12 Jul

Not Bad Migrants

blog.nika2

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.

blog.nika2

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

blog.nika3

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.

07 Jul

Hints for 2017 Applicants

RUF map umbrellas_2017

Dear sex worker friends,

[update: Please note that the 2017 call for applications is now closed. We are not accepting new applications anymore this year.]

The Red Umbrella Fund’s annual call for proposals is open.

If your group or network is sex worker led, recognises sex work as work, and is interested in building and strengthening the sex worker movement – you can apply for funding this year! If you are in doubt about any of these requirements, let us know.

All the information you need is available in our website, including the application forms and guidelines. There are two application forms available – one for groups, and one for networks.

The deadline for submitting applications is 28 July. You still have time to complete an application. And if you have submitted already and want to send an improved version of it, that’s fine too.

We suggest that you carefully read the guidelines we’ve put together. Below we will give you a brief overview and some hints about the process and how you can improve your chances of being selected.

Here is our brief advice:

  • If you have questions about your application, contact the secretariat for more information before 21 July. Don’t submit your application if you are not sure yet. We are glad to give you personalised feedback and advice.
  • Remember that sex workers from different parts of the world will be reviewing your application, so write this applications to your peers. Sex workers know the importance of your work, just remember to describe it really well.
  • Write the application in one of the four languages that we work with – English, Spanish, Russian or French. Applications in Portuguese will also be considered. If you can’t write in these languages, seek help from your community, allies or simply Google translate.
  • Remember that most sex workers reviewing your application are not from your country or region, so you might have to explain things that seem obvious to you!
  • When you select referees, choose people that actually know your group and that will give you a positive feedback. References help Programme Advisory Committee members to evaluate your work and make the best selection, so pick the right ones. Remember to inform your referees about your application and the need of responding to our request.
  • Carefully complete the application form and avoid contradictions. Make sure that the information provided is consistent and relevant for external readers. If it’s only relevant to you and sex workers from your group, explain why.
  • Remember to fill in all fields of the application form and include all the requested details. Groups often fail to explain the nuances of their organisational structures, for instance. Remember that sex workers in the peer review panel don’t expect you to run an NGO with many structures; what they want to know is how you organize your organisation and work and if your group has democratic processes in place.
  • Share your most relevant successes, those that really stand out. The competition is very high and you need to make a case for why those successes are relevant in your context, and how they relate to your vision and future plans.
  • Be clear about describing yourself as a local, national or regional organisation. That helps sex workers reading your application to understand the impact of the work you do. If you claim to be a national or regional organisation, clarify the national and regional scope of your work, membership, etc.
  • Be frank about your challenges and limitations. Sex workers from the Programme Advisory Committee may consider it important to fill in funding gaps and support your group based on your unique needs and challenges.

If you are tired of reading, meet Dennis & just listen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duLsl4HqIdg

09 Jun

Call for Applications is now open!

LIZ

The Red Umbrella Fund 2017 Global Call for Applications is now open!

[update: Please note that the 2017 call for applications is now closed.
We are not accepting new applications anymore this year.]

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 2017, we expect to make about 25 core funding grants to local, national and international sex worker-led organisations and networks.

Apply for a grant here!

LIZimage by Liz Hilton

¡La nueva convocatoria global del Fondo Paraguas Rojo 2017 está abierta!

Haz clic aquí para Español.

Фонд «Красный Зонт» открыл прием заявок о соискании грантов на 2017 год!

Нажмите здесь для Pусский!

Notre 2017 Appel à Propositions est maintenant ouvert!

Cliquez ici pour l’application Français!

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

 

31 May

Programme Advisory Committee | Recruitment 2017

PAC 2016

What’s the PAC?

Each year, the Red IMG_4655Umbrella Fund publishes a Call for Applications. The Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) reviews the applications and advises the ISC about which new grants to make. PAC members read and score applications and select which applications should be funded by the Red Umbrella Fund. The PAC has 7 – 11 members, the majority (at least 80%) are sex workers. PAC members can stay on the PAC for up to 3 years. The Red Umbrella Fund is committed to have a PAC that is diverse in terms of gender and geography.

Who can apply?

The Red Umbrella Fund is looking for two sex workers or strong allies from:

  • US & Canada
  • Eastern Europe & Central Asia (except Turkey)

Important:

PAC membership is voluntary, unpaid and requires a high level of commitment. PAC members must be able to read 3 – 4 proposals each week during the review period. Positions for allies who are not sex workers are very limited on the PAC and relevant sex worker candidates will be prioritized over allies.

Minimum requirements:

  • Language: able to easily read and discuss funding proposals in English.
  • Availability: able to commit about 5 hours each week to review and score applications between 15 August and 30 September 2017 and to participate in the PAC meeting in Amsterdam (2 – 5 October). Travel and meeting costs will be covered.
  • Affiliation: be part of and/or endorsed by at least one sex worker-led group or network.
  • Internet: PAC participation requires regular email and some Skype contact.

What can you gain?

  • Participating in the PAC is an exciting opportunity to contribute to the Red Umbrella Fund’s grantmaking to sex worker groups around the world.
  • Red Umbrella Fund staff provide individual orientations to all new PAC members.
  • Learn about sex worker activism in different regions and work directly with other sex workers during a three-day meeting in Amsterdam. Many PAC members also find the experience useful for their own fundraising and activism. Feedback from PAC members’ experiences:

 “It’s been very exciting and rewarding to be part of this amazing project.”

“The PAC has given me an insight into other regions and contexts, and understanding of the global sex workers movement.”

“This process and PAC meeting really inspired me and gave me ideas for my organization.”

Read blogs authored by current PAC members HERE and HERE.

How can you apply?

  • Check if you meet all the requirements mentioned above.
  • Get an endorsement from your organisation.
  • Complete the self-nomination form HERE.
  • E-mail the form together with the endorsement letter to dennis@redumbrellafund.org by:
    9 July 2017.

Applicants will be informed of the final decision by 24 July 2017.

For more information go to: www.redumbrellafund.org
For questions, contact: dennis@redumbrellafund.org

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.

06 Mar

China: A Case Study of Sex Worker Organising

China photo

“People can come in and share. They have a sense of belonging. A sense of identity. We talk about their work and encourage them to share. So we have an environment of people talking with us.”

Sex work is illegal in China and it is difficult to effectively organise online due to censorship and repercussions. The large geographic distances in China make it difficult to come together in person. This is the Red Umbrella Fund’s third case study, highlighting the work of a sex worker-led organisation in China to improve access to health care and legal services for highly mobile cis men and trans women sex workers.

