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!

01 Fév

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 Déc

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 Déc

In Loving Memory of Elena Tsukerman

[Для русского прокрутите окно вниз]

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

Elena with red umbrella

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

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

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

Messages from Red Umbrella Fund ISC members and staff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ISC meeting 2015

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


В память о Елене Цукерман (1972 – 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

Elena with Red Umbrella Fund

15 Déc

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 Avr

Exploring the How and Why of Participatory Grantmaking

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

About the Working Group

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

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

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

Catalyst

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

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

Changing power relations

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

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

Recommendations from an impact investor

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

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

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

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

02 Mar

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

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

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

Organising for Change

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

Negative Legal Environment

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

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

Mapping the Situation

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

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

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

Key Findings

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

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

Health and Support Services

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

Family Life

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

Building Allies to Achieve Change

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

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

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

Achievements

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

16 Déc

Funding needed to end violence against sex workers

Each year on 17 December, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, sex worker rights activists and their allies come together to remember the colleagues they have lost and bring attention to the need to end the stigma, discrimination and violence against sex workers. It is time for more funders to speak out in solidarity and provide more and better funding.

RUFreportSW2014

Sex workers around the world face high levels of stigma, discrimination and violence. In many countries, sex workers have organised themselves to speak out against the injustices they face and demand that sex work be recognised as work and that sex workers be recognised as persons before the law. Many sex workers are human rights defenders who reach out for support and solidarity and advocate for legal and policy changes that will improve the well being of the women, men and trans people active in the sex industry.

“Sex workers tell me they are fed up with being seen as victims. Sex workers do often get exploited. Not because it is inherently part of the job, but because their work is criminalised and their working conditions unsafe. This feeds stigma and discrimination and hinders their access to health, social services, and justice,”

says Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund which aims to support sex worker-led organisations to stand up for their rights and strengthen their movement(s).

But in order to make lasting social change the organisations that mobilize and voice the concerns and demands of sex workers need resources. To pay for meetings, trainings, research and materials. And although foundation funding for human rights has grown in the past years, the funding that supports organisations to stand up for the human rights of sex workers is still minimal. If we want to end violence against women, end the spread of HIV, end gender discrimination and labour exploitation, then sex worker rights organisations must be supported to speak up and invited to share their solutions.

In 2014, the Red Umbrella Fund partnered with Mama Cash and the Open Society Foundations to commission a mapping of global grantmaking for sex worker rights by public and private foundations and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The researchers contacted foundations and organisations working with sex workers to better understand what is being funded and to identify the main gaps.

They identified 56 foundations and NGOs that altogether invested a total of €8 million (US$11 million) in support of sex worker rights in 2013.

This may sound like a lot to an individual organisation but it is just a fraction of overall spending on development and human rights. Most organisations working in support of sex worker rights are small; 53% of organisations receiving funding to support sex worker rights have budgets of less than €50 000 (US$68 500) per year and many organisations have no income at all. Volunteer work and in-kind or individual contributions play an important role in the sex worker rights movement.

“The political struggle against criminalisation, the battle against violence done to us, the work of building organisational structures to link us and support us better – these are long-term efforts that need sustained steady financing”
– Sex worker organisation from Latin America, survey response

Because sex work is criminalised in many and stigmatized in all countries, organisations that speak out against the violence and exploitation experienced by sex workers and for improved access to health services for sex workers have a hard time getting funding from their government.

Foundation funding is crucial to support the human rights of sex workers and help build the movement.

  • Read the full report and infographic here.

  • Read the article « Sex workers missing out on development funds » published by The Guardian here.
10 Nov

Sisonke Durban: Sex workers in South Africa claim their human rights

Thuli Khoza, Coordinator of Sisonke Durban and member of the Red Umbrella Fund’s peer review panel in 2014, speaks to Zoe Bakker about the daily work involved with being a regional branch of South Africa’s sex worker movement. Specifically, she shares important insights in the unique context of the Durban and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) area and the successes and struggles of their work.

