella Fund at the forefront of their decision making.

The ISC:

  1. Sets the grantmaking criteria and priorities, selects the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) members, and approves the new (Grantmaking)
  2. Supervises and supports the Fund Coordinator and reviews and approves policies, plans and procedures related to strategic and programmatic decisions. (Management)
  3. Reviews and approves the Red Umbrella Fund annual plan and budget. (Planning)
  4. Ensures that the Red Umbrella Fund’s communications are consistent with the agendas of key global and regional networks of sex workers and the fund’s own vision and mission. (Communication)
  5. Supports communication, cross-learning, and capacity building. (Learning and sharing)

Who are the ISC members?

The ISC consists of sex worker representatives (always the majority) and representatives of selected donors to the Red Umbrella Fund. It has up to 11 members from different parts of the world. The ISC aims to consist of people who are capable of fulfilling the described set of ISC responsibilities, while striving for diversity on all levels, including geographic, language, gender, areas of expertise, and types of networks and affiliations.

What we are looking for:

  • Sex workers’ rights activist, who identify as (current or former) sex workers and are part of and endorsed by at least one sex worker-led organisation. Note that ISC members are selected based on their individual skills, expertise and commitment to strengthen the global sex workers’ rights movement(s) and they are not considered representatives of their respective organisation or region.
  • Sex workers’ rights activists based in any of the of the regions mentioned in the box at the top. Note that the other regions already have representation on our ISC at the moment.
  • Someone with regular e-mail access and availability to attend quarterly ISC meetings (by phone or Skype) and at least one three-day meeting in-person per year. ISC members are expected to volunteer additional time (several hours per week) for ISC discussions and responsibilities at different times of the year.
  • All candidates must be interested and available to commit to actively participate in the ISC for a minimum of three years. Membership can be renewed once for another three years.
  • Able to communicate well (read, write and speak) in English, Spanish or Russian.

What do we offer?

  • Participating in the ISC provides a unique opportunity to contribute to the only global fund that is led by the community and specifically focuses on supporting the sex workers’ rights movements.
  • Insight into the sex workers’ rights movements globally as well as the funding landscape and trends.
  • Direct contact with diverse sex workers’ rights activists and allied funders.
  • ISC membership is a voluntary (unpaid) position but costs of participating in Red Umbrella Fund meetings are covered.
  • Language support for ISC members to communicate together in English, Spanish and Russian.

How do you apply?

  1. Get a sex worker organisation or network that you are part of to write an endorsement for your nomination; and
  2. Send us your completed self-nomination form.

 

Questions? Please contact info [at] redumbrellafund [dot] org

30 Sep

Mind the Gap

(credit: Claire Bontje / Mama Cash)

What we learned about how funders can be moved in the right direction.

As human rights and social justice funders, we try to reach those people who are most marginalized and excluded from services and protection. Those who are least empowered, least resilient, and hardest hit by inequality. But one group that ticks all those boxes is systematically excluded from funding opportunities: sex workers. Why are not more funders stepping into this gap? What makes even human rights funders so hesitant to take on the human rights of sex workers?
 
Many of the women, men and transgender people around the world who provide sexual services for money face high levels of violence, discrimination and incarceration. Due to the criminalized status of sex work in most countries, combined with high levels of stigma, sex workers are often unable to file a complaint or take legal action. Amnesty International just conducted research on human rights abuses against sex workers to better understand the appropriate, rights based actions that are needed. This has culminated in a global policy in support of decriminalization of sex work. There are other organisations that stand up for sex worker rights, including those led by the community themselves, but these organisations are systematically underfunded.
At a funder discussion at the EFC’s AGM 2016 (Credit: Clair Bontje/Mama Cash)

A funder discussion at the EFC’s AGM 2016 (Credit: Clair Bontje/Mama Cash)

Funder journeys
The Red Umbrella Fund, the only international fund for and by sex workers, partnered with the Free University in Amsterdam to better understand how other allied funders started supporting sex workers’ rights. Sixteen staff were interviewed at twelve foundations to analyse key aspects of these funder journeys.

