04 Oct

As Rosas Já Falam: My Love Letter to AWID

AWID Daspu lineupFrom September 8th to 11th, many feminist sex workers’ rights advocates and allies made their way to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil and gathered at the AWID Forum. AWID’s forum is a massive global gathering that brought together over 1800 feminists from all over the world this year. While the history of sex work activism in feminist spaces is long, the meaningful and respectful participation of sex workers in these spaces is sparkling new.

“We are whores. We are feminists. And we have rights.” – Cida Vieira, APROSMIG (Brazil)

Ana Luz Mamani, a sex worker activist from Mujeres del Sur in Peru and member of the International Steering Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund, spoke to a large crowd about funding sex worker organising in the plenary “Money and Movements”. And that was just the start of the evening…

It was followed by a DASPU fashion show organised by sex worker activists to raise visibility for the sex workers’ movement and sex work «as work». DASPU is a Brazilian sex worker-brand that is renowned for its fashion shows filled with humour, pride and advocacy messages. While the audience danced and cheered on their chairs, sex workers and allies from more than twenty nationalities performed on stage.

Let me tell you, it was a blast!

IMG_3058The catwalk celebrated the existence of the Red Umbrella Fund, which was launched at the AWID Forum in Turkey in 2012, and the “growing and showing” sex workers’ rights movements. Since its launch, the Red Umbrella Fund has made 78 grants, totalling over 1.8 million USD of direct financial support to sex worker organising in 45 countries.

Open Arms

The show also symbolised a big “thank you” to AWID for welcoming sex workers into these feminist spaces with open arms. For creating room for a feminist dialogue with sex workers beyond the often overwhelming trafficking and exploitation debates.

IMG_3042

Photo: Sangeeta Ramu Manoji, VAMP (India)

Personally, I was honoured to celebrate sex workers’ lives, experiences, affections, challenges but also opportunities with friends and fellow activists from around the world! I was thrilled with the large amount of positivity I heard about the vibrant moves of the sex worker show at AWID’s arena. Among the comments was a celebration of our ability to bring together the diversity of the sex worker movement – which includes sex workers of all genders, sexual orientations, race, and class – on stage, and to mobilise hundreds of enthusiastic feminists. Sex worker activism does not always get such a response in feminist spaces.

So sex workers fight trafficking?

“Anti-trafficking policy in Canada is anti-sex work policy. Actually, we don’t need the police to rescue us. Sex workers need to know their rights. (…) Migrant sex workers are treated as terrorists in Canada. This year alone, 16 women in our network have been arrested. They have trauma. Not because of trafficking or exploitation, but because of the arrest and police treatment.” – Elene Lam, Butterfly (Canada)

The Red Umbrella Fund co-hosted a session that elaborated on the need to acknowledge sex workers as key allies in the fight against sex trafficking and labour exploitation. Elene Lam (Butterfly Asia and Migrant Sex Workers Project, Canada), Cida Vieira (APROSMIG, Brazil) and Kiran Deshmukh (VAMP, India) shared diverse examples of how they stand up for their rights as sex workers and for the rights of people who have experienced sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“Raids [of brothels] in India are very violent. They are often sponsored by anti-trafficking NGOs. They have a lot of money. We struggle to find money to collectivise but they have big budgets. (…) Every woman who opts to be in sex work should have that right and should be able to work in safe work conditions.” – Kiran Deshmukh, VAMP (India)

IMG_0079

Photo: Elene Lam, Cida Vieira, Bandana Pattanaik, Kiran Deshmukh, Aarthi Pai

They expressed the need to talk about labour and migration rights for women and to gain respect for sex workers’ voices and experiences, as well as to value their vast knowledge in the field. Bandana Pattanaik from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) concluded that the presentations “demonstrated that sex worker organisations are claiming their space, involving communities, and engaging at policy level to combat trafficking”.

Funding Movements

In the session, ‘How Can Funders Most Effectively Support Young Feminist, Trans* and Sex Worker Movements’, the Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund, Nadia van der Linde, advocated for more and, importantly, better funding for sex workers’ rights. She then opened the discussion with the sex workers and other activists in the audience about how funders can improve their funding in support of, and together with, their respective social movements.

Some of the needs expressed to funders were:

  • listen to the community;
  • provide long-term and flexible support;
  • support strategies and capacity to overcome closing civil society spaces and bureaucracy;
  • translation support; and
  • introductions to other funders.