For the safety of all those involved in the work of this organisation and to avoid jeopardizing the organisation’s important work, the name and details have been anonymized in this case study.

“Academic partners are useful for their expertise in the theories and concepts surrounding sex work and gender. The group has always promoted sex work as work, but has more recently used academic theories gained from partnerships with researchers to improve their approach to advocacy.” 

Despite all the challenges and risks of organising in China, the group has managed to create a drop in centre specifically for cis men and trans women sex workers. This has created a sense of community and a safe space where sex workers can feel comfortable being themselves and where they are able to share experiences and exchange advice. News of the group has been spread by word of mouth through the networks of sex workers.

Read the full case study HERE.

Read the second case study about APROSMIG in Brazil HERE.

Read the first case study about Sisonke in South Africa HERE.

23 Feb

APROSMIG: A Case Study

APROSMIG

[**Texto abaixo em português]

 “From community outreach to political action, the group has made great strides in empowering sex workers and decreasing violence against them.”

Sex workers in Brazil face high levels of stigma, systematic violence and abuse from the police. However, the group has developed a successful relationship with the military police of Minas Gerais which has resulted in a significant decrease in violence against sex workers in the area. This case study (the second in a series of three) is about APROSMIG (Associação das Prostitutas de Minas Gerais), a sex worker-led group in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“APROSMIG provides legal counselling, promoting access to social benefits, and training participants to deal with situations such as arrest and violence from the police and clients. They have worked with the urbanisation company URBEL to include older sex workers in the social housing system. In workshops on entrepreneurship sex workers learn how to open  a business bank account and use debit and credit machines, which are much safer and help to avoid situations of violence with clients.”

APROSMIG has empowered sex workers through educational and cultural initiatives. The group provided English language classes for sex workers and developed a reference book (“Puta Livro”) for international clients during big international events in the country. APROSMIG organised marches and Daspu (from the whores) and Puta Dei events, demonstrating their pride and successful community building.

The Red Umbrella Fund was the group’s first international and institutional funder.

Read the full case study HERE [in English].

Read the full case study HERE [in Portuguese].

Read previous case study about Sisonke HERE [in English only].

******

APROSMIG: Um estudo de caso

“Da ação comunitária à ação política, o grupo fez grandes avanços na capacitação das profissionais do sexo e diminuição da violência contra elas”.

As profissionais do sexo, no Brasil, enfrentam altos níveis de estigma, violência sistemática e abuso da polícia. Contudo, o grupo desenvolveu um relação bem sucedida com a polícia militar de Minas Gerais, o que resultou em uma diminuição significativa na violência contra as profissionais do sexo na área. Este estudo de caso (o segundo de uma série de três) é sobre APROSMIG (Associação das Prostitutas de Minas Gerais), um grupo de profissionais do sexo de Belo Horizonte, Brasil.

 “A APROSMIG oferece consultoria jurídica, promovendo o acesso a benefícios sociais e capacitando as participantes a lidarem com situações tais como prisão ou violência cometida por policiais ou clientes. O grupo trabalhou com a empresa de urbanização URBEL para incluir profissionais do sexo mais velhas no seu sistema de habitação social. Workshops sobre empreendedorismo ensinam as profissionais do sexo a abrirem uma conta bancária comercial e como usar máquinas de cartão de crédito e débito, que são muito mais seguras do que dinheiro vivo e ajudam a evitar situações de violência com clientes.”

APROSMIG capacitou profissionais do sexo através de iniciativas educacionais e culturais. O grupo ofereceu aulas de inglês para profissionais do sexo e desenvolveu um livro de referência (“Puta Livro”) para clientes internacionais durante grandes eventos internacionais no país. APROSMIG organizou marchas e os eventos Daspu e Puta Dei, demonstrando orgulho e empoderamento da comunidade.

O Red Umbrella Fund foi o primeiro financiador internacional e institucional do grupo.

Leia o estudo de caso completo AQUI [em português].

Leia o estudo de caso completo AQUI [em inglês].

Leia o estudo de caso anterior sobre Sisonke AQUI [em inglês apenas].

 

15 Feb

Sisonke: A Case Study

Sisonke_website

“We are now able to take ownership and leadership of the things we do—to take a lead in everything that we do on our own. As our slogan says, ‘Nothing about Us, without Us.”

The Red Umbrella Fund developed three case studies to highlight successful stories of sex workers in their efforts to build strong sex worker movements in three different regions – Africa, Asia and Latin America.

This first case study is about Sisonke, the national movement of sex workers in South Africa. This movement was established in 2003 as a response to injustice and to ensure sex workers’ access to health services and rights. Sex workers in this movement have come together to build strong and strategic alliances, and to change the legal framework of sex work in South Africa.

“Sisonke has complemented its advocacy work with creative campaigns and activities aimed at combating the stigmatization of sex workers in its communities… Sisonke has noticed a positive difference where they have a dialogue with the community members.”

Many sex worker organisations and movements face difficulties accessing funding for their human rights advocacy and capacity building work. When funding is available, it is often only provided for programs specifically targeting health and HIV. The Red Umbrella Fund gives core funding grants that allows grantees to decide how to spend the money. With this funding, Sisonke was able to strengthen and expand its organisational and advocacy activities in their  fight for decriminalisation of sex work in the country.

Read the full case study 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.

01 Jul

Notre Appel à Propositions est ouvert!

Red Umbrella Fund Call2016 poster_FR

Notre 2016 Appel à Propositions est ouvert jusqu’au 1er Août

Votre groupe, organisation ou réseau est-il dirigé par des travailleuses/ -eurs  du sexe ?

Votre groupe, organisation ou réseau reconnaît-il le travail du sexe comme un travail ?

Votre groupe, organisation ou réseau cherche-t-il à contribuer à l’établissement ou au renforcement du mouvement des travailleuses/ -eurs  du sexe ?

Cliquez ici pour deposer une demande de subvention.

Red Umbrella Fund Call2016 poster_FR

Comment deposez une demande de subvention?

Télécharger l’affiche

The Red Umbrella Fund’s global Call for Applications is open until 1 August 2016.

Apply for a grant here.

¡La nueva convocatoria global del Fondo Paraguas Rojo (2016) está abierta!

Haz clic aquí para Español

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

Нажмите здесь для Pусский

 

 

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.

