04 Mar

Programme Advisory Committee Members Recruitment

Update: The 2022 ISC has approved the stipend schedule for the 2022 PAC meeting. All PAC members will be compensated on a sliding scale (€1250-1700) depending on how many applications each PAC member scores.

The deadline to apply has been extended – applications submitted before 9:00 am CET (Amsterdam) Tuesday 12 April will be considered.

About Red Umbrella Fund
Red Umbrella Fund is the first and only global fund by and for sex workers. We publish one Call for Applications each year. Since 2012, Red Umbrella Fund has made 247 grants to sex worker-led groups and networks representing a total of 6,586,000 EUR.

Who makes what decisions? Red Umbrella Fund is guided by an International Steering Committee (ISC) made up of sex workers and donors. The ISC decides the grantmaking criteria, approves the annual budget and makes other strategic decisions. The Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) advises the ISC about which new grants to make. Day-to-day work is done by a small Secretariat team of four staff.

What do PAC members do? PAC members read and score the applications and select which applications should be funded by Red Umbrella Fund. PAC members can stay on the PAC for up to 3 years.

Who are on the PAC? The PAC has up to 11 members, always with a large majority (at least 80%) of sex workers. Red Umbrella Fund wants a PAC that is diverse in terms of gender and geography.

Who can apply?
Red Umbrella Fund is looking for five sex workers or strong allies from somewhere in:

North America & non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean – with a preference for candidates from non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean

Europe and Central Asia – with a preference for candidates in Western Europe

Asia and the Pacific

Latin America and Spanish-speaking Caribbean

Anywhere in the world with a global understanding of the sex workers’ rights movement

Minimum requirements:
Language: able to read and discuss funding proposals in English.
Availability: able to commit 5-10 hours each week between August and October 2022 to review applications and to participate in PAC meetings .
Affiliation: be part of and/or endorsed by one sex worker-led group or network.
Internet & Laptop: regular access to email and stable internet connection.

Important:
PAC membership requires a high level of commitment. PAC members must be able to read about 5 to 10 proposals each week during the review period.
Exceptionally PAC Members will be compensated in 2022 as there will be no in-person meeting.
Positions for allies are limited on the PAC and relevant sex worker candidates will be prioritised.

What can you gain?
The PAC is an exciting and meaningful opportunity to contribute to Red Umbrella Fund’s grantmaking to sex worker groups around the world.
As PAC member you learn more about sex worker activism in different regions.
Many PAC members find the experience useful for their knowledge about philanthropy and activism.

How can you apply?
E-mail the completed self-nomination form together with a support letter to: info@redumbrellafund.org by 9:00 am CST (Amsterdam) Tuesday, 12 April 2022.

01 Sep

International Steering Commitee Members Recruitment

Red Umbrella Fund is the first-ever global grantmaking collaborative guided by and for sex workers. Red Umbrella Fund is guided by an International Steering Committee (ISC) made up of sex workers and donors. The ISC decides the grantmaking criteria, approves the annual budget and makes other strategic decisions. The Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) advises the ISC about which new grants to make. PAC members read and score the applications and select which applications should be funded by Red Umbrella Fund. ISC members can stay on the ISC for up to 3 years.

The ISC has up to 11 members from different parts of the world. The ISC strives for diversity in its membership including in relation to geography, language, gender, areas of expertise, and affiliations. Red Umbrella Fund is looking for three committed sex workers’ rights activists who identify as current or former sex workers and are part of a sex worker-led organisation based in:

– a high-income country (Canada, United States of America, WesternEurope, Australia, New Zealand)
Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA),
– a non-Spanish-speaking country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Important:
ISC membership is voluntary, unpaid and requires a high level of commitment. ISC members must be able to volunteer several hours per week for ISC discussions and responsibilities at different times of the year.
Candidates must be interested and available to commit to actively participate in the ISC for at least three years. Membership can be renewed once for another three years.
ISC members must have regular e-mail access and availability to attend ISC meetings (by phone, WhatsApp or Skype) and at least one international meeting per year.