“I am very conscious of the fact that I did go on a journey. I did not start off talking about sex workers and sex worker rights and understanding the difference between trafficking and sex work. But yeah, I now see sex work as work. It needs to be work that is respected, that is protected, paid for properly. That has all the rights of other work.” (foundation staff, interview respondent)

What happened to bring about this change? And how can we reproduce such developments and scale them up?

Yes, the respondents admitted, academic research was useful as evidence to support sex workers’ rights. And the various UN agreements (like from UNAIDS, UNDP and WHO) on sex work helped too. But there is one other ingredient that seems to be key to any significant change.

Polarised

Although everyone’s story is unique, the following excerpts from interviews with two women leaders in international foundations are exemplary of experiences and insights shared by many others in philanthropy. The fact that their stories are anonymized is illustrative of the sensitivity and high level of stigma that continues to be associated with sex work. Discussions related to sex work are regularly described as “extremely polarized” and “really unpleasant”.

“The debate is so polarized, where the violence against women on one lawn is basically accusing the other side of supporting the sex industry. And you’ve got groups [on the other side] that say there is no violence, that they have never come across a case of trafficking there. And because we can’t have a proper, honest debate about this, it’s like a zero sum game.”

Victims

The two foundation leaders cited in this article have a background in fighting violence against women and trafficking, which seemed to put them strictly on the one side of the debate.

“For me, sex work at that point was a bad thing done to women. I could only see it as oppression. It was a way to control women. It was harmful to women. And I was only really aware that it was about women. I saw it as violence against women.” 

Seeing sex workers first and foremost as victims of violence had implications on the funding strategy they implemented at their respective foundations.

“I made a very quick jump between sex work – well, what I then called prostitution – and trafficking and I put the two together.”

This conflation between sex work and trafficking was reflected in the grantmaking by her foundation at the time, which mainly focused on ‘rescuing’ women from the sex industry:

“the majority of it was really funding those organizations that were trying to get women out of prostitution. That was how I saw it. We were quite proud of that. We thought it was doing good work.”

So what happened that made them recognize that sex workers are people with agency, entitled to human rights?

Sewing Machines

The game-changer for many of the respondents had been coming in direct contact with sex workers. Hearing first-hand experiences from sex workers and better understanding their contexts. And, importantly, seeing sex workers first as human beings. As people with agency.

“For me it was the meeting with the sex workers, hearing them talk about their work. [..] It was this great sense of these women having made informed decisions about going into this work, because whatever options they had involved very high levels of violence.”

Hearing directly from sex workers how they experienced their work, and learning about what they considered their key challenges and needs to be, were significant milestones in determining the direction of the funder’s journey.

“They talked about the economic alternatives that were presented to them by the state, by anti-prostitution groups, and saying: Well, actually I can triple this. If I really want to change the life of my kid, this is the most lucrative way for me to do it. If you want me leave sex work, come back and put me in charge of petrol pumps. Put me in charge of something that you would offer a man. Don’t offer me a sewing machine. Or doing handicraft. Because I will still be trapped in the same cycle of poverty and violence. [..] It certainly was a shift away from viewing women as victims, and seeing them as having agency, about making informed decisions, about becoming politicized” 

In some cases there was no direct contact with sex workers, but other community members or experts functioned as the initial amplifier of the voices of sex workers, widening the funder’s horizon to explore alternatives and listen to the community.

“[They told me] we don’t agree with this [raid and rescue,] approach. They are in fact traumatizing women who are being so-called freed in raids and they are not providing them with alternatives, when they say they are.”

Fears

Both women leaders recognize now how they, and many women they encounter, transfer their own fears and feelings about what they think it would be like to do sex work onto others.

