Red Umbrella Fund aims to catalyse more and better funding for sex worker-led organisations and networks from public and private funders.
We want to see more resources available to community groups and for those resources to be better attuned to the movements’ needs and priorities. This means funding that is accessible, unrestricted, flexible, multi-year, and human rights based.
We do this by raising the visibility of the sex workers’ rights movements among funders. By actively sharing our knowledge and experiences and contributing to funder dialogues, we encourage and support funders to develop a nuanced understanding of what sex workers’ rights are and how they intersect with other social justice issues. We also serve as a resource on the best ways to support community-led organisations for change.
We participate in relevant funder convenings and networks and strategically collaborate with allied funders to increase our effectiveness and reach. We believe there is power in sex workers’ participation in funder spaces as peers and grantmakers and we commit to further advancing sex workers’ leadership in our advocacy work.
Since our creation in 2012, we have seen several funders commit to supporting sex workers’ rights. Building on this momentum, we will expand our funder advocacy workplan and budget during this strategic plan period.
Why Fund Sex Workers’ Rights?
What is sex work?
Sex work is defined as “the provision of sexual services for money or goods”, commercial sex is “the exchange of money or goods for sexual services” and sex workers are the “people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation.” World Health Organisation and UNAIDS, 2011, “Technical Guidance for Global Fund HIV Proposals Round 11 Key Populations: Sex workers.”
Sex work is used by sex workers as the preferred term, rather than “prostitution”, as it recognizes that sex work is work. Prostitution, on the other hand, has connotations of criminality and immorality. Open Society Foundation, Understanding Sex Work.
Especially in countries where sex work is criminalised, harassment, arbitrary arrests and exclusion from basic health and social services are common. Sex workers are organising to claim their rights but funding for these initiatives, critical to these groups’ ability to increase their effectiveness, has been minimal.
Since the inception of the Red Umbrella Fund, we have seen shifts among the funders. Some social justice funders now have a more nuanced understanding of sex workers’ rights and have translated their learning into funding to sex workers’ organisations. “We changed our position when we heard sex workers speak powerfully on behalf of the Red Umbrella Fund at funder meetings”, one of those funders told us in an interview.
The list of organisations and governmental agencies that recognise that sex work is work is growing:
Sex workers of all genders, sexual orientations, racial identities and ages face regular human rights violations in every country.
• SWDC Membership
• Global Network of Sex Worker Projects
• Human Rights Watch
• Open Society Foundation
• World Health Organization
• Amnesty International
• Human Rights Campaign
• UNAIDS, ACLU
• Teen Vogue
• New Zealand (Aotearoa) Ministry of Business
• The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women
• International Labor Organisation (ILO)
We are humbled by the courageous and crucial work of sex workers’ rights groups and networks and take pride in the support we have been able to give. But many challenges remain. In most parts of the world sex work remains criminalised and stigmatised and as sex workers we are still denied our human rights. There is still not enough funding available for sex workers’ rights organising and the funding that is available is often not attuned to the communities’ needs.
Few foundations and other non-governmental grant-makers have a specific mandate or portfolio dedicated to supporting sex worker rights, but sex worker rights can and should be supported from many programme areas. Women’s rights, civil society strengthening, poverty reduction, health and HIV, prevention of violence and exploitation, LGBTQI rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, labour rights, movement building and social justice are just a few examples of approaches that foundations can take to supporting sex worker rights.
There is a vast opportunity for foundations and other non-governmental grantmakers to invest more and better, and make a significant difference in the lives of sex workers in every region of the world.
Providing direct funding to programmes that protect and promote the human rights of sex workers is a first step. Foundation effectiveness in funding sex worker rights initiatives, and the sustainability of these efforts in the long run, depends on bringing the voices of sex workers to the table and engaging them in a meaningful way in developing the policies and structures that affect them.
Resources for Funders
Our Resources include Publications & Tools as well as information about Funders, Networks, and Allied Organisations. Funders that want to learn more about funders supporting sex workers’ rights, participatory grant making, and sex worker-led organisations can begin here.
Apply for a Grant
Red Umbrella Fund accepts Applications once a year between June and August. Follow the link to learn more about how to apply.
Your support makes it possible for Red Umbrella Fund to provide flexible core funding to sex worker-led organisations and networks worldwide.