What do we offer?
A unique opportunity to contribute to the only global funder led by the community that specifically focuses on supporting the sex workers’ rights movements!
Direct contact with peer sex workers’ rights activists and allied funders.
Translation support in ISC members for up to three languages.
ISC membership is a voluntary (unpaid) position but costs of participating in meetings are covered.

To apply, please send the self-nomination form filled in in English, French, Russian or Spanish with a support letter to info@redumbrellafund.org by 21 October 2021.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Please find more information on the self-nomination form.
In case of any question please email to info@redumbrellafund.org.

10 May

Programme Advisory Committee Members Recruitment

Red Umbrella Fund is the first-ever global grantmaking collaborative guided by and for sex workers. Red Umbrella Fund is guided by an International Steering Committee (ISC) made up of sex workers and donors. The ISC decides the grantmaking criteria, approves the annual budget and makes other strategic decisions. The Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) advises the ISC about which new grants to make. PAC members read and score the applications and select which applications should be funded by Red Umbrella Fund. PAC members can stay on the PAC for up to 3 years.

The PAC has up to 11 members, always with a large majority (at least 80%) of sex workers. Red Umbrella Fund wants a PAC that is diverse in terms of gender and geography. Red Umbrella Fund is looking for two sex workers or strong allies from somewhere in:
– North America (Canada & United States of America)
– Central Europe and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA)

The minimum requirements necessary to apply to be a PAC Member are:
Language: able to read and discuss funding proposals in English.
Availability: able to commit 5-10 hours each week between 02 August and 15 October 2021 to review applications and to participate in PAC meetings .
Affiliation: be part of and/or endorsed by one sex worker-led group or network.
Internet: regular email and stable internet connection.

What can you gain?
• The PAC is an exciting and meaningful opportunity to contribute to Red Umbrella Fund’s grantmaking to sex worker groups around the world.
• As PAC member you learn more about sex worker activism in different regions.
• Many PAC members find the experience useful for their knowledge about philanthropy and activism.

To apply, please send the self-nomination form filled in in English with a support letter to info@redumbrellafund.org by 10 June 2021.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Please find more information on the self-nomination form.
In case of any question please email to info@redumbrellafund.org

16 Dec

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.

#shiftthepower

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.

29 Sep

Master Thesis – Roles of Regional Sex Worker Networks

The 6 Roles of Regional Sex Worker Networks

By Hester Scholma, Graduating Student,
Master Thesis Sociology, Vrije Univeristeit Amsterdam 

Network means together and together makes stronger. We [regional networks] can make the Sex Worker Movement stronger at the country level, at the regional level and move together to get sex workers’ rights”

Almost a third of the Red Umbrella Fund grantmaking budget goes to regional networks of sex workers because they are seen as important within the Sex Workers’ Rights Movement. But why, exactly? The Programme Advisory Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund has asked for further clarification on the importance of regional networks and a funder demonstrated interest to better understand the roles of networks in social movements. All in all, plenty of reasons to start an exploratory research into the work of regional sex worker networks.

Together means stronger

It sounds obvious: together means stronger. We all know that sowing and harvesting a field of wheat by hand is easier when we do it together instead of alone. Building a house goes much faster with many hands and multiple brains adding skills and knowledge on construction, electricity or design. An individual protesting against municipal policy in front of the town hall can make a statement but protesting in a group usually makes this statement stronger. It may feel logical that regional networks contribute to stronger local and national organisations and a stronger movement, the question is how?

Sex Workers’ rights organising

Many sex worker organisations, focused on promoting the human rights of sex workers, formed throughout the 1980s both in countries in the Global North and the Global South. The Sex Workers’ Rights Movement began to internationalise from the 1980s and the now fully globalized movement is one of the most geographically diverse and intersectional social movements in the world. The movement represents the interests of sex workers from many different countries, with varied races, gender identities and sexual orientations. It includes sex worker-led organisations working locally, nationally and internationally1.

The regional networks

The regional networks are groups of sex worker groups across countries in a particular geographic region. These networks connect organisations, and sometimes individual activists, to each other. They work with their members in the region and also work on a global level, sometimes together with other regional networks. The currently known regional sex worker-led networks are: ASWA in Africa; APNSW in Asia and the Pacific; ICRSE, SWAN and TAMPEP in Europe; and RedTraSex, PLAPERTS and CSWC in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, there are a few sub-regional networks and networks that unite sex workers and allies.