“It would be a problem for me, it will always be a problem for me, but that shouldn’t mean that it cannot not be a problem for other women. [..] But my concern as a feminist should be: does that woman have a voice, does she have rights? Is she able to live life on the terms that she wants? And if she is vulnerable to exploitation and violence, are there things we can do to reduce that? Or even better, to help her stand up for her rights [..] and be able to demand justice.”

Building more open spaces even among peers to talk about these experiences, fears and prejudices can help change the direction we are going in.

“I remember talking to the director of a grantee organisation saying: ‘the worst thing that I can imagine is doing sex work. And therefore, the worst thing I can imagine any woman doing is sex work.’ I remember her saying to me: ‘Do you sit here imagining what it might be like to be a brick-laborer? Or an agricultural worker? No.’

The thing about sex work and prostitution is, it becomes extremely personalized and people apply their own personal lens to it, in a way they might not to other forms of exploitative work. Or work. There are other forms of labour exploitation out there that are horrific, but they don’t seem to carry the same moral outrage as sex work does.” 

Value added

We need more brave funders to step up and help fill the funding gap and also to speak out against prejudice, misinformation and ignorance as the consequences are real in the lives of sex workers.

“I am convinced that if sex workers can have more opportunity to speak for themselves, change would happen faster. [..] That’s where our added value can be. To support them.”

 

Written by: Sanne Bos (Free University, Amsterdam) and Nadia van der Linde (Red Umbrella Fund).


First published by Alliance Magazine here.

02 Sep

Red Umbrella Fund at AWID Forum 2016

awid forum

Are you attending the AWID Forum 2016 in Brazil?

Come join sex workers and allies on Friday evening the 9th of September for the Celebration of the Red Umbrella Fund’s four-year anniversary! We are honoured to celebrate our anniversary with sex workers in a catwalk organised by Daspu, a Brazilian sex worker-brand that promotes sex workers’ rights through fashion, pride and humour.

Our party will be part of the Money & Movements Plenary from 18.00 to 20.00 hours at Arena Sauípe. Our International Steering Daspu sw show AWIDCommittee member Ana Luz, founder of sex worker organisation Asociación de Trabajadoras Sexuales Mujeres del Sur in Peru, will also be speaking at the plenary.

Four years ago, the Red Umbrella Fund was created and launched at AWID’s Istanbul Conference (2012). Ana Luz was there too. The Red Umbrella Fund is now in itsfifth grantmaking year and has already made 78 grants to sex worker-led organisations and networks in 45 countries so far, with more to come.

To push further the agenda for the rights of sex workers globally, the Red Umbrella Fund is co-hosting two sessions at AWID in Brazil:

Combating Trafficking for Puporse of Sexual Exploitation: Do We Do More Harm Than Good?
Saturday, 10 September, 11.30 – 13.00 in Vera Cruz
This session consists of sex worker rights activists who will share their experience with anti-trafficking initiatives and share their own initiatives to prevent and address trafficking and exploitation.

How Can Funders Most Effectively Support Young Feminist, Trans* and Sex Worker Movements
Sunday, 11 September, 11.00 – 12.30 in Bahia 3
Funders will share information from mappings of funding invested in support of sex worker, trans* and young feminist activism, discuss experiences of involving communities in grantmaking processes, and seek feedback from the audience.

The Red Umbrella Fund will also host office hours for sex workers on fundraising, using the NSWP’s Smart Guide to Sustainable Funding.

Many other sex worker activists are organising sessions at AWID as well, check out the programme for more information.

We hope to see you there!

Red Umbrella Fund team

04 Aug

My Feminism Supports Sex Workers’ Rights

Sisonke March on International Sex Worker Rights Day in Cape Town

When one of the International Steering Committee members of the Red Umbrella Fund asked me why I chose to volunteer here out of all organizations for the summer, I struggled to come up with an articulate answer on the spot. “I’d always heard rhetoric about including sex workers in feminism,” I told him, “and I wanted to put that into practice.” I only realized later why he was likely so surprised at my decision to volunteer for the Red Umbrella Fund: I’m an American.