08 Apr

Are we really listening?

picture nadia

The discussion on funding anti-trafficking initiatives organized by Global Fund for Women (GFW) and South Asia Women’s Fund (SAWF) at the recent San Francisco IHRFG meeting highlighted a few significant gaps that we as grant makers must pay attention to. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) presented from its latest research on what money is invested in anti-trafficking initiatives and how that money is spent. To me, the most striking conclusion was the paradox of large sums of money going into anti-trafficking initiatives globally but the relative absence, even the unwillingness, of most human rights funders to engage with the issue. It makes me question who we are listening to when setting our funding priorities?

This paradox was echoed by Tulika Srivastava, Executive Director of SAWF, who added that although trafficking is often seen as primarily a problem affecting women and girls, many women’s rights organisations and feminist activists do not engage much with anti-trafficking initiatives due to the conflation of trafficking and sex work and the related sensitivities and polarized debate.

“It all comes down to who controls poor people, particularly poor women, their mobility, and their decisions,” clarified Tulika, “Who decides what’s good for them or not?”

In other words: do we even listen to the people that our funding is meant to support?

Although the adoption of the UN Protocol in 2000 and more recently the ILO protocol on Forced Labour have resulted in some efforts to affirm rights of workers, in many parts of the world anti-trafficking responses limit themselves to carrying out raids in brothels that claim to ‘rescue’ trafficked women. The harmful effects of such initiatives, including harassment, abuse, and arbitrary detention of women who depend on sex work for their income, are well researched and documented as “collateral damage” by the GAATW. There are numerous reports (see for example here and here) documenting abuses in rehabilitation centers and shelter homes that are more like prisons than safe houses. Sex workers in Thailand define raid and rescue initiatives as “action taken by police with TV cameras [and] reporters, where many women are shown sitting on the floor and hiding their faces from camera, or with their eyes inked out like criminals – when the job [is] done, most of us end up in debt and return to [sex] work to pay it off after we are released”(source: Bad Girls Dictionary by Empower, 2007). There is ample evidence of the totally apnsw logo sewing machineirrelevant and unrealistic alternative job options and trainings that are offered to women in shelters. It has even led to the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) developing a logo with a crossed out sewing machine and a film by sex workers in India called “Save us from Saviours”. In the US, the anti-trafficking frame is used to arrest large numbers of sex workers, particularly from black and trans* communities.

All this suggests an important role for human rights funders to ensure the human rights of all workers, regardless of the site and nature of their work and their legal status, are protected.

Interestingly, while many human rights funders stay silent and the feminist movement continues to be divided on the topic, global support for decriminalisation of sex work – including as an essential ingredient to ending violence, exploitation and trafficking in the sex industry – is experiencing an upward trend in recent years with clear endorsement from UNAIDS and WHO and more recently also from Amnesty International. Why then is there so little response from human rights funders to address this global issue of human trafficking? The discussion among funders in the session revealed that the topic is generally considered “too contentious and heated”, “too complex” and “too sensitive” to touch. A story was shared of a programme manager proposing to expand their grantmaking to include this area of work, but facing a blockage by the board of trustees who preferred “not to take a stance” on the issue of sex work.Save us from saviours

Tulika shared her own fund’s recent trajectory of not wanting to get involved in this complex debate, but ending up right in the middle of it. “We heard stories at meetings about women being rescued, supposedly after being identified as trafficked, from sex work as well as domestic work. Our research then showed us that the ‘rescue’ actually provided much risk of abuse, poor labour conditions and less income. It didn’t seem such a good deal for those women.” A key learning of SAWF has been, that decriminalization of sex work and self-organising among sex workers are essential ingredients to an effective and comprehensive approach to end trafficking.

“I used to think that all sex workers were victims too,” confided the director of another women’s fund to me after the session.

As the coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund, the global fund that is led by sex workers, for sex workers, my position on sex work is obvious. The victimization approach is common but not effective and, in fact, harmful because it robs sex workers of their agency and voice. Our experience of four years of grantmaking at the Red Umbrella Fund tells us that sex worker rights activists’ priorities around the globe are to end the violence and stigma they experience daily. Decriminalisation of sex work is an important strategy to enable sex workers to protect themselves from violence and exploitation and seek justice when needed. As the old saying goes: Only rights can stop the wrongs.

A Bangladeshi woman I spoke with a few years ago put everything in perspective for me. She made her living as a sex worker in one of the country’s largest brothels. She had moved to the city to work, to take care of her children and mother. She had no savings, lacked school diploma’s and had no formal work experience.

“I could have become a waste picker or beggar”, she told me, “but sex work brings more money and gives me more freedom to work the hours that suit me. I take care of my kids, I can send them to school, and I work at night.”

Although she had no prior knowledge of concepts like human rights, lacked access to proper health services due to high levels of stigma and discrimination, and was unable to seek justice against the violence she experienced because the police was the main perpetrator, she was one of the most confident women I have ever met. Although the country’s law makers and popular media try hard to make you believe otherwise, she was not a victim.

While feminists may argue endlessly over the legitimacy of sex work as work, the people who sell sexual services as work make their own decisions based on what they consider their best options to be. Just like you and me. In this world we live it, when it comes to finding a job, poverty limits options. Being a woman or trans* person limits options. Having no formal education or a higher degree limits options. Being from an ethnic minority limits options. The list goes on. But as human rights funders, we have money to facilitate change.

Sex workers and their community organisations are often the first point of support to people who experience trafficking and other forms of abuse or exploitation. But according to our research there are few funders out there to support their work.

To go back to my earlier story, how did the director who just told me she used to think all sex workers were victims change her mind? “Meeting a sex worker, and hearing her side of the story,” she admitted. How about all of us, are we really listening to the people whose rights our funds aims to protect?

By Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator at the Red Umbrella Fund

This blog was initially posted on the Alliance Magazine blog here.

 

17 Feb

Deciding for all or all deciding? Exploring Participatory Grantmaking

 ‘Innovation and iteration’ was the key theme of the January the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) conference in San Francisco. In the opening plenary, speakers noted that the ‘innovation’ of community involvement and participation in grant decisions would be one of the topics included in sessions throughout the meeting. It was quickly added, though, that these practices are in fact really not new.

‘Why then’, the panellist remarked, ‘is participatory grantmaking still considered innovative? Isn’t it just common sense?’

Diana Samarasan, Founding Executive Director of the Disability Rights Fund; Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund; Nevin Öztop, Resource Mobilization Officer of FRIDA; and Katy Love, Senior Program Officer at Wikimedia.