The 6 roles

To explore the contribution and relevance of the regional networks, conversations were held with people directly engaged in such regional networks, a representative of NSWP and some funders of sex worker-led organisations. Through these conversations, six regional networks’ key roles came to light: convening power, setting the agenda, platform for sharing and learning, supporting and engaging in advocacy, capacity building and amplifying sex worker voices.


1. Convening power

The regional networks bring people and organisations together from different contexts and backgrounds, physically or online. This can create movement consciousness. Regional networks can also make connections with other international bodies or social movements.


“We had 200 sex workers from about 10 countries. And it was just amazing because we met people from countries we didn’t even [normally] think about. You’re thinking that these are issues we’re facing in our country only, but that was such a powerful moment because sex workers spoke about human rights violations and that was the first time we were like we want decriminalisation. A lot of work had gone to mobilize the countries to bring sex workers to come for this conference. I’m getting goose bumps even as I’m talking about it. It was very, very moving”

 

2. Setting the agenda

The regional networks set a shared agenda together with members. This generates a clear message of the movements’ ideas and demands for both the movement itself and for outsiders. It is clear that one of the main objectives of the regional sex worker networks is the decriminalisation of sex work. This has not always been the case.

I think this is not something to take for granted. It took a lot and a lot of work to come to this unity. And to come to this unified voice and demand, what’s their message. So it definitely speaks to the movement and its success”

3. Platform for sharing & learning

The regional networks create opportunities for members to share experiences and learn from each other. For example, this platform creates the possibility for new sex worker-led organisations to do an ‘internship’ at more established organisations and the possibility to improve strategies together.

A strategy that was shared by one country – and maybe had a few challenges or a few hiccups – when the next country implements that same strategy, they’re able to see the loopholes and be able to address those challenges and make it a better strategy”

4. Supporting and engaging in advocacy

Regional networks support local and national advocacy and bring advocacy to the regional and global levels. Their advocacy is strengthened by the fact that they represent a big group of people. They have the position to gather information, provide numbers and engage in joint advocacy.


“When there were cases of murders of sex workers in Kenya, all other countries came on board to support Kenya and statements were being issued from other countries condemning this. That would never have happened if we did not have that regional platform”

5. Capacity building

Regional networks support local and national organisations to strengthen their skills, knowledge and organisations and in turn build the capacity of the movement as a whole. Regional networks regularly organise trainings and workshops for their membership. ASWA even established an entire training programme, jointly with the Kenyan national network KESWA and with support from the global network NSWP, called the Sex Worker Academy Africa.


“10 years ago there was no leader at the national level, maybe at the regional level one or two leaders. And now look at the countries. Every country has one or two organisations, there is leadership of sex workers, and they are fighting for their rights”

6. Amplifying sex worker voices

The regional networks represent a diversity of sex workers from the region and give local sex workers a platform to speak, both within the movement as well as outside of the movement on a regional or global level.


“[At a regional meeting] One of the sex workers from Myanmar was talking about violence against sex workers by police. In that meeting there were many representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs and he said: oh my god I don’t know anything about this, I had no idea that this was happening in our country, nobody ever told me that this was happening”

Funding regional networks

The regional networks play an important role in making the movement stronger as a whole and in impacting the international and global level that have an influence on local realities. However, regional networks face multiple obstacles and this makes it difficult for them to fully fulfil all the roles named above. One of the biggest challenges regional sex worker networks face is lack of funding. Without flexible and core funding, the regional networks cannot live up to their full potential to strengthen the Sex Workers’ Rights Movement and to keep working on decriminalisation and the protection of human rights of sex workers.


