15 Déc

Minorités dans un Mouvement

OGERA stands with refugee 2017Uniting LBT and Refugee Sex Workers

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

Minorities in the Sex Worker Movement

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

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

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

Criminalization, Stigma and Violence

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

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

Group photo OGERA

Stories of Stigma and Abuse

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

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

At a Refugee Brothel

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

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

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


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

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

World Refugee Day

OGERA World Refugee Day 2017

OGERA celebrating World Refugee Day in Uganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 Juin

Appel a Propositions Ouvert

Notre 2018 Appel à Propositions est maintenant ouvert!

Le Fonds Parapluie Rouge finance les organisations et les réseaux dirigés par des  travailleuses/ -eurs du sexe qui sont :

  • basés dans n’importe quel pays du monde ;
  • enregistrés ou non ;
  • dirigés par des femmes, des hommes ou des personnes trans.

Cliquez ici pour l’application Français!

[credit images: Atelier Victoria Catalina]

¡La nueva convocatoria global del Fondo Paraguas Rojo 2018 está abierta!

Haz clic aquí para Español.

Фонд «Красный Зонт» открыл прием заявок о соискании грантов на 2018 год!

Нажмите здесь для Pусский!

The Red Umbrella Fund’s 2018 Global Call for Applications is now open!

  • Is your group, organisation or network led by sex workers?
  • Do you agree that sex work should be recognised as work?
  • Do you contribute to building and strengthening the sex workers’ rights movement(s)?

Apply for a grant here!

28 Mar

Financer Un Mouvement

Présentation des nouveaux partenaires bénéficiaires du Red Umbrella Fund


Le Red Umbrella Fund a reçu 130 demandes admissibles de la part des groupes et des réseaux dirigés par des travailleurs du sexe au cours de notre appel mondial de demandes l’année dernière.

Toutes ces demandes ont été examinées et notées par notre  Programme Advisory Committee (PAC)  (Comite Consultatif de Programme) de nos 11 membres et, après plusieurs jours de délibération parmi les activistes des travailleuses et travailleurs sexuels, 26 groupes ont été sélectionnés pour une nouvelle subvention. Nous sommes ravis d’annoncer que le montant total des subventions pour toutes nos nouvelles subventions en 2017 s’élevait à un peu plus d’un million de dollars US !

 En fait, depuis la création du Fonds Parapluie Rouge en 2012, nous avons accordé 129 subventions de financement de base à 91 groupes et réseaux différents pour un montant total d’un peu moins de 4 millions de dollars US.

Choisir la diversité

 Dans la sélection des partenaires subventionnés, le Comité consultatif du programme confirme toujours que la sélection finale atteint une diversité de groupes et de réseaux, y compris ceux qui travaillent au niveau local, comme le Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS), à Canada ou Asociación de Trabajadoras Sexuales Trans de Quito dans la capitale de l’Équateur, ceux qui travaillent davantage au niveau national, comme All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) en Inde, Desiree Alliance aux États-Unis et Organización Nacional de Activistas por la Emancipación de la Mujer (ONAEM) en Bolivie, ainsi que ceux qui travaillent au niveau régional, comme RedTraSex en Amérique latine.

 En plus d’une diversité de portée, le PAC s’assure que les groupes qui travaillent avec les femmes, les hommes et les travailleuses et travailleurs sexuels transgenres soient tous inclus. Certains nouveaux partenaires bénéficiaires de subventions ont une orientation plus spécifique, comme Ashraya en Inde, qui travaille avec des travailleurs du sexe atteints de SIDA, ou Rainbow Mirrors Uganda, qui se concentre sur les jeunes travailleurs du sexe transgenre. Un autre partenaire subventionné, TAMPEP, a récemment été transformé en un réseau régional de travailleuses du sexe migrantes en Europe.

Enregistrés ou non

La sélection des bénéficiaires comprend certains groupes relativement nouveaux (deux ans ou moins), comme la Coalition des travailleurs du sexe du Surinam (SUCOS) au Surinam et le groupe de travailleurs du sexe migrants Red Edition en Autriche. Environ une subvention sur trois est accordée à des groupes qui ne sont pas officiellement enregistrés, comme l’Asociación de Mujeres Liquidámbar au Salvador.