When it comes to sex workers’ rights, my home country is about as clueless as the tourists in Amsterdam walking through the bike lanes. Most people don’t know the difference between human trafficking and sex work, and hardly any would include the rights of sex workers in their top political priorities. Before I started volunteer for the Red Umbrella Fund, I wouldn’t have either.

While at the Red Umbrella Fund, I met with an activist for LGBTQ  and sex workers’ rights from China. He lives in a context in which someone can be arrested simply for saying the words “human rights”.

Despite all of this, when I told him I’m from the United States, he said: “Oh. I’ve heard the situation for sex workers there is terrible! Chinese sex workers do not want to go there.”

I knew from my experience at the Red Umbrella Fund that he was right, but my heart still sunk. Throughout my time volunteering here, I’ve learned more and more about the danger and stigma sex workers in the United States face. So why had I rarely heard about it in my country itself, even in spaces dedicated to human rights and social justice? If living abroad has taught me anything, it’s that America has a lot more to be embarrassed about than the success of Donald Trump.

Sex Work Policy

My experience at the Red Umbrella Fund led me to wonder whether sex workers’ rights had ever been addressed in mainstream American politics. For those who, like I was, are clueless about sex work policy and sex workers’ rights, this website does a great job at clearly outlining sex work laws across the world. It clarifies that both buying and selling sex are illegal in most of the US. While some may believe that criminalizing the purchasing of sexual services is a progressive model, sex worker and activist Juno Mac debunks this myth in her viral TED talk here.

Juno Mac’s “What do sex workers want?”, TEDx

In the words of Mac:

“if you care about gender equality or poverty or migration or public health, then sex workers’ rights matter to you.”

Anti-Prostitution Pledge

In addition to the laws mentioned above, George Bush implemented a policy known currently as the “anti-prostitution pledge”, which remained in place until the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2013.  Essentially, it required NGOs funded by the US to adopt an organization-wide policy opposing both sex work and sex trafficking, again failing to make the important distinction between the two. Even after it was struck down in 2013, the law continues to affect affiliate offices of American organizations abroad, such as those fighting HIV in the global South (see here and here). The impact of past US presidents on stigmatized populations across the globe remains far-reaching. This is why it is important as ever to pay attention to the upcoming election.

Hillary Clinton’s Perspective on Sex Work

Coincidentally, as I became interested in the lack of attention to sex workers’ rights in the United States, I was reading a book called False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton. To my surprise, and disappointment, it became even more relevant when I reached Chapter 10: Hillary Screws Sex Workers. For anyone hoping to gain knowledge about the context of sex workers’ rights within the United States, I highly recommend it.

Sex work policy is determined on a state level in the US and therefore rarely addressed in presidential campaigns. But when activists asked Hillary Clinton (in 2007) about her opinion she said: “I do not support legalized prostitution or any form of prostitution” (128).

She conflated sex work with human trafficking and failed to acknowledge that anti-trafficking efforts often criminalize the most vulnerable populations in America: women of color, undocumented people, trans people, and single parents.

While Hillary was Secretary of State, Cambodia introduced a new anti-trafficking program, that “threw workers into rehabilitation programs where they were subject to rape and violence” (130). Hillary granted it an “improved rating”, which meant that it would receive additional funding from the United States. If that’s not “faux feminism”, I don’t know what is. As the author of the chapter, sex worker Margaret Corvid, poignantly explains, “In the United States, there is no national debate where sex workers have a place at the table. By helping to shape the American narrative around sex work, obscuring us as either criminals or survivors, Hillary Clinton has helped to keep us invisible, and she must like it that way” (132).

Police Brutality

Monica JonesAs the #BlackLivesMatter movement gains voice in the fight against police brutality in the US, we must remember that sex workers, particularly trans women of color, often face police violence. Almost one out of every 5 sex workers interviewed by the Urban Justice Center in New York reported sexual harassment and abuse, including rape, by police (INCITE!). Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color, was arrested on prostitution charges in 2014 while simply walking down the street. It prompting the viral hashtag #WalkingWhileTrans.  Alisha Walker, a sex worker from Chicago, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stabbing a client who attacked her at work.