“There is a general interest of funders to support local initiatives because of the immediate impact. But the problem that those sex workers are experiencing do not only link to their individual situation but also to the legal context of their country and the cultural context of the whole region. Networks are able to use the stories of their members and take it to a higher level and make a larger change. If those networks don’t do this regional effort, it creates a huge vacuum because local organisations often are not able to step up to the next level for policy change”

[1] Chi Adanna Mgbako, The Mainstreaming of Sex Workers’ Rights as Human Rights, 43 Harv. J. L. & Gender 92 (2020)
Available at: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/faculty_scholarship/1092


This blog post was written by Hester Scholma, a sociology student at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Hester conducted qualitative research in partnership with the Red Umbrella Fund in 2020. If you are interested in this study and want to receive more information or a copy of the thesis, please contact the Red Umbrella Fund at: info@redumbrellafund.org


Illustrations by Hester Scholma

1Chi Adanna Mgbako, The Mainstreaming of Sex Workers’ Rights as Human Rights, 43 Harv. J. L. & Gender 92 (2020)
Available at: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/faculty_scholarship/1092

14 Sep

Red Umbrella Fund 2020-2025 Strategic Plan

Today is International Sex Worker Pride Day which began in 2019, and is an opportunity to celebrate and share stories of sex workers’ self-determination and the achievements of the sex worker rights movement.

Sex Worker Pride extends to all marginalised by criminalisation, discrimination and stigma across the sex worker movement and celebrates the diversity within our community during International Sex Worker Pride.

On this special day we at Red Umbrella Fund would also like to present to you our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan. Our mission remains to strengthen the sex workers’ rights movement and its sustainability by catalysing new funding! Please read al about it.

Strategic Plan 2020-2025

 

30 Jul

Red Umbrella Fund Welcomes a New Coordinator

30 July 2020

Dear Community Members, Partners and Allies,

The International Steering Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund (RUF) is pleased to welcome Paul-Gilbert Colletaz as our new coordinator. As a sex worker and human rights advocate, Paul-Gilbert has been firmly rooted in the sex workers’ rights movement for many years.

The Red Umbrella Fund is the first and only global fund guided by and for sex workers. RUF aims to strengthen and sustain the sex workers’ rights movements through financial and non-financial support as well as through advocacy and communication efforts focused on catalysing new funding to support sex workers’ rights movements.

As a long-term organizational ally, Paul-Gilbert previously served as programme manager for the Global Network of Sex Workers (NSWP), programme coordinator for Solidarité Sida, and as civil society member on the International Steering Committee of the Robert Carr Network Fund. Paul-Gilbert’s commitment to self-representation and self-determination have been strengthened through his professional experiences as an advocate, building resilience and solidarity among sex workers across genders, race, sexualities, identity, experience and geographical borders.

Says Paul-Gilbert, “the sex workers’ rights movement has always brought out the fiercest forms of commitment and passion among so many people. At RUF I look forward to strengthening that legacy by being responsible, transparent, and accountable in our grantmaking and fundraising efforts for the greater realisation of our human rights”.

Paul-Gilbert succeeds RUF’s founding coordinator, Nadia Van Der Linde.  During her tenure, Nadia worked tirelessly to increase funding for sex workers globally. She and her team created platforms for sex workers themselves to elevate sex workers’ rights, made it possible for nascent and unregistered sex worker groups to access funds for the first time, shared RUF’s thoughtful participatory grantmaking approach and encouraged other funders to adopt similar models, and above all, always kept sex worker communities at the center of the work.

While there has been much progress, the worldwide political and financial threats facing sex workers are only intensifying and the need for more funding to build empowered, resilient, and active sex worker-led organisations and networks could not be more urgent. Together with the dedicated RUF staff, we are confident that Paul-Gilbert will strengthen our  programs and fundraising efforts to meet the ongoing challenges of our time. Paul-Gilbert will start on the 3rd of August working remotely from Paris for the remainder of the year. We thank you for your support and hope you will join us in warmly welcoming Paul-Gilbert to the team.

In Solidarity,

Tara Burns & Kay Thi Win
Co-Chairs of the RUF International Steering Committee (ISC)

 

19 Jun

Red Umbrella Fund is looking for new PAC members to join us in Amsterdam!

** This process is closed for 2018 – new opportunities are expected in 2020 **
We are looking for dedicated sex worker activist from the regions of Africa, Asia and Latin-America for our Program Advisory Committee (PAC)!

Every year our PAC comes together for the final part in the decision making process for the new grants that the Red Umbrella Fund will make. The reading of these grants takes place from from mid-August until early October. The 2019 PAC process ends with a 4 day meet up from 7 to 10 October in Amsterdam.

