29 Jan

Vacancy at the Red Umbrella Fund

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The Red Umbrella Fund is looking for an enthusiastic Programme Associate to join our small and dedicated team in Amsterdam! This position is for 24 hrs per week (up to 32 hours per week may be considered).

About the Red Umbrella Fund

The Red Umbrella Fund is the only global grantmaking initiative for and by sex workers. We aim to strengthen and sustain the sex workers’ rights movements through our financial and non-financial support. Our advocacy and communication efforts focuses on catalysing new funding to support sex workers’ rights movements. The Red Umbrella Fund is coordinated and administered by a small secretariat that is hosted by Mama Cash in Amsterdam.

About the position

The Programme Associate is responsible for the day-to-day management of grants and grantee support. The position requires regular communication – mostly online – with grantees. The Programme Associate is expected to stay abreast of developments in the area of sex work policy, programming and organizing and to build and maintain relevant contacts in the sex worker movements and with other partners. The Programme Associate reports to the Red Umbrella Fund Coordinator.

Key responsibilities:

  • Grantmaking and grants administration (such as obtaining references for applicants, providing feedback on grantee work plans, budgets, and reports, and maintaining the database);
  • Monitor grant developments and provide support to grantees as relevant;
  • Prepare analyses of progress and final assessments of grants;
  • Provide and/or organise translation support;
  • Provide logistics and other supports for meetings;
  • Contribute to the development of communication materials, website and social media updates.

What we are looking for:

  • Solid commitment to the Red Umbrella Fund’s mission and principles. Demonstrated experience with sex worker organising or related human rights activism is highly valued.
  • Fluency in English is required. Fluency in other languages, preferably Russian or  Chinese, are considered a strong asset.
  • Computer literacy (internet savvy and proficient in at least Word, Excel, PowerPoint and WordPress).
  • A good communicator with excellent intercultural social skills and a supportive team player.
  • Someone with strong organising skills who can handle multiple tasks and deadlines.
  • Applicants must be willing and able (i.e. in possession of a valid work permit for the Netherlands) to work in the Red Umbrella Fund office in Amsterdam.

The Red Umbrella Fund values diversity and welcomes applications from persons of all gender identities and expressions. Applications from individuals with sex work and/or sex worker rights’ activism experience will be prioritised.

What we offer
We offer an exciting and professional work environment in a small, international and innovative fund committed to sustaining and strengthening the sex workers’ rights movements.

The gross full-time (36 hours) monthly salary for this position depends on experience and is based on the Dutch collective labour agreement called CAO Welzijn at scale 7 (€2,345 – €3,213); plus 8% holiday bonus, 13th month, and pension plan.

Relocation costs can be reimbursed for new staff recruited from outside the Netherlands (but already in possession of a valid work permit).

How to apply

Send your resume and motivation letter (in English) to nadia [at] redumbrellafund [dot] org.

The deadline for applications is Monday 19 February, 2018.

Questions?
Send an e-mail before 16 February to the above e-mail address and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

15 Dec

Minorities in a Movement

Group photo OGERA

OGERA stands with refugee 2017Uniting LBT and Refugee Sex Workers

Red Umbrella Fund’s Programme Associate Louise visited OGERA (the Organization for Gender Empowerment and Rights Advocacy) in Uganda earlier this year to listen and learn from this unique group. Why are they organized specifically around lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LBT) and refugee sex workers? And how do they manage to overcome the many cultural and language barriers within this diverse membership?

Minorities in the Sex Worker Movement

OGERA is a Kampala-based group that unites and empowers lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LBT) and refugee sex workers. The group opposes gender based violence and advocates for decriminalization of sex work. OGERA takes a stand against the ways in which nationality, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and choice of profession negatively impact sex workers’ lives day to day. It is the only sex worker-led organization that reaches out specifically to refugee sex workers in the area. 

Shamilah Batte, a refugee sex worker herself, set up the organization in 2013. She realized that the wider sex worker movement, largely led by heterosexual women, lacked representation of other minority groups within the community. According to Shamilah:

“Sex work is perceived to be done by heterosexual women only. For female sex workers, sexual orientation is often not questioned due to the assumption that they identify as heterosexuals. And the needs of refugee sex workers are neglected altogether. I could not just stand and watch my fellow sex workers face all sorts of violations, mainly because they could not access health information and education, treatment and legal representation. All this inspired me to come out and be a voice for the voiceless.”