Photo (left to right): Diana Samarasan, Founding Executive Director of the Disability Rights Fund; Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund; Nevin Öztop, Resource Mobilization Officer of FRIDA; and Katy Love, Senior Program Officer at Wikimedia.
Since the 2014 publication of Who Decides, the seminal research on participatory grantmaking carried out by Matty Hart of The Lafayette Practice, the philanthropic sector is abuzz with conversation about the value and benefits of participatory funding and, increasingly, participatory funding models. The Who Decides report discusses the benefits of participatory grantmaking, highlighting the contribution of participatory grantmakers in strengthening communities and movements, not just through their grants but also through their grantmaking processes and additional support in areas of capacity building and solidarity.

While participatory funding models have been in existence for several decades, particularly in the US, we have been seeing an increase in international participatory grantmaking initiatives. More and more funders are questioning how to increase their transparency and accountability to the people affected by their grants and recognizing the added value of leveraging the knowledge and insights of the community. This is an exciting trend that will likely continue to grow.

When we organized our first joint session on participatory grantmaking at IHRFG in 2014 in New York, the room was packed, but the questions posed to us focused on understanding the benefits and challenges on the WHY: the general concept of participatory grantmaking. In other words, why go through all that trouble? It was, as we experienced it, not widely understood as ‘common sense’ at all, although some colleagues in the field did express admiration for our courage and innovativeness.

Recognizing the relevance of learning from each other as participatory grantmakers, explicitly opening up to other participatory funders and interested peers, and eagerly aiming to be more strategic in sharing our learning, we established the international donor working group on participatory grantmaking which is hosted jointly by IHRFG and ARIADNE. Through this platform, we share relevant resources and food for thought. Each of our funds routinely fields questions about how we actually do participatory grants, and we are eager to learn and share what we have learned.

At the recent IHRFG conference in San Francisco, four diverse funders (FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, Disability Rights Fund, Red Umbrella Fund, and the Wikimedia Foundation) convened a session on the practicalities of participatory grantmaking. In other words, the ‘how-to’ of participatory grantmaking. The room was packed with funders, all of whom were either somewhat or completely convinced of the benefits of participatory grantmaking, but only few who had actual participatory grantmaking experience. Most funders acknowledged the potential benefits of participatory grantmaking in areas of movement building and leadership development, and in the shared power and transparency of such approaches, but had very specific questions about the HOW.

The concept of participatory grantmaking puts decision making in the hands of activists on the ground, who, we believe, hold a type of expertise that funders will probably never have. But the model can also be threatening and challenging. There are many technical and operational issues to unravel, such as cost and conflict of interest. And also, internal politics, as was shared by some brave private foundations with a healthy sense of self-criticism and a twist of humour. How can we develop a model that allows us to (cost-)effectively share power, while effectively staying in power? Because honestly, how can a Board of Trustees of a foundation aimed at ending social inequalities ever be convinced of the benefits of a more effective grantmaking strategy that requires sharing power? Organizational change takes time and for foundations that are not explicitly set up within or in support of a social movement, the thought of community leadership within their own decision making structures may be daunting, but step-by-step processes and hybrid models can be considered.

There is still much room for innovation and iteration in the field of participatory grantmaking. While we have taken action to assess, document, and share our good practices and lessons learned (see for example from ‘Funding Knowledge the Wiki Way‘ about the Wikimedia Foundation and about the FRIDA Fund, ‘Letting the Movement Decide’), it is clear that the need is high as funders are eager to get the tools to feel more comfortable moving from rhetoric to practice to actually iterate participatory grantmaking.

Members of the IHRFG/ARIADNE participatory funder working group are planning next steps, including creating a FAQ on participatory grantmaking, developing a guide for grantmakers, and expanding the venues where discussions on this funding model occur. Stay tuned and join us!

01 Feb

Ohotu means Love

How the sex workers’ movement in Nigeria is “growing and showing” despite violence

The Nigerian Criminal Code penalises sex work with imprisonment, while at the same time the government claims to focus on promoting education and alternative employment for sex workers. However, 65 percent of Nigerians live below the international poverty line, revealing a significant lack of employment opportunities. In the meantime, the criminalisation of sex work has resulted in a lack of protection and rights for sex workers in Nigeria who experience regular violence and abuse from police in addition to the widespread fear and violence spread by Boko Haram.

“There are challenges, but I thank God it puts food on my table”
– sex worker in Nigeria (source here)

Courage and positivity

The South African Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA) organised an international meeting in 2010 to build sex workers’ knowledge on human rights. The Nigerian participants ceased the opportunity to create their own organisation for and by sex workers. The group is now called Ohotu Diamond Women Initiative (formerly known as WOPI). Eva Jansen talked with the group’s coordinator, Imaobong Abraham Udoh, a.k.a Pat Abraham, about the challenges the group faces and how they overcome them.

pat

Coordinator Imaobong Abraham Udoh (Pat Abraham)

“Ohotu means love in one of Nigeria’s local languages,” explains Patt Abraham, “It symbolises the group’s mentality of mutual support and positivity.”

Their positive mind-set and courageous approaches are some of the greatest strengths of the women oganised in Ohotu. The organisation informs sex workers about their sexual and reproductive health and human rights. It organises rallies and media campaigns in support of decriminalisation of sex work and supports women sex workers in Lagos city to claim their rights. Their events help to foster solidarity and empower the sex worker communities.

“It is not easy; the road to decriminalisation is very long,” explains Patt Abraham.

From police abuse to police approval

The visibility of the group is significant, particularly considering the criminalised status and stigma surrounding sex work. While facing the risk of being arrested, members of the group march the streets with banners to raise awareness about sex workers’ human rights. Patt explains that the only way to be visible as activists and sex workers is to keep educating the police and invest time into building partnerships.

nigeria

Nigeria on the map (source: Wikipedia)

“Before we take any action, we get in touch with one of the commissaries to discuss our plans. We try to explain to them that sex workers also have morals, and that they have children that need to be raised. We want the next generation to be better off than ours. Officers need to realise that the HIV problem is something that hits the entire country. The HIV prevalence will only go down if sex workers have the possibility to work on this problem.”

The group has been successful at building this relationship as the police commissioner usually allows their planned activities and protects them during protests or gatherings. Still, police abuse remains one of the biggest challenges for sex workers in Nigeria, according to Patt.

”The police goes after the girls… Police officers often go to brothels to collect money. If sex workers refuse, they are arrested or abused, depending on the officers’ mood. The system is corrupt, which makes the situation worse than it already is.”

Ohotu advises sex workers to take photographs whenever something bad happens in brothels or at ‘hotspots’ (common locations where women sex workers solicit or meet clients). They use the photos as proof in their claims with other, less corrupt, police officers when they try to pressure them to take appropriate action.

”Yesterday I visited one of the brothels in Lagos. There had been a fight between a costumer and one of the girls at work, which escalated very badly. The costumer cut the girl in her ear and she ended up in the hospital. The police was there but did not do anything.”

