29 Mai

Learning Visit Reflection: Beyond Victories – Funding Human Rights in Brazil

crossposted from the website of the International Human Rights Funders Group


IHRFG recently held a Learning Visit in Rio de Janeiro exploring the changing dynamics of human rights and global philanthropy in emerging economies. Over the coming weeks, IHRFG will share reflections from participants. Click here to read more lessons and join the conversation!

Contributed by Diana Stefanescu, Programme Associate, Red Umbrella Fund

As wealth increases in the so-called “emerging economies”, social, political and further economic development is expected to follow. However, as so often, reality is proving to be indefinitely more complex. What is development? How inclusive can it be? What is the place for human rights and human rights grantmaking in this context?

This year’s IHRFG Funder Learning visit to Rio de Janeiro explored the very junctures of interplay between economics, state power and philanthropy in Brazil. The three intense days of meeting local activists, peer funders, researchers and civil society organizers shed light on a multidimensionally unequal society, marked by both great achievements AND distressing shortcomings.

Brazil’s economic growth and state efforts in poverty reduction have brought great change to the country. A rising middle class concurred with a recovery from the “neoliberal” era of the 1990s and had the government regain its capacity to regulate. Minimum wage, affirmative action and the famous “bolsa familia”, a cash transfer program benefitting millions of the country’s poorest, have even reduced inequality in some ways. But the achievements came at a price and were sometimes accompanied by heavy drawbacks in other issue areas. The prolific re-primarization of the economy meant more mining, more exploitation of resources and increasingly high concentration of land property in Brazil. Neglected urban areas (mostly in the so-called favelas) were “pacified” by resorting to state violence and police brutality, leaving human rights considerations out of the equation.

Religious fundamentalism has had major influence on government institutions in which minorities (Afro-Brazilians, indigenous people) and women continue to be heavily underrepresented. Most investments in infrastructure that were to be realized in the run-up to the two big sport events (Football World Cup 2014 and Summer Olympics 2016) have not been implemented. And all this happened while civil society was grappling with managing the hopes raised by an assumed “friendly” progressive center-left government and the deceptions of international funders “fleeing” the scene. At closer examination, the victories seem to have been accompanied by distressing casualties in Brazilian society.

The dialogues and discussions in Rio de Janeiro made a central theme surface: the need for structural change and reform accompanying economic growth in Brazil.

Inclusive and sustainable development which is respectful of human rights is not an automatic consequence trickling down from economic growth.

The current Brazilian democracy is reasonably well-structured but very young – a mere 30 years have passed since the end of the dictatorship. Its civil society is in dire need of substantial support – not only in the light of the country’s strategic role as an emerging global power – but also because Brazilians are facing a critical timing for political and social action within.

The recent criminalization of protests illustrates the government’s inability to productively deal with contestation. In view of the upcoming Football World Cup, entire quarters in inner cities have been “cleaned up” – a development by which marginalized communities such as sex workers are touched most heavily.

During IHRFG’s visit to Rio, a local group of self-organized sex workers that cooperate closely with a grantee organization of the Red Umbrella Fund, was brutally arrested and abused in a large-scale police operation. Sex work is not actually illegal in the country but the violent crackdown was part of a downtown re-urbanization (hygienization) campaign.

This case illustrates well how right the timing was for a learning visit. It’s time to turn our attention beyond the economic victories, to where there’s plenty left to do for human rights funders in Brazil.

21 Avr

“Stop using condoms as evidence” say sex workers in China

Prostitution is illegal in China where sex workers experience regular police raids and forced detention in rehabilitation centres. As a result, women deal with unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and lack of access to health care, including HIV prevention.


The few programmes and services that actually reach sex workers in China mostly focus on addressing health concerns, especially those related to the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and HIV.

“These NGOs can not relate to sex workers and their particular needs”, says Lanlan, the founder and head of Xin’ai, a community based support group for sex workers that received one of the Red Umbrella Fund’s first grants in 2012.

After the birth of her daughter in 2000, Lanlan herself turned to sex work to support her child and aging parents. The particular needs of sex workers motivated her to start an organisation in Tianjin that provides support for their unique needs. “We conduct outreach to sex workers, providing them with occupational safety training, health training and legal training”, she says. The mission of the organisation is centred on self-confidence, self-respect, and mutual support. Since its establishment, Xin’Ai has reached over 3000 sex workers in Northern China who have experienced various kinds of violence. Job options are limited in their region and many people lack formal education.