Criminalization, Stigma and Violence

In 2016, the Women’s Organisation Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA), a fellow member of the Uganda Network for Sex Workers Organization (UNESO), submitted a report to the United Nations to shed light on the human rights violations sex workers in Uganda face. Ugandan law criminalizes sex work. WONETHA’s report explains how this feeds into structural systems of police abuse, rape, harassment and public humiliation of sex workers.

Refugee women sex workers as well as lesbian, bisexual and trans people not only face similar forms of discrimination and stigma as other sex workers, but they face additional oppression based on their sexual identifies and their status as refugees. For example, the law in Uganda also criminalizes homosexuality. In 2014, the Ugandan parliament passed the Anti-Pornography Act to also operate against ‘prostitution’ which is perceived as immoral. As a result, it increases social stigmas, police violence and harassment. In combination with this bill, criminalization laws and high levels of homophobia contribute to further discrimination that denies sex workers’ access to health services such as HIV treatment.

Group photo OGERA

Stories of Stigma and Abuse

OGERA’s offices are located in a remote area of Kampala. The small but bright office, where the organisation welcomes members and guests, is protected by a high security gate. One of the rooms is used by members to do each other’s hair or make-up, as an additional income generating activity. The staff uses a car to do its outreach work in the refugee camps which are not so close by.

At the office Louise met with five transwomen who shared their personal stories of abuse and physical violence. Mainly from clients but also from the general community. The persecution they face from society due to their sexual and gender identities is a major burden and puts their livelihood and even lives at risk.

At a Refugee Brothel

Later that day, while the sun was blazing outside, Louise was shown around a refugee brothel in a small enclosed neighborhood in Rubaga. While children were running outside and there was ample noise of people passing by, it was relatively quiet inside. In a room that seemed like a shed made of wood, she met with about twenty refugee members of OGERA. They had fled from countries such as Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo or South Sudan.

They all shared stories of their daily realities, such as clients who refused to pay for their services. This is a common and risky situation due the high level of stigma against refugees and sex workers, that is further complicated by language barriers. It can be complicated to clarify services and boundaries with a client when you have no language in common.

They also shared their struggles of finding fulfilling employment other than sex work. There is no state income available for refugees in Uganda and sex work is one of the few ways to earn some money for refugees. Louise noticed how they all listened intently to each other’s experiences as well and continuously combined pain and serious conversation with jokes and laughter.

Successes

OGERA logoOGERA is a relatively well-known sex worker organization in the country, although it has only existed a few years. It has won the “sex work organization of the year” award and currently Shamilah coordinates the national network (UNESO). The group has established strong partnerships with various human rights based organisations and funders and contributed to international human-rights based publications about refugees and sex work (here and here).

One of OGERA’s core activities is to establish dialogues with health service providers and sensitize health workers to the issues faced by sex workers. The aim of this strategy is to overcome discrimination at health facilities. Sex workers also frequently face housing and employment discrimination. This occurs when landlords refuse to rent spaces to sex workers or when employers outside the sex worker community discriminate them based on their work, gender identity, sexual orientation and nationality and therefore hinder sex workers to find work in other fields. OGERA’s direct peer to peer support work and dialogues have improved LBT and refugee sex workers’ access to health and legal services.

World Refugee Day

OGERA World Refugee Day 2017

OGERA celebrating World Refugee Day in Uganda

Many sex worker groups organize around important international days for human rights advocacy, such as 3 March, 2 June or 17 December. When Louise visited Kampala, OGERA was in the midst of planning its activities for World Refugee Day on 20 June. This yearly event is an opportunity to commemorate the strength of the millions of refugees worldwide and to show support for families forced to flee their countries of origin. OGERA’s founder Shamilah has faced such hardship when she was only 6 years old. She grew up in Rwanda during the emerging war between the Hutu and the Tutsi in 1994. When the conflict escalated into a genocide, she and her mother were forced to flee their home to find safety in Uganda.

For the World Refugee Day, OGERA rented a football field near a sex worker hotspot in the center of town. The group chose this location because it was accessible enough to draw the community in while secure enough for the safety of the organisation’s team and members.

We later learned that the event had been a success. Sex workers from diverse countries showed up, both members and new contacts, and discussed issues affecting them and spoke about the importance of solidarity amongst the refugee sex worker community. Shamilah shared the following with the African LGBTI media platform Kuchu Times:

“This day means a lot to OGERA considering the fact that this one of our key target groups. It creates awareness about the issues that affect refugee sex workers in a foreign country like Uganda.”

Despite complications due to the language barriers, this event allowed diverse refugee sex workers to exchange experiences amongst each other in a relatively safe space. And despite the hardships they face, OGERA members find strength in shared moments of joy, singing and dancing. These experiences help to build feelings of empowerment and solidarity among the community.