No Turning Back!

Photo: Gabriela Leite by Luiz Garrido

Every forum day, sex workers were visible in one or more sessions in the programme, whether from the perspective of fun and pleasure, transgender rights, or artivism. I heard numerous people at AWID say that they believed this was “the tipping point” for the global feminist movement’s embracing of sex workers’ rights. I witnessed a growing understanding that sex work is a human rights issue in which feminists play an important role in pushing a rights-based agenda forward. As stated in the title of Open Society Foundations’ report that was also launched at AWID, there is No Turning Back.  The way forward is jointly with and in support of sex workers.

So this was my love letter to AWID and to all those who made sex worker participation possible and outstanding. To quote Gabriela Leite, a sex worker activist from Brazil and creator of DASPU: “as rosas já falam” (sex workers already have a voice). Just listen. 

By Dennis van Wanrooij, Red Umbrella Fund

01 Jul

La convocatoria global está abierta!

¡La nueva convocatoria global del Fondo Paraguas Rojo (2017) está abierta hasta el 28 de julio.

Tu grupo, organización o red, ¿está dirigido por trabajador*s sexuales?

Tu grupo, organización o red, ¿reconoce que el trabajo sexual es trabajo?

A tu grupo, organización o red, ¿le interesa contribuir a construir y fortalecer el movimiento de l*s trabajador*s sexuales?

Haz clic aquí para más información

Red Umbrella Fund Call2016 poster_ESP

¿Cómo colicitar una donación?

Descargar el cartel

Notre 2017 Appel à Propositions est ouvert jusqu’au 28 Septiembre

Cliquez ici pour deposer une demande de subvention.

Télécharger l’affiche

The Red Umbrella Fund’s global Call for Applications is open until 28 July 2017.

Apply for a grant here.

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

Нажмите здесь для Pусский

 

 

21 Abr

Why Sex Work should be Decriminalised

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 Abr

Are we really listening?

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 Dic

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 Dic

In Loving Memory of Elena Tsukerman

Nuestro recuerdo cariñoso para Elena Tsukerman

Desde el Fondo Paraguas Rojo hacemos llegar nuestro más sincero pésame por la pérdida de Elena Tsukerman, o Lena como la conocíamos, a su familia, amistades, colegas y compañer*s de activismo. Nos conmovió enterarnos de su fallecimiento repentino y la pérdida de esta activista fuerte y profundamente comprometida, que no aceptaba un «no» como respuesta, nos causó una enorme tristeza.

Elena with red umbrella

En 2012, Lena se sumó al Comité Coordinador Internacional (ISC en inglés), principal organismo de toma de decisiones dentro del Fondo Paraguas Rojo, de alcance global. En estos últimos tres años y medio, se destacó por su dedicación para apoyar procesos organizativos de trabajador*s sexuales y representar sus intereses. Utilizó todas las oportunidades que pudo para dar mayor visibilidad a las necesidades de l*s trabajador*s sexuales en su país y en general en su región, pero también estuvo siempre abierta a aprender de activistas y aliad*s de todo el mundo y vincularse con ell*s.

Celebramos haber tenido la oportunidad de trabajar y relacionarnos con ella más allá de nuestras diversidades geográficas, culturales e idiomáticas.

Elena, siempre te recordaremos en nuestros corazones y en nuestro activismo.

Mensajes de integrantes del ISC y del personal del Fondo Paraguas Rojo:

«Me entristece la muerte de mi buena amiga e integrante del Comité Coordinador Internacional del Fondo Paraguas Rojo. Vamos a extrañar las preguntas que solías hacernos. Esta es una gran pérdida para la organización Legallife y también para l*s trabajador*s sexuales de todo el mundo. Tu legado permanecerá en nuestros corazones.»
– John Mathenge, integrante del ISC- Fondo Paraguas Rojo, HOYMAS

«Elena fue una persona positiva y una integrante comprometida del ISC. Una verdadera luchadora por los derechos de l*s trabajador*s sexuales. Siempre me decía: ‘Voy a aprender a hablar inglés. Hay tantas cosas que quiero decir, pero en este momento me faltan las palabras’»
– Miriam Edwards, integrante del ISC- Fondo Paraguas Rojo, Guyana Sex Work Coalition & Caribbean Sex Worker Coalition