Sex workers work on the street but also in massage parlours, sex shops, and through escort services. Because the whole Xin’Ai staff has a background in sex work, they know how to approach sex workers and get in touch with new sex workers through their network and mouth-to-mouth information sharing. “The government has invested a large amount of money into the HIV prevention programmes for sex workers.

But low income sex workers usually work in secluded and scattered places where sanitation conditions are very poor and not easy to access to. Besides, not many sex workers work in the same place, usually just one to three people, thus making it difficult for CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] employees to access the low income sex workers population”, Lanlan says.

A recent report by Asia Catalyst highlights that fewer sex workers are using available health services provided by NGO’s, out of fear of exposure. Many sex workers mention not using condoms, the report states, because police use condoms as evidence for sex work.

In the name of “education” and “rescue,” large numbers of sex workers and their clients are detained for periods of six months to two years without any form of judicial oversight. During detention, the women are subjected to forced labour and compulsory testing for STI’s, while they are not informed of the results of the tests. Sex workers are even obliged to pay the costs of their incarceration. They are not given the opportunity to learn labor skills that might enhance their future job opportunities while, ironically, the detainment centres are officially called “Custody and Education Centers”. For many sex workers, the stigma surrounding sex work is daunting and the punishment is too harsh to risk exposure.

“I am aware that I might catch a disease if not using condoms”, one sex worker who recently tested positive for syphilis tells Lanlan, “but I don’t have a choice. The clients are unwilling to wear one and there is no time to drop them once a policeman comes to you. If I get caught, there is a six month detention waiting for me, long enough for my family to know what I am doing and I couldn’t carry on living by that time”. “Xin’Ai initially focused only on HIV prevention”, Lanlan says, “but soon we realized that there were additional issues that needed to be addressed during these outreaches. For example, the refusal of some of our sisters to use condoms, because the police are using them as evidence of prostitution.

We’ve collected cases of sex workers who got caught, and found that 19 out of 40 sex workers were punished because of condoms used as evidence.” With this realization, Xin’Ai adjusted its aims, and prioritized working with sex workers on how to work under safe conditions. “Only through putting ourselves in a sex worker’s position could we successfully perform outreaches. From then on, more female sex workers were receptive to our services.”

By Alexandra van Dijk for the Red Umbrella Fund

Related readings

This blog is crossposted from http://hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/reducing-cultural-stigma/stop-using-condoms-as-evidence-say-sex-workers-in-china/

15 Avr

Sex workers mobilise in Cordoba City, Argentina

Interview with María Eugenia Aravena, the Secretary General of AMMAR-Cordoba (Asociación de Mujeres Meretrices Córdoba) by Mama Cash, published in the Annual Report 2013.

Eugenia has been an activist with AMMAR-Cordoba since late 1999. AMMAR-Cordoba is a provincial level, self-led network of 1,000 sex workers determined to support the health and well-being of sex workers and advocate for the recognition of sex worker labour rights. In 2013, AMMAR opened a centre offering sex worker-friendly health services. They created a network of sex worker organisations in Argentina for mutual support and in order to do more effective advocacy, including at the national level.

“I went to the first meeting of sex workers in Cordoba when I was 19 years old. We were protesting because the police were working with some nuns who were fighting against sex workers.

AMMAR Buenos Aires came and spoke. They said sex work is not a crime and that we should organise. It had a huge impact on me to hear that we were not criminals, and there was no reason to take us to jail.

I had felt powerless. I always heard the elder sex workers telling stories. They told about the cruelty and hardships they experienced in the street. Each of them had a story of abuses, beatings, and some had even been murdered. Then I heard AMMAR saying we are not criminals. I thought: Why then did my elders face so many injustices?

I knew I was a person with rights. Nobody was entitled to insult me, abuse me, take me to jail or take away my earnings.

In Argentina there are misdemeanour codes in each province. Sex work is not criminalised in the Penal Code, but in the Misdemeanour codes, engaging in prostitution in public carries the heaviest punishment.