If you are available and your English is well enough to communicate with other group members, nominate yourself to Red Umbrella Fund before the 21st of July 2019!

Please read the requirements in the attached documents (don’t forget the endorsement letter) and hopefully we see you in October?

PAC Self Nomination form 2019

21 Dec

Join the ISC

** Sorry – now closed **
The Red Umbrella Fund is looking for committed sex worker rights activists to join our International Steering Committee (ISC)!

  •  Are you a sex worker and an experienced activist interested in supporting the sex workers’ rights movements at a global level?
  • Do you agree with the need to respect sex work as work and ensure that sex workers everywhere can organize themselves to claim their human rights?

We have 3 positions open for new ISC members from:

  • any Spanish speaking countries in Latin America or the Caribbean;
  • any Francophone and Lusophone countries in Africa;
  • any country in South Asia.

Roles and Responsibilities

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

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

What we are looking for:

  • Sex workers’ rights activist, who identify as (current or former) sex workers and are part of a sex worker-led organisation.
  • Sex workers’ rights activists based in South Asia, Latin America (Spanish speaking countries) or Africa (French and Lusophone countries). Note that the other (sub-)regions already have representation on the ISC at the moment.
  • Able to communicate well (read, write and speak!) in English, Spanish, French or Russian. We especially encourage English speaking activists to nominate themselves.
  • Someone with regular e-mail access and availability to attend ISC meetings (by phone, WhatsApp or Skype) and at least one international meeting per year.
  • Someone able to volunteer several hours per week for ISC discussions and responsibilities at different times of the year.
  • Candidates must be interested and available to commit to actively participate in the ISC for at least three years. Membership can be renewed once for another three years.

Read the Call for Nominations to join the ISC with more information!

The Self-Nominations Forms as we are not accepting nomination anymore.

More information:

  • Applications were accepted in English, Spanish and French.
  • Who are the current ISC members?
  • Learn about the history of the Red Umbrella Fund
08 Jun

STAR: From the Las Vegas of Macedonia to a pop up red light window

Sex work is a topic that receives ‘bad press’ and is often misunderstood. However, we commonly find written articles that use pictures of high heels, red light districts or the eroticised female body to make their own articles against sex work more ‘sexy’.

Some sex workers fight back against the current double morality discourses. This blog is about the human rights defenders of the first sex worker collective in the Balkans; the power of claiming back the use of their own imagery to make a political campaign and how they are expanding.

We are sitting in a small basement bar in Gostivar. An old gas heater and a fake window seem to be the only light on what is a cold January morning. Gligor is sharing a seat with me, also Slavica’s friend, who hardly speaks any English but was happy to join us. On the other side of the table, Dennis –my partner on my first self-funded field visit to one of our grantee partners- talks with other members. STAR’s success is the result of the joint effort of many individuals.

”This city, Gostivar, has so much to offer to sex workers. Why? Because people has so much money. People go out of the city and work hard and then come back to Macedonia and has money to spend. They spend their money with sex workers. These people treat the girls like princesses. … it is very good that this money is spent here in Gostivar,”  comments Slavica, a member of sex worker organisation STAR in Macedonia.

“We have so much good night life, so many bars, clubs, clients and some people from everywhere from Macedonia coming here for sexual services,” continues Slavica. “We have sex workers on the street, in the clubs, on out-call, in front of the Casinos… For this reason, I tell you, Gostivar is like Las Vegas of Macedonia.”

Expanding

It is not a coincidence that STAR is planning to rent a second office here in Gostivar. Training and workshops have been conducted to build the capacity of the organisation in the area. Now they are looking for the best space to rent their second office. STAR just received a second grant from the Red Umbrella Fund, and to expand their focal points seems to be the logical next step to take.

STAR was created in 2008 and got registered in 2010 as the Association for the Support of Marginalised Workers following a year long struggle with state institutions who refused to recognise sex workers as legitimate agents of a collective. Today, STAR is an active agent of the civil sector, striving for ‘a world without violence where sex workers can perform their chosen profession in a democratic and tolerant society’, as stated on their website.

Migrant sex workers

Gostivar is a city based in the Western part of Macedonia, with a population mix of Macedonian, Albanian and Turkish. 