Ending violence and discrimination, particularly from police, is a top priority for most sex worker organisations. Sex workers, like any other workers, deserve to work in safe environments.

To learn more about how sex work policy in the US negatively impacts people of color, check out the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s newest platform. It includes a demand for the decriminalization of sex work. When we talk about #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackTransLivesMatter, we have to talk about sex workers. And vice versa.

Wake Up Call

Although it seems easy to fall into hopelessness about the current state of the US, the revolutionary work of activists on the ground remind me not to.  Sex workers, though often silenced and erased from the mainstream media, are at the forefront of activist movements all over the world. Learn more about how to be an ally to the sex worker movement. Perhaps, if we turn to activists rather than politicians to re-instill hope, the world will become a little bit less scary.

By Rachel Drucker, summer volunteer at the Red Umbrella Fund

29 Jul

2016 Call for Applications is now closed

Red Umbrella Fund Call2016 poster

The Red Umbrella Fund’s 2016 global Call for Applications is now closed.

Is your group, organisation or network led by sex workers?

Do you agree that sex work should be recognised as work?

Do you contribute to building and strengthening the sex workers’ rights movement(s)?

The Red Umbrella Fund gives grants to sex worker-led groups and networks that are registered or unregistered. In 2016, we expect to make about 20 core funding grants to local, national and international sex worker-led organisations and networks.

Apply for a grant here.

 

Red Umbrella Fund Call2016 poster

Poster: How to apply for a grant from the Red Umbrella Fund?

Download poster

La convocatoria global del Fondo Paraguas Rojo (2016) está cerrado

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Фонд «Красный Зонт» открыл прием заявок о соискании грантов на 2016 год!

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Nous appelons actuellement à la proposition des demandes de subventions (du monde entier)!

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11 Jul

In Loving Memory of Sharmus Outlaw

Sharmus PAC_2015

It deeply saddens all of us to have to let go Sharmus Outlaw, our 2016 Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) member, who passed away last week after so many achievements and struggles in her life. Our hearts go out particularly to all her friends and colleagues who have stayed with her in the most difficult of times.

Sharmus PAC_2015Sharmus was part of the Red Umbrella Fund’s 2015 Programme Advisory Committee (PAC), the international peer-led group that reviews applications and selects which ones should get funded. Participating in the PAC was a new international experience for Sharmus, and she took up the challenge with both hands. She contributed to the grantmaking process with eagerness, joy and wisdom.

As a trans woman of colour and sex worker, Sharmus advocated for those who are non-conforming, excluded and often silenced. She was the strong voice of the most vulnerable and marginalised sex workers in the PAC.

We also remember Sharmus as a pleasant, peaceful and incredibly caring human being. Sharmus was positive, kind and loving. She communicated her strong opinions and feelings in a constructive way, always demonstrating openness and respect to different opinion and democratic process. She firmly believed that together, the sex worker movement is stronger. She was a true sex workers’ rights activist, with a lifetime dedicated to all those who face violence, oppression, stigma and discrimination.

Sharmus, your legacy will continue to be our inspiration and motivation.

RUF PAC_2015

Red Umbrella Fund PAC and staff 2015 (Sharmus is second to the left)

Messages from Red Umbrella Fund staff and PAC members that worked with her in 2015:

 “I am mortified by this news!!!! This is truly, truly, sad!!!! I had hoped her health would improve after being moved to the new facility. Rest in peace Sharmus, You will be missed dearly. Rest in peace our dearly beloved SHARMUS!!”
– Daughtie Oguto, member of the PAC 2015