The police can arrest you, and the police chief decides how many days you will spend in jail.

We have travelled a long way in our fight against the codes. We are taken seriously by the media. The government listens to us, even as it continues to embrace criminalisation policies. The public understands more that sex work is not a crime. We report harassment and mobilise in the streets to stop police repression.

For many years in Cordoba City, sex workers have not gone to jail. But in 2013, some did because the government is becoming more repressive. Prohibitionist polices are becoming tougher all over the world. We need to unite with others and make our voices heard.

We sex workers are oppressed by abolitionist policies that confuse sex work with trafficking. Trafficking of people is about exploitation and lack of freedom.

When sex work is confused with trafficking, the real victims of trafficking are not sought.

Considering the limited options available to working class women, sex work is a practice done by choice by women of legal age. Sex workers are diverse in terms of their education, socio-economic status and vulnerabilities. We are not all the same.

Our human rights are violated when the words of we who choose to do sex work are not valued. As with all other workers in this capitalist system, we work for our subsistence. We demand respect for our right to work.

AMMAR Cordoba in action

AMMAR Cordoba in action

All the poor are harassed when they organise. Alone we can achieve nothing. We need to join other movements and fight together. AMMAR Cordoba knows that when we fight with others, other movements come to support us, and we are stronger.

In our kindergarten, a sex worker can leave her kids for free. People from other movements—it is not just that they demonstrate with us, for instance – they also come to the kindergarten. The kindergarten is open to all the community, not only sex workers.

Our struggle is not only for the recognition of sex workers, but also for the right to land, public transportation, education and health – for all the poor.

And we are getting a response. We no longer feel so alone.”

Stopping police harassment of sex workers is fierce.


18 Mar

Nothing about us, without us: reversing the power dynamics of philanthropy

Crossposted from OpenDemocracy

If money is power, then control over money has to be democratized. What if grants to social movements of sex workers were distributed by sex workers themselves? This is the eighth article in our series on money and social transformation.

Sex Worker Freedom Fest, India, 2012

‘Money is power’ as the old saying goes, so how do you change the power dynamics surrounding money in an NGO or a foundation? The obvious place to start is by introducing more democracy: for example, what if grants to build the social movements of sex workers were distributed by sex workers themselves? That’s the vision of the Red Umbrella Fund.

“We are the ones whose lives are affected” said one sex worker to me recently (who prefers to remain anonymous), “and we need to be the ones making decisions about how to better our lives. I think it’s helpful to have sex workers making funding decisions, because we understand which projects or groups will really be effective towards positive change.”

The Red Umbrella Fund is one of a new wave of organisations that put people who have experienced oppression in the driving seat of funding organisations, rather than relying on elites who claim to act on their behalf. Other examples include FRIDA, which funds young feminist activists globally, and the Disability Rights Fund, which supports organisations of persons with disabilities in the Global South.

The idea for the Fund emerged during a seminar in 2008, when sex worker representatives, human rights funders, and other advocates gathered to discuss sex work and human trafficking. One of the meeting’s recommendations was to increase support to sex worker groups and their networks. A 2006 report by the Open Society Foundations had found that in 2005, the five largest funders of these groups contributed less than $1 million combined.

According to figures collected in 2010, most sex worker organisations are small, with annual budgets of less than $41,000. In Southern Africa that figure is even smaller, at less than $9,000 a year. Most groups depend on short-term project funding, with a large portion of the budget earmarked for HIV-related services like condom distribution. Costs related to long-term organisational development and coordination are often ignored. Yet groups working within social movements need access to this kind of funding in order to organise, build capacity, and advocate for change.

The Red Umbrella Fund was founded in 2012 and is the only global sex worker-led funding institution in the world. It is governed by an International Steering Committee that includes four contributing foundations, and a majority representation from the sex workers’ rights movement. Members serve two-year terms on the committee, which is based at Mama Cash. The Red Umbrella Fund’s mission is to strengthen and sustain the sex workers’ rights movement around the world by providing and catalysing funding.

Why the ‘red umbrella?’ Red umbrellas were first used by sex workers in Italy in 2001 in a march to draw attention to their working conditions and violations of their rights. Since then they have become an important unifying symbol for the sex workers’ rights movement. The European network of sex workers considers the red umbrella a symbol of both beauty (the colour red) and resistance to discrimination (the umbrella).

