Sex Worker Leadership in Grantmaking

17 December: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers – Red Umbrella Fund commemorates and looks ahead!

International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Red Umbrella Fund commemorates and look ahead

The International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers was created in 2003 by Dr Annie Sprinkle, with support from sex workers’ rights activists including Robyn Few, as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, United States of America. On this particular day, we take the opportunity to come together, organise against stigma and discrimination that fuel violence, and remember our colleagues who are or have been victims of violence. We also use this day as a moment to reflect on the state of the world and the progress we have made.

As a participatory funding mechanism, Red Umbrella Fund was launched in 2012 from the recognition that too little funding was going to sex worker-led organisations and networks and that this funding often responded to donors’ priorities rather than sex workers’. Eight years after the creation of Red Umbrella Fund, these challenges remain.

In 2017, less than 1% of all human rights funding went to sex workers. Furthermore, recent research carried out by the Sex Work Donor Collaborative pointed out that only a third of grants for sex workers “were tagged “general support,” showing how few foundations are investing in the sustainability of these organizations.” In its latest report, Aidsfonds indicated that “in 2018 sex workers accounted for 6% of all new HIV infections globally. […] Yet programmes for sex workers received only 0.6% of all HIV expenditure”. 

In 2020, because of the global pandemic, many of us lost our incomes, and consequently faced a multitude of challenges. We were also often explicitly discarded from social and economic measures put in place to support workers and from funding decisions affecting our lives. 

This year, sex workers’ movements also grew, became stronger and organised rapidly to respond to this new context. So did Red Umbrella Fund.

  • At Red Umbrella Fund, we published a Solidarity Message in March with a list of sex workers’ initiatives to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, a list of emergency funders and a non-exhaustive list of resources for sex workers.

  • On Sex Worker Pride Day (14 September), we also published our new Strategic Plan, guiding our work until 2025. For greater accessibility, this Strategic Plan was also published in French, Russian and Spanish.

  • Thanks to the support of our donors and of our host organisation, Mama Cash, we were able to carry out a grantmaking cycle, completely online. We received 222 funding applications from 63 countries, 47 more applications than in 2019. 

  • We participated in the Counting Sex Workers In! Campaign aiming to challenge the ways that sex work is most often viewed through a narrow lens of moral judgment, and instead highlight bodily integrity and workers’ rights, especially in “feminist” circles.

  • We continued to strategise with the Sex Worker Donor Collaborative to increase the amount and quality of funding to support sex workers’ rights.

Red Umbrella Fund contributes to a strong, diverse and more sustainable sex workers’ rights movement. Several of our grantees have chosen to use the support they receive from Red Umbrella Fund to respond to violence in all regions of the world with activities ranging from police trainings, trainings for sex workers on safety and security, paralegal trainings, and legal aid services. On 25 November, our grantee Plataforma Latinoamericana de Personas que Ejercen Trabajo Sexual (PLAPERTS) launched a campaign aiming to confront the violence faced by sex workers perpetrated by state actors.

Our vision remains to live in a world where sex workers’ rights are respected as human beings and as workers, so that all sex workers can live lives free from criminalization, stigma, and violence.

To achieve this, funders will play a crucial role. As more and more funders are interested in participatory grantmaking and shifting power, we encourage them to support our work and our experience as the first and only global fund guided by and for sex workers.

Participatory grantmaking is both an ethos and a process ceding decision-making power about funding decisions (including the strategies and criteria behind these decisions) to the communities served. Since its inception, Red Umbrella Fund has been recognised as a creative model of participatory grantmaking, with sex workers being the majority of its International Steering Committee, its Programme Advisory Committee and its Secretariat staff. Because participatory grantmaking is not only about shifting power but also about ensuring good grantmaking decisions, we will continue to promote the systems we developed (and continue to perfect them) as was done in the Guide from Grantcraft entitled: Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking.

We look forward to making the Red Umbrella Fund more accessible, more powerful and more resourced in the five years to come.


Kay Thi & Tara (Co-Chairs of the Red Umbrella Fund’s International Steering Committee) & Paul-Gilbert (Coordinator)

If you want to support the work of Red Umbrella Fund, click on this webpage (which was also created in 2020!) or contact us.

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