Let’s work together as sex workers to create a bigger voice. However, we should respect, embrace and recognize diversity within the sex worker movement.”
Shamilah Batte

This blog post was written by Josja Dijkshoorn, who supported the Red Umbrella Fund’s grant-making process in the summer months in 2017 after her BA International Studies. She currently studies Gender Studies at Utrecht University.

03 Nov

Breaking Barriers to Participation

RUF ISC 2017_s

Five Years of Participatory Grantmaking at the Red Umbrella Fund

By Jurre Anema

In the past half year I had the honor of writing my thesis at the Red Umbrella Fund office in Amsterdam. I was introduced to the global movement of sex worker rights activists and had the opportunity to speak with some of the great individuals that are playing a big role in their local, regional or global movement. My objective was to explore how the participation of sex workers at the Red Umbrella Fund has been organized and experienced. As the Red Umbrella Fund just celebrated its fifth anniversary, the Fund is making time to reflect and document its experience in order to further improve its work in the future.

Participatory Processes

“I always thought that the Red Umbrella Fund is what the world needed, because I really love the idea of changing where the power is.” (research respondent)

There is much academic literature about participation, outlining different levels and qualities of participation processes. Analyzing the processes of the Red Umbrella Fund, there cannot be a doubt that the Red Umbrella Fund is a highly participatory organization, functioning in the top levels of all participatory models. Participation is at the heart of the Fund and at the basis of every major process, initiative and decision. The Red Umbrella Fund has made more than one hundred grants to sex worker-led groups and directly involved over forty sex workers from diverse regions in its decision making structures.

Time for Reflections

The Red Umbrella Fund was created in 2012. Five years after its first grants were made, it is now time to share some of the challenges and reflections I captured from people that have been engaged in different decision making processes at the Fund. Many challenges that the Red Umbrella Fund and its participants experience are not easily overcome; they are part of working with a global and diverse movement and a participatory organization.

Barriers to Break

Based on the interviews I had with people involved in the Red Umbrella Fund I distill five key challenges to participation that the Red Umbrella Fund struggles with: language barriers; distance; knowledge and experience; safety and security; and resource limitations.

  • Overcoming language barriers

Language is seen as one of the biggest barriers by respondents in my study. The Red Umbrella Fund’s peer review panel, the PAC, functions entirely in English. The International Steering Committee (ISC), basically the board, currently works in three languages (currently English, Russian and Spanish) which is quite a feat. But if someone does not speak any of those languages there simply is no possibility to participate in Red Umbrella Fund’s internal decision making processes so far. This excludes the majority  of the global sex workers’ movement.

And for the people who do participate, those who are native English speakers have an obvious advantage. They do not need an interpreter for conversations and can therefore often respond and articulate their statements more easily than non-native speakers can. However, the non-English speaking people on the ISC are well-accommodated: documents are translated for them and at every online and offline meeting an interpreter is present. Furthermore, in both ISC and PAC meetings the participants are aware of the different levels of English and try to articulate clearly and talk slowly. This way the people that actually can participate have the opportunity to fully engage in discussions.

  • Overcoming geographical distance

As the Red Umbrella Fund works globally but has just one small office in Amsterdam, most communications take place online through Skype, phone and email. Online meetings require technology and are complicated to plan when the time difference between participants may be ten hours or more. And there is a recognition that not all sex worker rights activists and groups are able to be equally active online, or are able to safely engage online as sex workers and human rights defenders. Usually once a year, as long as resources allow, a face-to-face meeting takes place. Such meetings provide valuable opportunities to build trust and understanding and have more in-depth discussions and focused time together. But they are also relatively expensive and require much time commitment from all involved. In addition, visa restrictions have challenged the Fund in being able to get all participants together at face-to-face meetings.

  • Recognizing and building knowledge and experience

An extensive educational background and grantmaking experience are not necessary to participate in the Red Umbrella Fund’s processes. Instead, activist experience and knowledge of the movements, also at local level, are highly valued and relevant. But having experience in a board, with strategic planning or with annual budgets can come in handy.

“The International NGOs, they always put barriers for sex workers to apply for things. I don’t see that with the Red Umbrella Fund. They do not ask for degrees, they do not ask for bachelors, they just ask for community people to put in something that makes sense.” (research respondent)

But lack of relevant knowledge and experience are perceived as a barrier for (potential) participants. People with no or limited experience in regional or global networks or processes might not feel confident to apply for the ISC or PAC. This makes sense as strategic decision-making at a global level can be difficult, something that also activists with experience in the global movement admit. However, much can be learned through participating in Red Umbrella Fund committees. Respondents in my study said they gained much knowledge and developed new skills as participants in the Fund’s decision making processes.