Working in the spirit of the old social movement mantra, ‘nothing about us, without us’, sex workers stand at the heart of every key decision that Red Umbrella makes.

How does this work?

In 2013, the Fund received 400 funding proposals from 80 countries. While the Fund’s staff do an initial screening, all decisions are made by a peer review panel consisting of at least 80 per cent of people who are current or former sex workers. The remaining 20 per cent are allies with various forms of expertise. In 2013, the Red Umbrella Fund made 25 grants totalling 462,500 Euros.

Tracey Tully is a former sex worker who was raised in Australia and is now the Co-coordinator for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in Thailand. She was part of the latest peer review panel:

“The beauty of having a committee of sex workers coming together was the fact that there was representation from all regions of the world.  We already know that the needs of sex workers are different from place to place, but assembling sex workers to discuss the issues during the determinations brought a modicum of clarity to the proceedings.”

The composition of sex worker representatives in this process is important, as is the support that’s provided to them so that they can participate effectively. The selection process takes all forms of diversity into account, ensuring the inclusion, not only of women, but also of men and trans sex workers who are often forgotten.

The grant selection process also aims to ensure that representatives from the sex workers’ rights movements complement each other’s skills and experience. For example, some are more experienced with local-level organizing, while others are more involved in activism at the national and international levels.

Why is direct participation in decision-making so important? Tracey explains:

I think the difficulty of policy officers and programming people working in isolation is possibly why so much sex worker funding is channelled into bad programming.  This is how most proposals are determined, in offices far removed from the grassroots and the populations they serve. Proposals that are technically perfect can contain holes, in particular the potential for human rights violations against sex workers that are invisible to the untrained or inexperienced eye.

As an activist, I know how difficult it is for sex workers to obtain funding. There will continue to be impediments to the empowerment of sex workers so long as people who are detached from the context about which they make judgements are making the critical decisions. This fund exists for sex workers to create and run their own networks and to drive their own agendas within their own organisations. Self-determination is the key to what makes sex worker programming successful.”

In reversing the power dynamics of decision-making over money, the Red Umbrella Fund and other funds like it challenge the practice of accountability in NGOs and foundations.

Funders expect their grantees to be accountable to them, but it’s equally important to ensure that funders are accountable to the groups they support.

As the coordinator responsible for the daily management of the Fund, I know how our peer-led governance structure re-orientates our accountability to the movement we support. Where other funders might take years to evaluate and adjust their grant-making practices and tools, sex worker activists in the Red Umbrella Fund show little patience for bureaucratic arguments that delay improvements in our work. They are right. If we know how to do something better, why wait?

I receive instant feedback when our procedures fail or when communication isn’t clear, because the sex worker community is involved directly. For example, we changed our selection criteria to ensure that underfunded but experienced groups and networks that support newer organisations with their knowledge, experience and partnership could apply.

We are constantly questioned by sex workers about decision-making processes and priorities, as well as the final selection of grantees. This keeps us ‘on our toes,’ and pushes us to improve our transparency, documentation and communications.

A movement so short of money doesn’t let a penny go to waste.

Involving the users of funding in decisions over money goes against the predominant orthodoxy in philanthropy, with its emphasis on ‘value for money’ and ‘efficiency of impact.’ But involving those who are most affected by discrimination and prejudice actually strengthens success in each of these areas.

Unlike traditional models of grant-making in an NGO or a foundation, the Red Umbrella Fund helped to build the capacity and leadership of the sex workers’ rights movement even before the first Euro was granted, because sex workers themselves played such a key role in establishing the institution.

As one of the sex workers on our peer review panel told me, the “bottom line is this: it’s our bodies, our lives, and we should be at the front of all decisions that affect us.”

By Nadia van der Linde, Red Umbrella Fund

04 Mar

Turkish Trans-Sex Worker makes a case for human rights

On 17 December 2013, the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association in Turkey launched a short video to promote the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

Although it is not illegal, sex work is not considered a legitimate form of employment in Turkey.

This leads to more exploitation of sex workers in every aspect of life. Trans-sex workers are victims of police brutality and social prejudice. Without access to public health care services, they are among the most vulnerable against HIV.