«Elena fue una mujer llena de energía. Si no estaba segura del impacto que algo podía tener para l*s trabajador*s sexuales, no lo dejaba pasar. Fue una suerte para el ISC que Elena representara a Europa del Este. Siempre estuvo muy comprometida y asumió a fondo la responsabilidad de dar a conocer su región y hacer que le prestaran atención. Elena: trabajaste tanto… es hora de que descanses un poco … duerme mucho … descansa bien … ¡te vamos a extrañar mucho!»
– Noi Apisuk, integrante del ISC- Fondo Paraguas Rojo, EMPOWER Foundation

“La vida es tan corta, y más todavía cuando la que nos dice adiós es una persona en la flor de la vida. Es casi increíble, me cuesta creerlo, pero se fue nuestra compañera Elena. Tu partida de este mundo deja una huella muy honda porque fuiste una verdadera luchadora. Recogeremos en todo el mundo las semillas que dejaste sembradas. Te amamos y vamos a recordarte siempre, Elena Tsukerman”.
– Ana Luz Mamani, integrante del ISC- Fondo Paraguas Rojo, Mujeres del Sur

“Haber perdido a una compañera es un golpe fuerte y nos entristece profundamente. Sus esfuerzos por llamar la atención sobre lo que les ocurre a las mujeres y sobre todo a las trabajadoras sexuales durante las guerras y los conflictos es algo en lo que he estado pensando recientemente. Como activista, hizo incidencia a partir de sus principios, con pasión y siempre abierta a colaborar, y su aporte fue valioso en cuanto lograr que el ISC no dejara de tener presente que nuestras decisiones afectan una misión que es importante y también vidas concretas. Estoy azorado”.
– Javid Syed, integrante del ISC- Fondo Paraguas Rojo, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

“Lena hizo activismo con todo su ser. Nunca tuvo miedo de decirle la verdad a quienes tienen poder o de cuestionar el estatus quo, y tenía un fuerte sentido de la justicia. Pero también era muy cálida, amable y divertida; utilizaba su sentido del humor y su capacidad de empatía para tender puentes por encima de las diferencias idiomáticas y culturales. Con enorme dedicación, promovió los derechos humanos de las trabajadoras sexuales en Ucrania y en su región en general, y utilizó su plataforma para difundir las voces de esas trabajadoras siempre que le fue posible. Muchas veces fue la ‘pacificadora’, la voz pragmática y la que marcaba el tono moral en el Comité Coordinador Internacional. Lena: te vamos a extrañar profundamente”.
– Heather Benjamin, integrante del ISC- Fondo Paraguas Rojo, Open Society Foundations

“Lena fue una comprometida integrante del ISC que asumió sus responsabilidades y nunca le tuvo miedo a las discusiones difíciles. Este año lideró el proceso de elaboración del primer Código Ético del Fondo Paraguas Rojo que nos ayudará a fortalecer nuestra infraestructura y a garantizar que continuamos siendo transparentes y rindiendo cuentas. Durante nuestras reuniones y en las charlas individuales, se comunicaba de maneras directas que a veces podían parecer duras pero también con mucha calidez, con risas y con cariño. Vamos a extrañar a Lena como trabajadora sexual que también era activista y como líder del ISC y del movimiento de trabajador*s sexuales en general.”
– Nadia van der Linde, Coordinadora, Fondo Paraguas Rojo

“Viendo qué rápido y con qué poca ceremonia, la vida llega a su fin, quiero agradecerle a Olena por todo lo que me enseñó sobre el movimiento de trabajador*s sexuales y sobre el mundo. Tuve la suerte de trabajar con ella muchas veces, inclusive en Ucrania. Con ella aprendí que el idioma no es una barrera cuando hay una meta en común. Yo la podía sentir y muchas veces me sorprendía ver cómo podíamos comunicarnos en persona y a través del traductor de Google. Aunque tuvimos nuestras diferencias, siempre supe que Olena luchaba por algo que era correcto. Fue una activista sincera y admirable. La fuerza de su voz nos va a hacer falta y su lucha siempre conmoverá nuestros corazones”.
– Dennis van Wanrooij, Asistente de Programas, Fondo Paraguas Rojo

 

ISC meeting 2015

Elena (izquierda) durante la reunion del ISC en Amsterdam, Abril 2015

Elena with Red Umbrella Fund

15 Dic

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 Abr

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)