  • Safety and Security Concerns

The safety and security risks that many sex workers experience also affect their opportunities for participating in Red Umbrella Fund processes. Because sex work is criminalized and penalized in many places and levels of stigma and discrimination are high, not all sex worker rights activists are willing or able to come out publicly as a sex worker. Or to be potentially identified as such. It is likely to affect future job opportunities if they wish to switch careers. In some countries, children of sex workers are being refused access to schools. Migrant sex workers, particularly undocumented migrants, may opt to stay under the radar as much as possible. Although the Red Umbrella Fund respects the diverse realities of sex workers and understands that not everyone can always identify publicly as a sex worker, this can increase the threshold for some activists to engage.

  • Resource Limitations

Some of the aforementioned barriers can be addressed depending on the resources that the Red Umbrella Fund can make available to address them. There are ways to increase accessibility. For example, adding an extra language to the ISC is possible, but will increase costs and further complicate internal processes. As one respondent argued: “Every time, that requires a balance which is the ISC’s decision around how much money it is worth to have a process be more accessible, or be more participatory, or be more inclusive.”

Accessibility (i.e. mitigating or destroying the barriers) becomes a careful balancing act between allowing as many diverse participants as possible to engage and keeping the organization operational at the same time. It is a well-known dilemma for participatory initiatives. Especially for the Red Umbrella Fund, which aims to have at least 70% of its annual budget spent directly on grants. This means that its overhead and other costs have to remain low.

“I think the Red Umbrella Fund does what it does with the resources that it has, to the best of its ability.” (research respondent)

Inclusiveness

The different barriers described in this blog are a few selected broad categories and do not do justice to all the different challenges and problems faced by sex workers who want to participate in the Red Umbrella Fund’s processes. One so far unmentioned obstacle is the limited number of spaces available for people to participate. Many very relevant and qualified people have applied to join Red Umbrella Fund committees several times but have never yet been selected to join, which can also be frustrating and discouraging.

The diversity within the global movement leads to an unique situation for each and every single activist. But, as one of the respondents from the ISC highlighted:

“There is a big awareness [at the Red Umbrella Fund] of there being a diversity of sex workers and there is a big awareness of trying to be inclusive, and trying to pay attention to sex workers who aren’t usually included, or who aren’t usually heard.”

Overall, the people who have participated in the organization demonstrate strong support for its work and processes. On to the next five years!

 

Jurre Anema is a sociology student at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. As part of his master thesis he conducted research at the Red Umbrella Fund about their participatory processes. If you are interested in this study and want to receive more information or a copy of his thesis, please contact the Red Umbrella Fund at: info [at] Redumbrellafund [dot] org.

12 Jul

Not Bad Migrants

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The passport you hold determines a lot of your privileges, access and protection. I have always been able to benefit from a blue American passport— never being questioned while traveling, never having much difficulty obtaining a work or study visa abroad. My passport, white skin, and blonde hair provide me the privilege to exist and move through the world relatively freely. But in Eastern Europe, for example, a sex worker’s passport may determine whether she is – even with a legal residence permit – “targeted for rescue, detention and re-socialisation or deportation programs” by the government or NGOs.


Control

Last year I spent five months researching and writing a master’s thesis on human trafficking prevention campaigns and EU, Dutch, and UN human trafficking policies. I focused on migrant sex workers from Eastern Europe in the Netherlands. Much of the literature review included theories on state control of female sexuality, particularly the control of ‘foreign’ women by criminalising migration and victimizing migrant women sex workers.

This research, in addition to volunteering at the Red Umbrella Fund’s office in the Netherlands for the last eight months, has led me to think more about the status and labour conditions of Eastern European migrant workers, particularly sex workers, in the Netherlands. These experiences, including acquiring a Lithuanian passport for myself, have made me realize that our nationality, as well as our gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, and choice of work can greatly impact how we are perceived by the state. Whether we are feared or welcomed, and which rights we get access to.

Migrant Sex Workers in Europe

“There are stereotypes for instance— the hyper-sexualisation of women depending on [her country of origin]. This is also very harsh for us [sex workers], because when we travel from one country to another or go through airports, they assume we are sex workers just because we come from a specific country.”