As the Turkish government stays silent, the timing of this video is crucial in terms of increasing public attention before the upcoming national elections in March.


This blog by Red Umbrella Fund is crossposted from http://hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/reforming-policy/turkish-trans-sex-worker-makes-a-case-for-human-rights/

02 Fév

Round Table on Decriminalising Sex Work in Guyana

On February 2, 2014, Miriam Edwards of Guyana Sex Work Coalition, Joel Simpson of Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and Quincy McEwan Guyana Trans United discussed the need to decriminalize sex work in the program Round Table with Janelle Persaud, aired over NCN Chanel 11.


Guyana Sex Work Coalition: Decriminalising Sex Work – The Roundtable

Sex work remains illegal in the country, rendering sex workers vulnerable as they are unable to access health care services, including HIV/AIDS services, and other state services since revealing their profession could put them at risk.

Guyana Sex Work Coalition provides peer-to-peer support and training to sex workers of all genders in Guyana and the wider Caribbean region to build their knowledge and confidence to stand up for their rights. The group advocates for the protection of sex workers, beginning with the recognition of their work as work, their protection against police violence and their access to HIV prevention information and services, anti-retroviral drugs and other health services.

As Miriam asserts, “Sex work is work. Sex workers want to be accepted in society as a human being.”

Stigma, discrimination and violence increase the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV/AIDS. While health care is free in Guyana, the attitude of many health providers towards sex workers, gays, and trans persons keep the latter away from availing of existing services. One member of the Coalition was even banned from the main HIV/AIDS clinic and denied access to ARV when he sought medical attention.

Aside from ensuring its visibility in the media, the Guyana Sex Work Coalition partners with existing health facilities including hospitals and trans health providers as a strategy to reduce stigma and discrimination against sex workers. They also equip sex workers with information on HIV and AIDS, correct and consistent use of condom and condom negotiation.

The Guyana Sex Work Coalition is a grantee of the Red Umbrella Fund.

By Nadia van der Linde, Red Umbrella Fund

This is crossposted from http://hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/reducing-cultural-stigma/round-table-on-decriminalising-sex-work-in-guyana/ 

10 Déc

Sex Workers in India Launch a National Campaign to End Violence against Sex Workers

In August 2013, sex workers representatives from thirteen states affiliated with the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) launched a national campaign for the decriminalization of sex work with the ultimate objective to eliminate violence and exploitation of sex workers in the country. The aim is to amend the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and ensure sex workers’ rights as workers.

India - AINSW

AINSW in India launch a national campaign to end violence against sex workers

Sex work as a profession is not recognized in Indian law. As a result, sex workers are not entitled to a range of public services, protection and benefits other workers enjoy. The working conditions in the brothels are poor and soliciting on the streets is not safe. As Smarajit Jana, adviser of AINSW asserts, “sex workers have to be considered as any other laborer.”

The current legal structure in India is composed of “anti-trafficking” laws designed to prevent the exploitation of women in the sex industry. It ignores the existence of male and trans (hijras or kothis) sex workers and considers all sex workers victims of trafficking.

The Karnataka Sex Workers Union (KSWU) has reported that during a police “raid and rescue” operation on Delhi brothels in 2008, twenty four women were classified as traffickers and fifty one sex workers as victims. However, it later became clear that most of these “so-called victims were adult women who chose to do sex work voluntarily.” In addition, the police operation neither improved the conditions in the brothels nor reduced the number of human trafficking cases but rather victimized self-identified sex workers.

The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) has much impact on the lives of sex workers in India but the law is contradictory in itself.

According to the ITPA, sex work performed in the private space is not illegal; yet it is an offense to live off the earnings of a sex worker. Children, siblings or partners of sex workers are prosecuted if they are over 18 years old and financially dependent. The definition of “public space” is so broad that it makes the compliance very difficult. This uncertainty in the ITPA provides a legal framework for police “raid and rescue” operations to arrest sex workers even when sex work is practiced in the private realm.

As AINSW vice president, Patel, points out: “sex workers are not doing anything illegal. Therefore, no one has a right to harass us or our family members because of the nature of our work.”