Security delays

Other problems faced by Ohotu are the violent conflicts and the political tensions in the country. The postponed elections this year and the fundamentalist sect Boko Haram, which abducted almost 200 young women and girls in April last year and continues to create havoc, caused a lot of tension across the country. Many people, including a lot of sex workers, fled to family in safer areas and small villages. Particularly many migrant sex workers in Lagos are from the area where the kidnappings took place and had personal contact with affected families. Patt recalls:

“Around the time of the events, we had to cancel trainings for security and safety concerns and due to absence of members. Boko Haram was moving from the north-east to the south-west of Lagos. This frightened people because it meant they could be everywhere.”

Pattoo Abraham

Pat leading a protest for sex worker’s rights in Lagos

People stayed away from the streets as much as possible, including sex workers and customers. The sex worker rights day activities had to be postponed. As soon as the situation was slightly more peaceful, Ohotu rescheduled its activities. In June, for example, Ohotu organised an event for sex workers, brothel managers and human rights activists. There was information about sex work and family planning, and sex workers learned new skills such as making clothes and baking cakes.

“The new learned skills can be used to make some extra money,” explains Patt. “For many sex workers it is not easy to combine sex work and raising children. By having other sources of income, for example selling self made jewellery, sex workers do not have to rely on sex work completely. They can work from home a bit more, and find a better balance between work and family.”

It is not an attempt to ‘rescue’ sex workers from their job, but rather provide opportunities to improve their livelihood situation

Expanding its work

Ohotu is ambitious and full of plans. While decriminalisation is the goal, it also works to increase sex workers’ access to health services and HIV prevention. In addition, Ohotu wants to expand its work with children of sex workers:

”They are very vulnerable,’ says Patt. ”They need education and more respect, it is good to bring them together. They are often being bullied by other kids, because of their mothers’ stigmatised job. If we want to help sex workers, we need to help their children too, they are the future.”

Undeterred by the challenging circumstances in the country, the sex workers’ rights movement in Nigeria is growing and increasingly visible because, as Patt says, ”We are tired of dying in silence”.


By Eva Jansen for the Red Umbrella Fund

21 Dec

SCOT-PEP Reaches Next Milestone

… On Road to End Violence Against Sex Workers

For the first time in the history of the sixteen-year-old Scottish Parliament, a bill  developed in conjunction with sex worker led organisations is being discussed. On November 10, 2015, eight panellists, three Members of the Scottish Parliament and over fifty other interested activists, constituents, and community members gathered at the Scottish Parliament for a public meeting on the Proposed Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill.

parliament hearing_scotland2015

Parliament member Jean Urguhart standing in between the other panellists from sex worker organisations and universities.

In recent years, the political scene has been dominated by attempts to bring the Swedish model, which criminalises the clients of sex workers but not the act of sex work itself, to Scotland. The current official government policy toward sex work, “Safer Lives, Changed Lives”, views all sex work as violence against women and degrading to the position of all women.

Legal but Restricted

The actual exchange of sex for money is legal in Scotland, but criminal laws against soliciting, brothel-keeping and kerb-crawling make it almost impossible to sell sex without breaking the law. The ways these laws are enforced endanger and marginalise sex workers. Kate Hardy, a panellist at the public meeting and lecturer at Leeds University, recalled that when she first came to Scotland, she found that sex workers were more hidden and isolated than perhaps anywhere else she had done research previously.

The ultimate goal of the proposed bill is to decriminalise sex work by repealing laws prohibiting soliciting, kerb-crawling, and brothel-keeping and to begin regulating sex work in the same way as other forms of labour. The recent public meeting at Parliament was an important step in this process, and towards ending the stigma surrounding sex work.

SCOT-PEP’s History

SCOT-PEP has been around since 1989, originally as a service provider funded by the government-backed local health board. However, their recent push for decriminalisation was not ignited until after the organisation lost this government funding and developed a new identity as an advocacy organisation. After successfully preventing the most recent attempt to introduce the Swedish model in 2013, the organisation was galvanised by an influx of new activists and established its sex worker led Campaign Group to direct its decision making process. As experts in their own needs, sex workers themselves are the most important voices in determining policy that will remedy the effects of years of policy and regulation that has been damaging for sex workers created by people who have silenced the voices of sex workers by speaking on their behalf.

Embarking on the Path to ‘Decrim’

SCOT-PEP activists came together to formulate the next goal of the organisation: decriminalisation. Even for the board members, at the time decriminalisation seemed like an impossible goal. Nonetheless activists submitted their plan to the Red Umbrella Fund to conduct a public campaign for decriminalisation and challenging of the stigma, community outreach, community-based research, and alliance building, all of which would eventually culminate in a bill.

SCOT-PEP then gathered as many sex workers as it could reach for a “Decriminalisation Day” to discuss what a bill decriminalising sex work could look like. From that day, all its activities would contribute to this central aim. Some of the ingredients to success have been the focus on creating a series of evidence-based briefing papers, identifying a strong ally within the Scottish Parliament (in the form of Jean Urquhart) who provides access into the parliamentary system, and activating the support of peers and allies (including the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective to the English Collective of Prostitutes). Board members of SCOT-PEP describe the Parliamentary meeting as a marker representing the empowerment of sex workers’ voices inside the walls of Parliament that shows the shift in public perception and stigma. Historically, such stigma would have prevented SCOT-PEP from getting a foot in the door in the first place.

Effects of the Law on the Lives of Sex Workers

Decriminalisation represents a harm-reduction approach to sex work. While activists recognise that a bill in itself will not end the violence and stigma against sex workers, they also recognise that the current regime of criminalisation and regulation surrounding sex work is detrimental to the health and safety of sex workers. Laws prohibiting soliciting and kerb-crawling force sex workers to spend less time negotiating with their clients and work in isolated locations away from the police. Brothel-keeping laws prohibit sex workers from working with even one other person for safety and other laws criminalise relatives for living off income made through sex work. After the passage of the kerb-crawling law in 2007, SCOT-PEP identified a 95% increase in violence against sex workers. Furthermore, sex workers have become less likely to report crimes to police for fear of being prosecuted or not being taken seriously. Violent offenders against sex workers are aware of the stigma and know that sex workers are vulnerable targets.

Interestingly, panellists before the Scottish Parliament at the public meeting rarely even mentioned sex work. They identified more pressing issues in the lives of sex workers, such as their inability to find work that can pay bills and feed their children in a state that is consistently reducing benefits due to austerity measures. Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes directed attention to policies related to students trying to pay for school, single mothers, and migrants who face racism and discrimination in other forms of employment as being key to addressing prostitution policy.