Les raisons qui poussent à ne pas être enregistré peuvent être multiples ; parfois c’est un choix politique du groupe, dans d’autres cas le processus d’enregistrement est complexe, long, ou l’enregistrement est simplement refusé aux travailleurs/travailleuses du sexe qui s’organisent eux- et elles-mêmes. Pour un peu plus d’un tiers des partenaires subventionnés, comme pour Strumphet Alliance Network aux Fiji, il s’agit de la première subvention internationale que le groupe ait jamais reçue.

D’autres groupes, comme Organisasi Perubahan Sosial Indonesia (OPSI) en Indonésie et Parapli Rouz à Maurice, ont plus d’expérience avec les fonds internationaux, mais ont besoin de la subvention du Fonds Parapluie Rouge pour soutenir leur développement organisationnel et les coûts de défense des droits humains qui sont difficiles à couvrir avec le financement limité des projets et des services qui leur est plus communément accessible.


Alors que tous les partenaires subventionnés travaillent dans des pays où le travail du sexe est fortement stigmatisé et criminalisé d’une manière ou d’une autre, les préoccupations en matière de sécurité diffèrent grandement d’un pays à l’autre. Dans certains pays, la violence contre les travailleuses et travailleurs sexuels est extrêmement élevée, et certains groupes mettent fortement l’accent sur la prévention de la violence et les services de guérison des traumatismes. De nombreux dirigeants du mouvement ont partagé les menaces ou la violence directe liées à leur identité publique en tant que travailleuses et travailleurs sexuels. Ce risque est souvent accru lorsqu’une personne s’identifie avec les communautés LGBTQ ou démontre son soutien aux communautés LGBTQ. Les arrestations arbitraires, les abus policiers et les expulsions de bordel sont fréquents chez beaucoup de nos partenaires subventionnés. Au Bangladesh, par exemple, le HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Center (HARC) s’est fortement organisé autour des expulsions de bordels. De nombreux groupes limitent leur présence en ligne, et l’un de nos partenaires subventionnés reste anonyme dans nos communications afin d’éviter des répercussions potentielles.



D’autres groupes font beaucoup d’efforts pour accroître leur visibilité publique. Par exemple l’organisation macédonienne des travailleurs et travailleuses du sexe STAR-STAR, a organisé d’impressionnantes manifestations pleines des parapluies rouges et, en décembre 2017, a attiré la visibilité grâce à la performance artistique du Skopje Red Light District, comme le montre cette vidéo. De même, le Men Against Aids Youth Group (MAAYGO) au Kenya, le Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) au Royaume-Uni et Unidas en la Esperanza (UNES) au Paraguay ont utilisé la vidéo comme outil de diffusion de leurs messages. AMMAR Cordoba en Argentine montre constamment sa présence lors des manifestations, des événements, des festivals et des marchés locaux.


Nous sommes fiers d’avoir pu contribuer à obtenir plus d’argent et de meilleure qualité pour les mouvements de défense des droits des travailleuses et travailleurs sexuels, et nous remercions nos donateurs institutionnels et individuels pour leur soutien. Mais il est également clair qu’il y a encore une lacune importante pour le mouvement dans l’accès aux fonds nécessaires à leur organisation et à leur activisme. Pour les deux tiers des partenaires bénéficiaires de la subvention, il s’agit de leur première subvention du Fonds Parapluie Rouge.

« C’est excitant d’avoir un fonds où nous, les travailleuses et travailleurs du sexe, sommes aux commandes, mais aussi très difficile. Chaque année, nous accordons des nouvelles subventions à des groupes des travailleuses et travailleurs du sexe dans différentes parties du monde et ces groupes font un travail si important. Mais cela signifie aussi que chaque année, nous devons dire  » désolé que vous n’avez pas été sélectionné  » à la majorité des groupes qui postulent et cela est difficile. Nous savons à quel point c’est difficile parce que nous avons eu aussi cette expérience. » Tara Burns, ISC (Comité Directeur International) du Fonds Parapluie Rouge.

Bien qu’il soit formidable de pouvoir soutenir de nouveaux partenaires subventionnés, cela signifie aussi que les possibilités des partenariats à long terme du Red Umbrella Fund n’ont pas été disponibles pour tous les groupes que nous aurions aimé continuer à soutenir.