–Pauline (Whores and Alliances) (link) referring to the abuse and discrimination black migrant sex workers face in Spain.

blog.nika

Red Edition, Austria

Migrant sex workers, depending on where they are from, what they look like, and which passport they hold, are treated differently by law enforcement, border control, and society. Migrant sex workers make up approximately 65% of the sex worker population in Western Europe and about 17% of the sex worker population in Central Europe (link). Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers have been doing sex work as a means to sustain themselves and their families. The International Committee on the Rights of Sex workers in Europe (ICRSE) recently published a policy brief and recommendations on the rights of migrant sex workers. In this brief, ICRSE highlights that the criminalisation of migration and sex work is extremely problematic and dangerous for migrants and migrant sex workers.

“We want migrant sex workers to be seen and understood, to be acknowledged as migrant sex workers.” (link) -Kemal Ordek, Red Umbrella Turkey

Migrant labour

Structural, political, and economic changes in many regions of the world have led to an increase of migrants, particularly women migrants, seeking work in Europe. May this work be in factories or fields, in domestic or sex work, these are women who are working to support themselves and often times, their families. Migrant sex workers need to be included as part of the larger migration patterns and migrant labour movements, rather than how they are often perceived by the public, law enforcement, and media, as victims of human trafficking. The issue that remains is that sex work is not seen as work, but something that someone ‘must have been forced or tricked into’. So if this is the case, how can migrant sex workers, regardless of which passport they have, be seen as autonomous hard working individuals who moved in order to make a living?

TAMPEP, the European Network for HIV/STI Prevention and Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers, advocates for the human and civil rights of migrant sex workers in Europe. When sex work is criminalised and migration is increasingly controlled, migrants and migrant sex workers are forced even further underground. They can no longer trust the police or government officials, in fear of being arrested, detained, or deported. This is when migrants turn to third parties (i.e., friends, neighbours, family members, acquaintances, travel agents) to assist them in their migration process. This dependency and lack of ability or perceived ability to access justice increases the risk of exploitation.

How to become a trafficker

Unlike the UN’s Palermo Protocol (The UN’s human trafficking article) which clearly states that a human trafficking offense requires a form of coercion or deceit, the Dutch article 273F 1.3 essentially criminalises assisting a migrant in their journey to the Netherlands even without any coercion or deceit. Under this article, taking someone across the border to the Netherlands is enough to be considered human trafficking.

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SWARM, UK

Felicia Anna, a Romanian sex worker and blogger living and working in Amsterdam, discusses this issue in her blog Behind the Red Light District. Felicia Anna uses the following example to illustrate how damaging and infuriating this law is. Someone is driving through Germany heading to the Netherlands, and he or she sees a woman along the road who is looking for a ride to Amsterdam because she wants to work in the Red Light District. She’s alone, no one has deceived her of the work she will do there, or coerced her to go to Amsterdam. The driver agrees, since he or she is already heading to Amsterdam, and why not help a fellow passenger? Once they have crossed the Dutch border together, the driver of the car is a criminal according to Dutch law and the woman is a victim of human trafficking.

It is important to note that this law article only applies to individuals working in the sex industry, even though trafficking and labour exploitation clearly take place in other sectors too. This is one way the Dutch government has problematized migrant sex workers coming to the Netherlands to do sex work. But if the majority of sex workers in Western Europe are migrants, and many of them come from Eastern European countries, why criminalise someone assisting someone else who wants to do sex work in the Netherlands if it is legal for them to do so?

Demands

Based on their own research among migrant sex workers in Europe and Central Asia, ICRSE identifies the following key demands to policy makers:

  • Support the decriminalisation of sex work in order to ensure (undocumented) migrant sex workers’ access to health and justice.
  • Support migrants’ regularisation and an end of deportation of (undocumented) migrant sex workers.
  • Ensure that asylum seekers, refugees and (undocumented) migrants have access to welfare support to economic and employment opportunities.

Sex worker organizing

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SWARM, UK

Last October I was able to observe the Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting of the Red Umbrella Fund as a note taker. Each year, the PAC reviews the grant applications from sex worker groups all over the world and select new grants to be made. In last year’s selection process, the PAC members noted that there seemed to be quite a few new migrant sex worker groups applying for a grant. Migrant sex workers face discrimination on multiple fronts. They face challenges as sex workers and as migrants, and have unique needs to be met. But they are often not included in migrant organisations and not sufficiently included in most sex worker organisations either. This rise in migrant sex worker groups makes me hopeful in that migrant sex workers are increasingly organizing and making their demands heard. To policy makers, as well as the larger sex workers’ rights movements.

 

This blog was written by Nika Norvila, who supported the work of the Red Umbrella Fund as a volunteer for eight months in 2016 and 2017.

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