Sisonke

Created just over ten years ago, Sisonke calls itself the National Sex Worker Movement of South Africa. With its headquarters in Cape town, the organisation has used the core support from the Red Umbrella Fund (2012 – 2013 grantee) to expand its network to seven provinces, strengthen its organisational and network structures, and plan towards independence. Sisonke provides information to sex workers on accessing social services, such as health care, and on working with the police and court system. The group offers workshops on sexual health, leadership and human rights and advocates for the decriminalization of sex work. Sisonke Durban – one of five branches of South Africa’s sex worker movement Sisonke – is situated in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). KZN is South Africa’s second largest province with over 20 million residents, hosting nearly twenty percent of South Africa’s population. Durban, the largest city of KZN, situated on the East Coast of South Africa, is home to nearly 3.5 million people. As every city and every province in South Africa has their unique traits, so does Durban and so does KZN.

“Each province has their own story to tell. Some of them are similar, some of them are very different. With me having been around in five provinces already in South Africa, I have found that all provinces are different in their own way. In Johannesburg you will find a lot of brothels and you find sex workers everywhere, whereas in Durban they are mostly on the streets and in private houses and massage parlours.”

For the sex worker movement this means that these unique contexts call for unique approaches in the various regions, which is one of the reasons that Sisonke National decided to expand and set up branches to be visible in various provinces. Creative Spaces The core of Sisonke Durban’s activities are the monthly Creative Spaces, where sex workers come together and talk about issues they face in their work, as well as issues in their personal lives at home with their families. These creative spaces offer an opportunity for sex workers to openly discuss topics of their interest. Every month, a different theme is taken up for discussion, ranging from strategies on how to deal with discrimination and violence to debates regarding alcohol and substance abuse. Over the past one-and-a-half years, since Sisonke Durban’s inception, peer educators and paralegals at Sisonke have gained the trust of the sex workers in their community. They see their empowerment efforts paying off: women sex workers are increasingly standing up for themselves, facing police violence. They have now expanded their work to other parts of the province as well.

“KZN is big. It was high time that we moved to the next city, the next place, so that we do not only focus on Durban, because there are sex workers everywhere. This is beneficial, as many sex workers throughout KZN have heard of Sisonke’s work, but have not yet had the opportunity to meet Sisonke’s peer educators and participate in the Creative Spaces.”

Stigma and violence Sex work is illegal in South Africa. Also clients of sex workers are criminalized. As a result, levels of stigma and violence against sex workers are high.

“As sex work is illegal in South Africa, the police do whatever they want to us, and that leaves us in a vulnerable situation where anyone just takes advantage. People who are involved in crime, like robbers, drug dealers, take advantage of that situation.”

Sex workers are unable to report the crimes and violence against them as they will be questioned extensively as to what they were doing and why they were there in the first place. Photo Sisonke Durban Ourtimeisnow The challenges Sisonke Durban have to deal with to address the violence against sex workers can be intense.

“We have had two major incidents with white dominated communities… I remember this one experience, where we tried our best to have a dialogue with the residents in an area where sex workers work and it turned out to be a very bad dialogue… it became a big issue, with fights and with us being chased away.”

Thuli further describes that residents neighbouring the areas where sex workers are active, had started writing down the number plates of clients, which “obviously is bad for business”. Residents claimed that the clients do not reside in the area but come from far away. However, as Thuli states:

“Sex workers work where there is a demand. If there is no demand, they will not be there.”

This conflict puts sex workers in a difficult situation, whereby violence and crime is seen to increase. HIV prevention Another challenge Sisonke Durban is facing illustrates the importance of sensitization when working with sex workers for HIV/Aids prevention purposes, which is particularly relevant for the KZN region where HIV prevalence is recorded to be the highest (37,4% in 2011) throughout South Africa. In recent times, there has been some crumbling of trust among sex workers that Sisonke Durban’s peer educators and paralegals have been working so hard to build. As Thuli explains, a relatively large amount of funding is currently going to organizations with HIV/Aids and TB prevention programmes. Many of these organizations have not worked with sex workers in this area before and have not been sensitized on how to work on sex worker issues. Feedback from sex workers illustrates that confidentiality is not always respected properly. Towards decriminalisation However, Thuli is hopeful. Sex work, as a sector, has recently been included within the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), which strives to bring together government, civil society, and the private sector to create a collective response to HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in South Africa. Thuli is the representative for sex workers within the Council. With the launch of the national sex worker strategic plan last year, SANAC even came out to state that they support the decriminalisation of sex work. Thuli concludes:

“We are going somewhere, slowly but surely. Everything is written but not yet practiced.”

By Zoe Bakker for the Red Umbrella Fund

An adapted version of this blog is published by HIV Advocates here.