Plus de subventions

 Le mois prochain, le ISC (Comité Directeur International) du Fonds Parapluie Rouge se réunira pour prendre des nouvelles décisions concernant les stratégies et les priorités du Fonds Parapluie Rouge. Suivez-nous sur les réseaux sociaux pour vous assurer de ne pas manquer notre prochain appel aux candidatures !


Par Nadia van der Linde
Coordinatrice, Red Umbrella Fund


Vous trouverez d’autres présentations et informations sur les nouveaux partenaires de subvention de Fonds Parapluie Rouge sur la page Facebook Red Umbrella Fund.

13 Nov

Éliminer les obstacles à la participation

Cinq ans de subventions participatives au Fonds Parapluie Rouge

Par Jurre Anema

Au cours des six derniers mois, j’ai eu l’honneur d’écrire ma thèse au bureau du Fonds Parapluie Rouge à Amsterdam. J’ai découvert le mouvement mondial des militant(e)s qui se battent pour les droits des travailleuses-eurs du sexe et j’ai eu l’occasion de parler avec certaines des personnes d’exception qui jouent un rôle de premier plan dans leurs mouvements aux niveaux local, régional ou mondial. Mon objectif était d’examiner comment la participation des travailleuses-eurs du sexe au Fonds Parapluie Rouge a été organisée et vécue. Alors que le Fonds Parapluie Rouge vient de célébrer son cinquième anniversaire, l’organisation prend le temps de réfléchir et de documenter son expérience afin de continuer à améliorer les missions qui l’attendent.

Des processus participatifs

« J’ai toujours pensé que le Fonds Parapluie Rouge était ce dont le monde avait besoin, parce que je trouve vraiment admirable l’idée de vouloir changer le lieu où est exercé le pouvoir. »

Nombreuses sont les études universitaires sur la participation qui décrivent les différents niveaux et qualités des processus de participation. En analysant les processus du Fonds Parapluie Rouge, il ne fait aucun doute qu’il s’agit d’est une organisation résolument participative,  se situant au plus haut niveau des modèles participatifs. La participation est au cœur du Fonds et à la base de chacun de ses processus, initiatives et décisions les plus importants. Le Fonds Parapluie Rouge a octroyé plus de cent subventions à des groupes dirigés par des travailleuses-eurs du sexe et a directement fait participer plus de quarante travailleuses-eurs du sexe de diverses régions à ses structures décisionnelles.

Un temps pour la réflexion

Le Fonds Parapluie Rouge a été créé en 2012. Et maintenant, cinq ans après l’attribution de ses premières subventions, le temps est venu de faire part de certaines des difficultés et des réflexions qui m’ont été confiées par des personnes qui ont participé à différents processus de prise de décisions du Fonds. Un grand nombre des difficultés auxquelles le Fonds Parapluie Rouge et ses participants sont confrontés ne sont pas facilement résolues ; elles s’inscrivent dans le cadre du travail entrepris avec un mouvement mondial et diversifié et une organisation participative.

Des obstacles à surmonter

Sur la base des entretiens que j’ai eus avec des personnes participant au Fonds Parapluie Rouge, j’ai constaté que  le Fonds Parapluie Rouge  se heurtait en particulier à cinq problématiques clés en matière de participation: les barrières linguistiques ; la distance ; les connaissances et l’expérience ; la sûreté et la sécurité ; les limites des ressources.

  • Surmonter les barrières linguistiques

Les participants à mon étude considèrent les langues comme l’un des plus grands obstacles. Le comité d’examen par les pairs du Fonds Parapluie Rouge, le PAC, fonctionne entièrement en anglais. Le Comité de pilotage international (ISC), pour ainsi dire le conseil d’administration, exerce ses activités dans trois langues (actuellement l’anglais, l’espagnol et le russe) , ce qui constitue un véritable exploit. Mais si quelqu’un ne parle aucune de ces langues, il n’est jusqu’à présent tout simplement pas possible de participer aux processus de prise de décision internes du Fonds Parapluie Rouge. Cela exclut la majorité des membres du mouvement mondial des travailleuses-eurs du sexe.