Time for Evidence-Based Policy

Evidence-based research has reached a consensus that decriminalisation is the logical step to end violence against sex workers. Legal structures that criminalise sex work have little impact on the number of people working in the industry but rather displace sex workers and make them invisible. This makes it much harder for them to access healthcare and other services. Nadine Stott, a panellist and co-chair of SCOT-PEP, argued for legislation that will allow sex workers themselves to make the determination of what is and what isn’t violence against sex workers and empower sex workers to hold managers accountable to laws designed by sex workers themselves. Until pragmatic, progressive proposals developed with sex workers at the center of the decision making process are adopted, legislators risk adopting policy that further marginalises the most vulnerable groups of sex works and increases the violence against sex workers.

SCOT-PEP’s efforts to build coalitions, navigate the legal process and bring awareness to the situation in Scotland have been an important step in eliminating the everyday violence that sex workers face.

About the Author
Seth Lauer is a student researcher who volunteered with the Red Umbrella Fund during his Fall 2015 semester abroad through the School of International Training. He researched and documented the techniques, strategies and experiences of SCOT-PEP volunteers to determine which advocacy practices are most effective for creating social and legal change. He studied the work of SCOT-PEP through archival research, attended the public meeting before Parliament, and met with SCOT-PEP board members in November. His thesis will be linked here upon completion.

15 Dec

In Loving Memory of Elena Tsukerman

[Для русского прокрутите окно вниз]

The Red Umbrella Fund shares its heartfelt condolences for the loss of Elena Tsukerman, or Lena as we have come to know her, with her family, friends, colleagues and peer activists. We are shocked to learn of her sudden passing, and deeply saddened by the loss of this strong and highly committed activist who did not easily take no for an answer.

Elena with red umbrella

Lena joined the International Steering Committee (ISC), the key decision making body of the global Red Umbrella Fund, in 2012. Throughout the past three and a half years, she has shown incredible dedication to supporting sex worker organising and representing the interests of sex workers. She made use of every opportunity she could to increase the visibility of sex workers’ needs in her country and, more widely, her region, but she was also keen to learn and connect with activists and allies across the world.

We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her so closely, bridging many country, culture and language divides.

Elena, we will always remember you in our hearts and in our continued activism.

Messages from Red Umbrella Fund ISC members and staff:

“Saddened by the death of my good friend and International Steering Committee member at the Red Umbrella Fund. We will miss all questions you used to ask. it is a big loss to the Legallife organisation and also to sex workers across the whole world. Your legacy will remain in our heart.”
– John Mathenge, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, HOYMAS

“Elena was a positive person and a devoted ISC member. She was a real fighter for sex workers’ rights. One of the things she would always say to me is: ‘I will learn to speak English. There is so much I want to say but my words are failing me right now.”
– Miriam Edwards, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, Guyana Sex Work Coalition & Caribbean Sex Worker Coalition

“Elena was a very energetic woman. She never let anything that she was unsure of how it would impact for sex workers pass easily. The ISC was happy to have Elena representing Eastern Europe. She was always much engaged and took real responsibility for raising awareness and attention for her region. Elena you worked so hard…it is time to have a good rest .. sleep long … sleep well …we badly miss you…!”
– Noi Apisuk, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, EMPOWER Foundation

“It is a shock and deeply saddening to have lost a comrade. Her efforts to keep a focus on what happens to women and sex workers in particular during times of war and conflict is something I have been thinking of recently. Her principled advocacy that was both passionate and collegial was an important contribution at the ISC to keep us focused on the important mission and real lives our decisions would link with. I am stunned.”
– Javid Syed, ISC member Red Umbrella Fund, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

“Lena was a dedicated ISC member who took responsibility and did not shy away from difficult discussions. Just this year, she took leadership in developing the Red Umbrella Fund’s first Code of Ethics as a way to further strengthen our infrastructure and ensure that we remain transparent and accountable. Her communication could be direct and sometimes tough, but she also shared much warmth, laughter and love during our meetings and one-on-one conversations. Lena will be missed as sex worker rights activist and leader in the ISC and in the wider sex workers’ rights movement.”
– Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator, Red Umbrella Fund

“Seeing how quickly, and unceremoniously, life comes to an end, I want to thank Olena for everything she has taught me about the sex worker movement and the world. I was fortunate enough to work with her multiple times, also in Ukraine. I learned with her that language is not a barrier when there is a common goal. I could feel her and was quite often surprised with how much we could communicate live and through Google translation. Although we had our share of differences, I always knew Olena was fighting for something right. She was an honest and admirable activist. Her strong voice will be missed and her struggle will always touch our hearts.”
– Dennis van Wanrooij, Programme Associate, Red Umbrella Fund

 

ISC meeting 2015

Elena (far left) at the ISC meeting in Amsterdam, April 2015


В память о Елене Цукерман (1972 – 2015)

Фонд Красного Зонта выражает искренние соболезнования семье, друзьям, коллегам и правозащитникам в связи с потерей Елены Цукерман или Лены, как мы ее знали. Мы глубоко потрясены ее скоропостижной смертью и с горечью скорбим о потере этой сильной и преданной активистки, которая не приемлила слышать «нет» в ответ.

Лена присоединилась к Международному координационному комитету (МКК), ключевому принимающему решения органу глобального Фонда Красного Зонта, в 2012 году. На протяжении последних трех с половиной лет, она проявила невероятную приверженность поддержке секс-работников посредством организации и представления интересов секс-работников. Она использовала каждую появившуюся возможность для того, чтобы повысить наглядность потребностей секс-работников в ее стране, а также, в еще более широком контексте, ее региона в целом. Более того, она всегда стремилась узнать о деятельности и наладить связи с активистами и единомышленниками по всему миру.