“I was privileged enough to meet this fabulous lady in Amsterdam. I remember she used to call us ‘PAC family members’, which meant a lot to me. Sharmus was indeed family of all sex workers in the world, someone who would never give up the fight. Her last message to me was: ‘tell everyone I will see them in October’. You’ll always be with us, Sharmus!”
– Dennis van Wanrooij, Programme Associate, Red Umbrella Fund

“I am so upset to hear this news about Sharmus. She had such a strong presence at the PAC last year. We all learned a lot from her and she will be very much missed.”
– Karen Gardiner, member of the PAC 2015

“I remember we talked for hours over Skype during our first orientation session in August 2015. The connection went bad regularly requiring redialling many times. She stayed patient and excited and would regularly pause the session to ask questions, trying to make things real and ensuring she really understood. She was eager to learn and honest in her feedback and questioning, and very warm and thankful to everyone she worked with. The points she raised about applicants during the PAC meeting came straight from her heart, every time.”
– Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator, Red Umbrella Fund

“It was a pleasure for me to work with Sharmus. We were both new to the PAC in 2015. Apart from her thoughts and insights on the proposals that I valued highly, I loved spending time with her in Amsterdam. I remember her buying more souvenirs for her family members then she could possibly carry home. It’s a great lost for all of is that we have to continue without her.”
– Marije van Stempvoort, member of the PAC 2015

“I am so sorry for the loss of an enthusiastic member of the Program Advisory Committee. We shall remember her contribution and continue to work for sex workers right movement.”

– Ray Lam, member of the PAC 2015

 

RUF PAC staff PIC_oct2015

Some Red Umbrella Fund staff and PAC members – including Sharmus (second to the right) – in front of the Prostitution Information Center (PIC) in Amsterdam, October 2015

 

See the following links for more information about Sharmus’ legacy:

21 Apr

Why Sex Work should be Decriminalised

Source: AMMAR

Sex work (or prostitution as many know it) is a subject surrounded by fierce discussion, often about human trafficking. In much of the discourse, the line that separates the concept of sex work from human trafficking seems to have all but disappeared.

Discrimination, indignity, violence and diseases – all issues sex workers in many countries face regularly. But not because it necessarily is ‘part of their job’, but because society condemns and criminalises them.

A 17-year old girl from Thika (Kenya)has been arrested by the local police for soliciting sex. She gets assigned a police cell . The chief commands one of the officers to deliver him the girl the following morning. She is raped repeatedly. When the chief is done with her she can go back to her cell. Two other officers  follow this pattern for  days. Then finally, the girl is released.

I can imagine you thinking of sex work as  something a bit strange. When you hear that 85% of women working in the Red Light District does so against her will, it makes sense to wonder why we still accept this in the Netherlands. I can imagine you might turn against  sex work if you hear only about exploitation and abuse. And I can even understand that, in terms of your religion, or values around sexuality, you find it strange that some people use sex to earn money. It is easy to follow the mainstream media who present you this information on a silver platter. Before I learned differently, I believed the same.

June 2015. It’s the first time I’m on the phone with Nadia, Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund. Nadia tells me that the Red Umbrella Fund supports sex workers in order to improve their work and living conditions. I think about a documentary I once saw: ‘Jojanneke in de Prostitutie’. It was supposed to be about sex work, but all that I saw were conditions that made me think of human trafficking. I wonder why someone would support something degrading like sex work? This required some research. Disbelief turned out to be naivety and ignorance changed to  knowledge.

In no time,  I am transformed in a firm advocate of decriminalisation. Why? Because the ‘degrading ’ part is in the way sex workers are treated, not in  the work itself.

The story of the girl from Thika is just one small example of what I read in Open Society’s report on violence and abuse against sex workers in Kenya (2008). In Kisumu, another city in Kenya,  sex workers are often directly claimed by senior police officers. One women was kept imprisoned and abused in the house of one of the agents. After four days, when a new victim was arrested who could take over her place, she was released. The way female police officers treat sex workers isn’t much better. Arrested sex workers are not aloud to walk, but have to crawl. They are forced to perform stripteases in order to be humiliated. Often they have to sleep on the ground and don’t get proper food. At night they get ordered to mop the floor with urine and water mixed together, for no other reason than it being possible.