Et pour celles/ceux qui y participent, les personnes de langue maternelle anglaise ont un avantage évident. Elles n’ont pas besoin d’un interprète pour suivre le fil des conversations et peuvent donc souvent répondre et formuler leurs déclarations plus facilement que les non-anglophones. Cependant, la prise en charge des personnes qui ne parlent pas anglais est assurée : les documents sont traduits à leur intention et un interprète est présent à chaque réunion en ligne et hors ligne. En outre, lors des réunions de l’ISC et du PAC, les participants sont conscients des différents niveaux d’anglais et essaient de s’exprimer clairement et de parler lentement. De cette façon, les personnes qui peuvent effectivement participer aux réunions ont la possibilité de s’impliquer pleinement dans les discussions.

  • Surmonter la distance géographique

Comme le Fonds Parapluie Rouge fonctionne à l’échelle mondiale mais ne dispose que d’un seul petit bureau à Amsterdam, la plupart des communications se font en ligne via Skype, par téléphone et par e-mail. Les réunions en ligne, qui dépendent de la technologie,  sont complexes à planifier quand le décalage horaire entre les participants peut être de dix heures ou plus. Et il est reconnu que les militant(e)s et les groupes de défense des droits des travailleuses-eurs du sexe ne peuvent pas toutes/tous être aussi actives/actifs en ligne, ou ne sont pas toutes/tous en mesure de communiquer en ligne en toute sécurité en tant que travailleuses-eurs du sexe et défenderesses/défenseurs des droits humains. Habituellement, une réunion en présentiel est organisée une fois par an, sous réserve que les ressources le permettent. Ces réunions offrent des occasions précieuses d’instaurer un climat de confiance et de compréhension et d’avoir des discussions plus approfondies pendant lesquelles les participants peuvent travailler efficacement ensemble. Mais elles sont aussi relativement coûteuses et représentent un investissement en temps important pour tous les participants. De surcroît, les restrictions en matière de visas ont empêché le Fonds de réunir tous les participants au cours des réunions en présentiel.

  • Reconnaître et développer les connaissances et l’expérience

Il n’est pas nécessaire de posséder une vaste expérience du domaine de l’éducation et de l’octroi de subventions pour participer aux processus du Fonds Parapluie Rouge. En revanche, l’expérience du militantisme et la connaissance des mouvements, également au niveau local, sont très appréciées et pertinentes. Mais le fait de disposer d’une expérience au sein d’un conseil d’administration, travaillant sur une planification stratégique ou des budgets annuels, peut être utile.

« Les ONG internationales érigent toujours des obstacles qui empêchent aux travailleuses-eurs du sexe de se porter candidat(e)s. Ce n’est pas le cas, il me semble, avec le Fonds Parapluie Rouge. Le fonds n’exige pas de diplômes, il ne demande pas de licence, il demande simplement aux gens de la communauté d’apporter quelque chose qui a du sens. »

Mais le manque de connaissances et d’expériences adéquates est perçu comme un obstacle pour les participants (potentiels). Les personnes n’ayant pas ou peu d’expérience des réseaux ou des processus régionaux ou mondiaux pourraient ne pas se sentir à l’aise pour postuler à l’ISC ou au PAC. Cela paraît plutôt logique, dans la mesure où la prise de décision stratégique au niveau mondial peut être difficile, ce qui est aussi reconnu par les militant(e)s qui ont une expérience du mouvement mondial. Cependant, il y a beaucoup à apprendre en participant aux comités du Fonds Parapluie Rouge. Les personnes interrogées dans mon étude ont déclaré avoir acquis beaucoup de connaissances et développé de nouvelles compétences en tant que participants aux processus de prise de décision du Fonds.

  • Préoccupations en matière de sûreté et de sécurité

Les risques pour la sécurité et la sûreté encourus par de nombreux travailleuses-eurs du sexe ont également une incidence sur leurs possibilités de participer aux processus du Fonds Parapluie Rouge. Comme le travail du sexe est criminalisé et pénalisé dans de nombreuses régions du monde et que les niveaux de stigmatisation et de discrimination sont élevés, celles/ceux qui militent en faveur des droits des travailleuses-eurs du sexe ne veulent pas ou ne peuvent pas toutes/tous apparaître publiquement comme travailleuses-eurs du sexe. Ou être potentiellement identifié(e)s comme telles/tels. Il y a de fortes chances pour que ceci affecte leurs futures opportunités d’emploi dans le cas où ils voudraient changer de carrière. Dans certains pays, les enfants des travailleuses-eurs du sexe se voient refuser l’accès aux écoles. Les travailleuses-eurs du sexe migrants, en particulier les sans-papiers, peuvent choisir de faire profil bas autant que possible. Bien que le Fonds Parapluie Rouge respecte les diverses réalités des travailleuses-eurs du sexe et comprenne que tout le monde ne peut pas toujours s’identifier publiquement en tant que travailleuse-eur du sexe, cela peut rendre plus difficile pour certains militant(e)s la décision de s’engager.