Violence against sex workers is a constant phenomenon that includes police extortion and torture. Sex workers are arrested, harassed and even raped by the police. Kusum, the general secretary of AINSW: “Police conduct raids and manhandle our children. They insult and beat us and treat us inhumanely and often trump up false charges. Violence by the police is the major problem in our profession and police are the major beneficiary of trafficking in the country.”

In March 2013, they sent a letter to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) sharing their critique of the IPT and their subsequent lobbying with parliamentarians has successfully prevented further harmful amendments of ITPA to be accepted. The Commission on Women Empowerment and Social Justice has since invited AINSW to be involved in developing policy to empower women, including sex workers, in the country.

AINSW is a national network of over eighty sex worker organizations from 13 states of India. It was formally registered in 2010. AINSW demands the recognition of sex work as work, combats police violence and aims to change laws that discriminate against sex workers. AINSW is a grantee of the Red Umbrella Fund.

by Piril Kazanci, Red Umbrella Fund

This is crossposted from http://hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/reforming-policy/sex-workers-in-india-launch-a-national-campaign-to-end-violence-against-sex-workers

06 Déc

Sex workers stand up against Russia’s discriminatory and draconian laws

In May 2013, Russia’s national organization of sex workers, Silver Rose, was denied official registration as a non-government organization (NGO) by Russia’s Ministry of Justice. The Ministry declared that “there is no such profession as sex work,” accusing Silver Rose of violating Article 29 of the country’s constitution. Article 29 prohibits “campaigning and propaganda inciting social, racial, national and or religious hatred and enmity.”

Silver Rose

Silver Rose stand up for the rights of sex workers in Russia

Since Putin has taken up second term as president, human rights organizations are facing ever greater challenges when monitoring and reporting human rights violations across the country. Harsh laws have been adopted, including those that persecute of anyone voicing criticism of the regime. In fact, anyone who lives a so-called “non-traditional lifestyle,” such as gays, lesbians, transgender, people living with HIV/Aids and drug users, are exposed to discrimination and stigmatization.

In this light, sex workers, who often belong to a variety of extra vulnerable societal subgroups, are forced to live under equally harsh conditions.

In Russia, sex work is criminalized, leaving sex workers without a social or legal status. Meanwhile, stigma and discrimination against sex workers is encouraged by the Orthodox Church which portrays sex workers as a manifestation of society’s moral decay. Sex workers are seen as sinners and home wreckers, unworthy of raising children. While the widespread HIV/Aids problem in Russia is widely seen as a ‘foreign complot’ and quality treatment is generally absent, sex workers are having an even harder time to guard their health and access affordable medication. Moreover, Russia’s sex workers are extremely mobile and not always in possession of the right documents, thus increasing their vulnerability to harassment from the state and non-state agents.

“We want to pull sex workers out of the grip of violence, social discrimination and corruption,” Irina Maslova of Silver Rose remarked.

By July, Silver Rose’s leader and a former sex worker herself, Maslova sent a complaint to the St. Petersburg district court, reporting a violation of her civil rights and freedoms and requesting the court to dismiss the Ministry’s decision and instead recognize Silver Rose as a legitimate NGO. However, the judge upheld the Ministry’s decision to refuse registration, stating technical inconsistencies in the group’s formal request.

But Silver Rose is not the kind of group to give up. “Official registration will mean that the state acknowledges our existence, that we have same human rights as others, which need protection,” Maslova asserted to the Russian Service of the BBC.

Agora, a human rights association has been assisting Silver Rose to prepare another request for registration, despite the likelihood that this motion will be declined. Nevertheless, Silver Rose’s sex workers are determined to pursue justice at the European Court of Human Rights that is based in Strasbourg.

By Eva Cukier, Red Umbrella Fund

About Silver Rose
Since 2006, civil partnership Silver Rose has fought for the legal recognition of sex workers in Russia. Today, the group has presence in no less than 10 regions, representing the interests of a large part of the estimated 3 million sex workers in the country. Through campaigns, media work and participation in meetings and conferences, the group brings public attention to urgent problems as physical, sexual and economic violence against sex workers in Russia. The group operates a hotline for sex workers and provides legal aid to sex workers in cases of violence and harassment with which sex workers in Russia are confronted on an everyday level. Silver Rose is a grantee of the Red Umbrella Fund.