«Лена была преданным членом МКК, она брала на себя ответственность и не уклонялась от непростых обсуждений. Буквально в этом году, она взяла руководство над разработкой Кодекса этики Фонда Красного Зонта с целью усиления нашей инфраструктуры и обеспечения продолжения нашей прозрачности и ясности. Ее стиль общения мог быть прямым и иногда достаточно волевым, однако она всегда излучала тепло, она наполняла пространство смехом и любовью во время наших общих встреч и разговоров лицом к лицу. Нам будет не хватать Олены, правозащитника секс-работников, лидера МКК и лидера в более широком контексте движения секс-работников.»
– Надя ван дер Линде, Координатор Фонда Красного Зонта

“Видя как быстро и бесцеремонно жизнь подходит к концу, я хочу поблагодарить Олену за все, чему она меня научила о движении секс-работников и о мире. Мне посчастливилось работать с ней много раз, также и в Украине. Я осознал, что язык не является барьером, если цель одна. Я ее чувствовал и был очень удивлен глубине нашего живого общения и общения через переводчик Google. Несмотря на различие наших взглядом по некоторым вопросам, я всегда знал, что Олена ведет борьбу за то, что правильно. Она была честной и восхитительной активисткой. Нам будет не хватать ее сильного голоса и ее борьба останется в наших сердцах навсегда.»
– Деннис ван Ванроой, сотрудник программы, Фонд Красного Зонта

«Потеря единомышленника – это шок и глубокое горе. Ее усилия по привлечению внимания к тому, что происходит с женщинами и в особенности с секс-работниками в течение военных действий и конфликта – вот об этом я думал совсем недавно. Ее принципиальная правозащитная деятельность была пылкой и коллегиальной, что вносило важный вклад в МКК с целью фокусирования на важной миссии и реальных жизнях, с которыми связаны наши решения. Я ошеломлен.»
– Джавид Сиед, член МКК Фонда Красного Зонта, Американская еврейская всемирная служба (AJWS)

Elena with Red Umbrella Fund

15 Dec

In solidarity with Kemal Ördek

Last week, Kemal Ordek, a trans* sex worker and the head of Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, a Red Umbrella Fund grantee-partner, was assaulted and raped in their home in Ankara, Turkey. The Red Umbrella Fund is concerned that these criminal acts are not being taken seriously enough by the Turkish authorities.

The story of Kemal Ordek is not unique. It is the story of many people in the sex worker community around the world. Violence and impunity for this violence are fuelled by laws and social norms that fail to respect the fundamental human rights of sex workers and trans* people. Police corruption further exacerbates the problem.

In Kemal’s own words:

“What I will tell you is not a simple robbery case. It’s not a mere rape case either. This is the story of a series of events that could possibly end in murder. It is a story of the apathy and the denial and ignorance that come after—the story of the surrounding paralysis of a lonely sex worker and an LGBTI.”

Kemal’s case sheds light on several injustices and abuses regularly experienced by those in the trans* sex worker community in Turkey – at the work place, in the streets or even in their homes. It also calls into question the effectiveness of national laws and policies that should be combatting violence, reducing vulnerability and ensuring universal access to rights and justice for sex workers and trans* people. There is no justice if justice isn’t accessible to all.

It’s time to end violence, stigma and discrimination against sex workers and trans* people. We urge the Turkish authorities to take violations against trans* sex workers seriously by conducting a thorough investigation, led by and focused on supporting Kemal’s human rights. In addition, we urge for better laws and policies to protect sex workers and trans* people in Turkey.

Read full story:

http://lgbtinewsturkey.com/2015/07/09/raped-and-assaulted-lgbti-activist-kemal-ordek-says-im-not-well/

 

17 Apr

Exploring the How and Why of Participatory Grantmaking

The very first session of the funders’ Working Group on Participatory Grantmaking was organised at the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) meeting in San Francisco on 28 January 2015. While we had prepared to welcome just a handful of interested colleagues from peer foundations, we were instead welcomed by a room filled with around forty grantmakers and philanthropic advisers. Participatory grantmaking seems to be ‘hot and happening’ on the West Coast. The audience represented a diverse spectrum of grantmakers varying from peer-led participatory funds, to grantmakers with some experience involving communities or grantees in some grantmaking processes, to more traditional funds that do not involve communities or grantees in their grantmaking at all. What participants had in common was an interest to learn more about: the how of participatory grantmaking, seeking to explore diverse models and options as well as the why of participatory grantmaking, looking for the arguments to convince managers, boards or trustees to potentially “do something more in that direction” in the future.

About the Working Group

The Working Group on Participatory Grantmaking was created in 2014 with two key objectives:

  1. to build a community of practice to share and increase effectiveness of participatory grantmaking models; and
  2. to encourage other grantmakers to increase the involvement of the community the intend to reach in their practices.

The session at the IHRFG meeting was organised by three distinct participatory and peer-led funders: Disability Rights Fund, which involves persons with disabilities in their grantmaking processes and provides grants to Disabled Persons Organisations in the developing world; Red Umbrella Fund, a collaborative peer-led fund launched in 2012 that supports sex worker-led groups and networks worldwide; and Wikimedia Foundation, the largest known participatory grantmaker that supports initiatives that promote free access to information as a human right.

Catalyst

An important catalyst for these participatory grantmakers to come together to set up this Working Group has been a research by The Lafayette Practice in 2014 comparing the operations of eight international participatory grantmakers.

The report finds that the funds, regardless of the focus of their specific missions, share a belief that people impacted by the fund’s programme should be involved in decision making on allocation of grants. Not only because there is a common belief that it will actually lead to better results but also because that involvement in itself is believed to be important to achieve the social change the respective funds seek to achieve. The researchers encourage additional research on the effectiveness of participatory grantmaking and the possibilities for reproduction and moving to scale of existing models.

Changing power relations

In his paper called “Beauty and the Beast” Michael Edwards explores a diversity of funding models – not limited to philanthropy – and experiments that have the potential to not only fund local activists and groups but also change the power relations that surround money. And that is an essential ingredient to tackle the root causes of poverty and discrimination and contribute to lasting social change. Andrea Armeni, Executive Director of Transform Finance, added his experiences with participatory or community-led impact investing and how that relates to participatory grantmaking. Impact investing is about giving not a grant but a loan or investment (which is expected to have also financial returns) with the explicit intention of reaching social or environmental impact. Transform Finance fosters a social justice approach to impact investing that rests on deep community engagement around co-design and shared ownership that creates more value than it extracts from communities.

By sharing our experiences and evidence that community involvement works, we can benefit from and support each other across the philanthropic and investment sectors.

Recommendations from an impact investor

Andrea argued that exploring hybrid models of grantmaking instead of considering them in isolation may be the most effective strategy for change: in some cases,  a combination of a grant and a loan or investment might actually be most relevant and effective. Concretely, Andrea recommended funders to:

  • Embrace the ‘nothing about us without us’ principle in all you do;
  • Consider participation an investment in the success of a project, not a cost, and push for a view of participation that goes beyond mere consultation;
  • Improve transparency of decisions and provide feedback to groups that are declined for funding;
  • Consider including community members on investment committees of your board (for large foundations that have capital to invest);
  • Appreciate that participatory grantmaking and participatory investing represent continuums along which you can select what fits best for you at a certain period of time.