  • Limites de ressources

Certains des obstacles susmentionnés peuvent être levés en fonction des ressources que le Fonds Parapluie Rouge peut affecter pour les résoudre. Il existe différents moyens d’améliorer l’accessibilité. Par exemple, l’ajout d’une langue supplémentaire au sein de l’ISC est possible, mais cela augmentera les coûts et compliquera davantage les processus internes. Comme l’a fait valoir un participant :

« Chaque fois, cela nécessite de trouver un équilibre dans la décision de l’ISC, consistant à savoir quelle est l’implication financière associée à un processus plus accessible, plus participatif ou plus inclusif. »

L’accessibilité (c’est-à-dire l’atténuation ou la destruction des obstacles) devient un exercice d’équilibre délicat entre le fait de permettre l’implication d’un éventail de participants aussi large que possible et, en même temps, de maintenir le bon fonctionnement de l’organisation. C’est un dilemme bien connu dans les initiatives participatives. En particulier pour le Fonds Parapluie Rouge, qui vise à consacrer au moins 70% de son budget annuel directement aux subventions. Cela signifie que ses frais généraux et autres doivent rester faibles.

« Je pense que le Fonds Parapluie Rouge fait ce qu’il fait avec les ressources dont il dispose, au mieux de ses capacités. »


Les différents obstacles décrits dans ce blog ne représentent qu’une sélection de catégories générales et, à vrai dire, ne rendent pas compte de l’ensemble des difficultés et problèmes auxquels les travailleuses-eurs du sexe sont confronté(e)s lorsqu’elles(ils) veulent participer aux processus du Fonds Parapluie Rouge. Un obstacle jusqu’ici non mentionné est le nombre limité de places disponibles permettant aux personnes de participer. Quantité de personnes très compétentes et qualifiées ont postulé à plusieurs reprises pour rejoindre les comités du Fonds Parapluie Rouge, mais n’ont jamais été sélectionnées, ce qui peut aussi être frustrant et décourageant.

La diversité au sein du mouvement mondial conduit à une situation unique pour chaque militant(e). Mais, comme l’a souligné l’un des répondants de l’ISC :

« Il est largement reconnu [au sein du Fonds Parapluie Rouge] qu’il existe une diversité de travailleuses-eurs du sexe et que nous devons essayer d’être inclusifs, et essayer de prêter attention aux travailleuses-eurs du sexe qui ne sont généralement pas inclus(es), ou qui ne sont généralement pas entendu(e)s. »

Dans l’ensemble, les personnes qui ont participé à l’organisation affichent un solide soutien à son travail et à ses processus. Et c’est parti pour les cinq prochaines années !


Jurre Anema est étudiant en sociologie à la Vrije Universiteit d’Amsterdam. Dans le cadre de sa thèse de master, il a mené des recherches au sein du Fonds Parapluie Rouge sur leurs processus participatifs. Si vous êtes intéressé par cette étude et si vous souhaitez recevoir plus d’informations ou une copie de sa thèse, veuillez contacter le Fonds Parapluie Rouge à l’adresse suivante : info[arobase]Redumbrellafund[point]org.

12 Juil

Not Bad Migrants

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


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

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

Migrant Sex Workers in Europe

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

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


Red Edition, Austria

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

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

Migrant labour

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

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

How to become a trafficker

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



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

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


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

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

Sex worker organizing



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


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

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.


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)


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 Juil

Notre Appel à Propositions est ouvert!

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

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

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

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

Cliquez ici pour deposer une demande de subvention.

Red Umbrella Fund Call2016 poster_FR

Comment deposez une demande de subvention?

Télécharger l’affiche

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

Apply for a grant here.

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

Haz clic aquí para Español

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

Нажмите здесь для Pусский



21 Avr

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 Avr

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 Fév

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!