This is crossposted from http://www.hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/sex-workers-stand-against-russias-discriminatory-and-draconian-laws

17 Oct

Sex workers defend UN recommendations

In 2012, as the result of lengthy and consultative processes, a number of UN agencies published two reports *) that recommend the decriminalisation of sex work to help address human rights abuses faced by sex workers, and call for better access to health services.

Sisonke march on International Sex Worker Rights Day in Cape Town

Sisonke march on International Sex Worker Rights Day in Cape Town

Recently, Equality Now, a USA based NGO working to end violence against women and girls, has critiqued this recommendation claiming that it is “in direct opposition to international human rights standards” and “jeopardizes efforts to prevent and address sex trafficking and promote gender equality”. Instead, Equality now prefers to promote the so-called “Swedish model” which criminalizes the purchase of sex services.

In response, local and international sex workers’ rights groups have issued statements in defence of their human rights. Red Umbrella Fund grantee Sisonke from South Africa has issued a statement in collaboration with the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).

“When Equality Now suggests “we listen” – who are they suggesting we listen to?”,

Kholi Buthelezi, National Coordinator of Sisonke questioned.

“I would like them to listen to me, and other sex workers who participated in the deliberations of the Commission [on HIV and the Law]. The Swedish model has failed, criminalisation does not prevent nor enable anyone to address trafficking – rather it enables stigma and drives violence against sex workers”.

In the statement, Sisonke addresses the many misconceptions raised by Equality Now and makes a case for a revised report.

“The UN together with a spectrum of experts, researchers and advisors have made knowledgeable and powerful recommendations based on hundreds of testimonies, and on evidence based on rigorous research. Its recommendations should be supported – not labelled as jeopardising gender equality.”

Sisonke presents itself as the national movement of sex workers in South Africa. Based in Cape Town, Sisonke currently has active representation in seven provinces and fights for the decriminalisation of sex work and improvement of working and living conditions for sex workers. The network’s activities comprise the mobilisation, organisation and sensitization of sex workers through outreach activities, trainings and workshops and campaigns on human rights. Through advocacy campaigns, public events and meetings, Sisonke has been successful in addressing issues of violence, discrimination and unsafe working conditions for sex workers. They have also secured better access to services and advocate forthe inclusion of sex workers in decision-making spaces.

Sisonke is hosted by SWEAT and is a founding member of the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). With the one-year core grant from the Red Umbrella Fund, Sisonke is able to expand its work throughout South Africa and strengthen its internal structures by setting up a National Steering Committee of sex workers.

By Eva Cukier, Red Umbrella Fund


*) HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (2012), the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report published by UNDP and Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (2012) by UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS.

An excerpt from Sisonke's Work Wise booklet

An excerpt from Sisonke’s Work Wise booklet

Related statements by international networks of sex workers:

  • Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
  • Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW)
  • African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA)

Crossposted from Mama Cash

16 Août

Definitely Rights

“Rights not rescue” – the message could not be more clear in an article published this week in the Amsterdam-based newspaper, de Volkskrant, about the sex workers’ rights organising around the world.

volkskrant RUF article 2013


‘I’m an independent woman’, says Juliëtte, from the Dutch Geisha Fund, in a spirited tone. ‘My profession is beautiful. I don’t want to be treated like a victim. I’m too proud for that. I get so tired of people talking about us. The feminists try to decide what is good for me.’  

‘Yes, violence does take place’, says her colleague Jacqueline. ‘Violence also takes place in marriages. Should we ban marriage because of that?’

Dutch journalist Rob Vreeken writes about the Red Umbrella Fund’s approach to financing sex workers’ rights organisations – where decisions about funding are made by sex workers themselves.

Sex workers […] want to be heard and recognised. They say that they are too often the subject of discussions and decision-making by both conservative governments, and well-meaning donors and aid organisations. Too much moralism and paternalism.

The Red Umbrella Fund embodies the opposite approach. The sex workers here have the final say. All the money goes to sex workers and their self-led organisations. The decriminalisation of sex work and recognition of the profession as an honest job are the cornerstones of its philosophy.


Read the entire article here: Volkskrant article ‘Sex workers tired of paternalism’

Crossposted from Mama Cash