It clearly is time to invest more in participatory grantmaking.   By Nadia van der Linde, Red Umbrella Fund

This blog is a slightly adapted version of the blog by the same author published by IHRFG (here)

02 Mar

OTS: Mapping Human Rights Violations Against Sex Workers in El Salvador

The Red Umbrella Fund grantee Organización de Trabajadoras del Sexo (OTS) in El Salvador mapped the situation of sex workers and documented the human rights violations they experience. This strategy has resulted in an effective model for legal empowerment and rights advocacy.

OTS implemented a national mapping of the situation of sex workers through self-led community meetings, workshops and in-site visits across the country in 2014. The objective of the mapping was to investigate the current situation of women sex workers in various cities and in a variety of sectors (outdoor and indoor) and settings (street, parks, bars, nightclubs, brothels). campa+¦a 5 Photo: OTS “Sex workers have a say as any other women”

Organising for Change

Sex workers created OTS in 2004 to address discrimination, abuse and violence against sex workers at work, within their families, and in society in general. To meet its objectives, OTS educates the general public about sex workers’ rights and provides peer support and HIV prevention information to women sex workers working on the streets and in parks in 15 municipalities. OTS’s advocacy strategy focuses on legal and policy reform for the recognition of sex work as work and the right of sex workers to be free from violence, stigma and discrimination. Through its networking and advocacy efforts, OTS recently became active in political spaces that had previously excluded sex workers, especially policy dialogue round tables with municipal authorities.

Negative Legal Environment

In El Salvador, municipalities apply public order laws, which impose administrative fines on individuals engaged in sex work. Some municipalities also fine the clients of sex workers. At the national level, the law does not actually criminalise sex work itself, but all activities related to sex work, such living off the earnings of sex work, are prohibited. In addition, the law prohibits organised prostitution. These laws create a hostile work environment for outdoor and indoor sex workers and increase their vulnerability to violence and abuse.

OTS opposes any form of legal oppression of sex workers and confronts policy makers to review these laws in light of the evidence that the laws contribute to or cause human rights violations and abuses.

Mapping the Situation

Although OTS, an organisation led by sex workers themselves, already knew that sex workers were experiencing human rights violations, the group decided to collect evidence documenting the human rights abuses to more effectively influence the policy debate and counteract the current norms and practices. Over the course of several months, OTS collected information on the situation of sex workers in different cities, sectors and settings through in-person visits.

These face-to-face visits strengthened the connections between sex workers in rural and distant areas and allowed OTS to assess the situation of the most marginalised groups.

The mapping allowed OTS to engage with different communities of sex workers and gain understanding of the structural barriers that put sex workers at risk of violence and abuse. The mapping highlighted the diversity of sex work sectors and settings in El Salvador and the characteristics and specific problems they faced. This self-reflection led to the legal empowerment of these communities. Sex workers became aware of their rights and started to demand them at the local and national levels.

Key Findings

Social stigma and an adverse legal environment create a wide range of barriers negatively impacting the ability of sex workers to enjoy their human rights. The following summary of OTS’s mapping report identifies the challenges and obstacles experienced by sex workers in the country. SAM_1771 Photo: Sex worker protest organised by OTS Legal and Policy Environment

  • Most municipalities penalise the selling and/or buying of sexual services. Those municipalities that do not directly penalise sex workers and their clients often create isolated sex work zones, far from schools and churches, instead of safe working spaces for sex workers.
  • The police often arrest women sex workers if they do not have money to pay fines.
  • Police arbitrarily apply municipal ordinances. Some municipalities that do not prohibit sex work, in practice, use public order laws from other municipalities to penalise sex workers.
  • Anti-trafficking laws pose a severe risk to sex workers’ safety and working conditions, particularly those who work indoors.

Health and Support Services

  • Discriminatory and judgmental attitudes of public health workers threaten sex workers’ ability to seek health services and support.
  • HIV/STI clinics, also known in El Salvador as clínicas vicits, do not provide integral health services for sex workers.
  • HIV test results are often not available until one month after the date of the test and sex workers have experienced and documented breaches of confidentiality. In some cases, the sex workers’ health status was disclosed to the police and their clients. This exacerbates stigma against sex workers and violates their human right to health.
  • Municipalities arbitrarily require street-based sex workers to provide health certificates to the police, despite the absence of any law imposing this requirement.
  • Municipalities require that, as a condition of granting a business license (to a bar, disco, etc.), the owner has to disclose the health certificates of sex workers to the police. This practice, which lacks any legal basis, fosters coerced sexual health testing of sex workers.
  • Most sex workers were unaware of their rights and do not know where to seek support.
  • Social services available in the country are not tailored for sex workers, and most of them address only women’s issues generally.

Family Life

  • Some sex workers are abused or violated by their partners, but they rarely receive adequate support from public institutions. Sex workers do not trust the police and the police fail to address violence committed against sex workers.
  • In some cases, sex workers have also lost their children in court and/or have not received social benefits due to their profession.

Building Allies to Achieve Change

Based on these findings, OTS publicly raised the issue of human rights violations against sex workers, especially violations perpetrated by law enforcement.

As part of its effort to influence the policy debate , OTS expanded its external allies and jointly advocated before public institutions.

OTS partnered with FESPAD (Foundation for Research on Legal Application) and ISDEMU (Salvadorian Institute for Women Development) on a research project examining the legal situation and impact of the laws on sex workers in the country. The main outcomes of the research were a detailed analysis on why sex work should be decriminalised and a proposed law decriminalising sex work. Results from the mapping report were used in the analysis. OTS has also worked with national and local governmental organisations, such as the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH), the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the National Civil Police (PCN) and Municipal Security Forces (CAM). OTS established connections with these public institutions in different municipalities across the country through advocacy letters and round tables for policy dialogue. Additionally, OTS engaged actively with the feminist platform Prudencia Ayala and the LGBT group Fraternidad sin Fronteras, a group that specifically supports trans* sex workers.

Achievements

The legal empowerment of sex workers’ was the greatest achievement of OTS’s strategy of mapping the situation of sex workers and documenting human rights abuses. The participatory and grassroots focused research methodology used improved the group’s advocacy skills, as sex workers learned to demand their rights more effectively. OTS contributed to the strengthening of the national sex worker movement, engaged new allies and documented human rights violations against sex workers, which the organisation used to influence the legal and policy environment in the country. Although the barriers remain huge, OTS has proven that sex workers communities can mobilise with limited resources and capacity. They will continue to do so until sex workers are recognised as workers and as people with rights. By Dennis van Wanrooij, Red Umbrella Fund