“Most sex workers are not from Macedonia. They are migrants. We have more than half of workers who come from outside Macedonia. We have girls from Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, some girls from Bosnia. They are not officially migrants here because they don’t have a regular status like immigrants. They come here, they work and then, they leave the country”, points Gligor, who works at the STAR office in Skopje

”Some male sex workers from here,”- continues Gligor- “they do the same. They go to Greece to work because the law there affects only women. So, some men can go there and work and then come back and enjoy their money.” 

 Step by Step

Slavica joins again: “Fifteen years ago, here in Gostivar, it was a big taboo to say that you were doing sex work. If a girl said it, she could have had a problem. She had nowhere to go to communicate any of their needs. So, we have started the work that we do at STAR. They can feel good and strong about what they are doing. … These girls now feel they have like a family”.

“Five minutes of talking can change everything… Maybe I can’t help her, but I can listen. It is very good that you have somebody who listens to your problems. It is one step. After that, we are going step by step”, shares Slavica.

I can feel the excitement about the idea of renting a new space and the work of this newly formed branch of STAR, learning from the stories of sex workers here. We have left the bar and we are walking along Vardar River that extends through Gostivar, cutting it in half, passes through the capital Skopje, goes through the country and enters Greece. This river seems to be the moving constant of Macedonian sex work landscape.

Condoms

Gligor joins the conversation and wants to share the importance of having their own organisation.  

‘’Once I was working for a service provider. And everything was different. I was supposed to give condoms only to those people who defined as a sex worker. But a lot of men I reached didn’t want to be referred as such, even if they were doing so. It can be a taboo to define yourself as a sex worker to a stranger. For me, it is not important where people are coming from or if they define as sex workers. It is important to give them condoms, which they need’’, says Gligor with a candid smile.

Close to Parliament

In Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, Borce Bozinov, President of STAR shares with us the story of one of the co-founders of the organization. She passed away two years ago. Her name was Laura Feer. She co-started this group back in 2006. Borce shares his experiences with shared leaderships and involving membership. Decentralising their focal points seems to have been a successful strategy for this group whose members share a passion for the work they do.

The main STAR office is strategically placed close to Parliament. Their dedicated team divide their tasks between communication, finance and outreach activities. With almost all members having a background in the sex industry, they are the ones in the best position to determine sex workers’ needs combined with strategic lobbying.

From advocacy to access to sexual and reproductive health services and the use of the SWIT tool, STAR is the only sex worker’s group by and for sex workers in Macedonia and beyond.

We got to learn about how they managed to improve their office space thanks to core funding. In the picture, Dennis poses with members from the Skojpe branch.

Pop-up in Skopje

The group is excited to talk about their activities. We sit around a table and colorful pictures appear on the screen of a laptop. They are part of STAR’s latest 17th of December campaign. The community organisation rented an empty beauty and nail shop for a day and converted it in what it could have been a window from the Red Light District of Amsterdam. Some members of STAR did not hesitate to jump in sexy clothes and use their seductiveness to… make a point about the need of safe spaces for work in the city!

Using banners, the performers asked the passers-by if they would like to have consented paid sex. It was only a matter of time before traffic had to be closed due to the numbers of curious viewers.

In a context where sex work is a taboo that is starting to be eroded by the actions of this group, the re appropriation of their own imagery in a political campaign is a powerful strategy. The results speak by themselves: 26 positive appearances in the media, including an interview in-situ to Borce on the National News TV which gave a positive approach to the action. The video has been played over 45.000 times so far.

(МАКФАКС ВО ЖИВО) Шест сексуални работнички преку излози нудат услуги на булевар во Скопје

Think twice

Before you close all your global perspective about sex workers, think twice: Why zero tolerance to the oldest profession??? The feminists should answer this!” highlighted Borce.

I would like to conclude by remembering Laura Freer, for what she co-initiated once, for being a pioneer and a source of inspiration for STAR’s current members, to us and to the movement. Thank you so much to Laura and all STAR members!

 

 

 

 

Skopje Red Light District performance organized by STAR. Photo taken by Vanco Dzambaski, Open Society Foundation – Macedonia.

Text and black and white pictures by Vera Rodriguez