'Only rights can stop the wrongs.' Credits: Dale Kongmont, APNSW

‘Only rights can stop the wrongs.’ Credits: Dale Kongmont, APNSW

This doesn’t only happen in Kenya. Rape and violence by police and customers is common in many countries. Sex workers are regularly banished from their community and denied access to healthcare. In Cambodia, for example, sex workers can’t reach out for HIV medication. Are we ever going to solve the worldwide HIV problem if the most vulnerable group to this disease can’t receive any help? I don’t think so. One sex worker declared that she has accepted a two dollar offer for sexual intercourse because if she didn’t, her child wouldn’t eat that night. Without labor rights and basic human services, she has no choice but to agree to such low prices.

The stories hit home, injustice is something that always touches me very deeply. The problem is actually pretty simple: with such a lack of respect respect, sex workers aren’t seen as worthy human beings. If society doesn’t accept you, you don’t have much money and your job is illegal, you end up in very vulnerable positions. Violence and exploitation then become inevitable.

Why do we have such a problem with sex work?

Sex work is ‘the voluntarily sexual exchange  between two people upon payment.’ In my opinion nothing is wrong with this. If free sex is accepted, why isn’t payed sex? Or are we struggling with the addition of the word ‘voluntary’ which is a word that doesn’t seem to exist when people think of sex work?  We all know human trafficking is horrible. However, by criminalising sex work we create an ‘underground world’ where it is extremely difficult to separate wrong from right. It won’t only do harm to those that voluntarily work in the business, but also, and maybe even more, to the ones that don’t. This already existing underground will grow, and real human trafficking victims will disappear in the mass. This is an underground world wherein rights don’t exist. A world that’s hard to reach for rescue teams. A world wherein sex workers become even more vulnerable to addiction, violence and disease.

A great example of this underground world involves the issue of HIV. In countries like Tanzania and China, but also in the United States, sex workers are being arrested by the police, simply for carrying condoms.

If the choice is getting arrested or taking a risk and working without condoms in order to feed your child, what would you do?

The consequence is, as you can imagine, that many sex workers start working without condoms.

An honor to sex workers all over the world, statue Belle in Amsterdam. Source: Mariska Majoor

An honor to sex workers all over the world, statue Belle in Amsterdam.
Source: Mariska Majoor

Some say sex work should be replaced by ‘normal work’. Actresses like Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep agree. They oppose Amnesty International’s new decriminalization policy. Ignoring the fact that some sex workers actually do enjoy their work, it is also very easy to make statements like these when you live in Hollywood, where money flows. Think of the woman who accepted two dollars for her services in order to feed her child. How will she find a ‘normal job’ in a country where there is a shortage in jobs? Factors such as poverty, lack of education, health and social status have a lot of influence on freedom of choice. That is why we have to realise that alternatives to sex work, if desired, are only possible when the economy allows it.
Forcing a sex worker to do 12-hour shifts in a textile factory for a pittance, which happens a lot, is definitely not the right solution. That looks more like human trafficking than sex work. NGOs who support these so-called ‘rescue operations’ should be ashamed. The woman who wants to feed her child needs nothing more than human rights and protection of her safety.

Amnesty International posted a video in which a women speaks about sex work, the money she earned doing it, and how it made it possible for her to save her children from a violent father. It reminded me of an interview with Marjan Wijers, researcher on human trafficking and sex work, which she did for magazine De Groene Amsterdammer:

‘Feminists should be the ones fighting for the rights of sex workers. The stigma on prostitution touches every women. It keeps the idea alive that the right of protection against violence depends on their honor or sexual purity.’

What is more powerful than a women saving her children from an abusive father? That doesn’t deserve discrimination or a jail sentence, only respect.

Eva Jansen, for the Red Umbrella Fund
This post was translated from Dutch. You can find the original post here.