02 Jun

International Sex Workers’ Day 2021 – CEDAW Statement

To the CEDAW Committee: Sex work is work. It is not trafficking.

On 02 June, International Sex Workers’ Day, the Count Me In! Consortium stands in solidarity with sex worker-led organisations and networks advocating for sex workers’ rights

and condemns the discriminatory and potentially harmful measures proposed in CEDAW’s General Recommendation 38.

Sex workers’ rights are central to human rights – particularly women’s rights – and for achieving gender equality. Yet, there continues to be disagreement about how best to ensure that sex workers are free from violence and discrimination. The recent CEDAW General Recommendation 38 on trafficking in women and girls in the context of migration adds to misunderstanding of the distinction between sex work and trafficking and may increase discrimination against sex workers.

Our critique of the General Recommendation is wide-ranging. Expressing disappointment in the General Recommendation, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) highlighted the failure of the General Recommendation to distinguish between trafficking, sexual exploitation, and sex work. They note: “By habitually linking these three distinct phenomena, along with the poorly defined concept of “the exploitation of prostitution1,” this General Recommendation reinforces erroneous conflations of sex work and trafficking which fuel harmful legislation, policies and practices, including an overly broad application of anti-trafficking measures.” Noting how anti- trafficking laws and policies frequently cause harm to sex workers and result in human rights violations, Amnesty International noted that “The general recommendation has not only failed to adequately address this, but risks writing this harsh reality further into the normative framework governing trafficking.2” The wide-ranging and detailed critique of the General Recommendation by International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP) noted that the problems in the General Recommendation range from start to finish. They identify challenges even at the level of the legal framework upon which it relies, commenting on its regressiveness because “it not only situates the legal basis of the GR (General Recommendation) in the anti-human-rights, racist, colonial, patriarchal and archaic 1949 Convention on Trafficking, but also vitiates 51 years of progress on legal standard setting on trafficking achieved by the Palermo Protocol which, despite its shortcomings, recognises that trafficking occurs for a wide variety of purposes not limited to exploitation of prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation.3

Inequality, discrimination and violence targeted toward sex workers of all genders is sustained through laws, policies and practices that criminalize some or all aspects of sex work4. All too frequently, anti-trafficking laws and policies directly and indirectly result in real harms for sex workers and individuals perceived to be sex workers5. While we commend and appreciate the efforts being advanced in trying to curb trafficking, such broad legislative and normative frameworks seldom address the structural root causes of trafficking but rather perpetuates the invisible networks that structurally exclude sex workers. Understanding the difference between sex work and trafficking is an essential step for effective anti-trafficking campaigns that both address trafficking and respect and safeguard sex workers’ rights.

  • The difference between sex work and trafficking
    Worldwide, sex workers and sex workers’ rights advocates contend that as consenting adults, sex workers choose to sell sexual services. Sex work is work, and not a ‘social’ or ‘psychological’ condition that requires solving. Rather, it is the conditions resulting from stigma and criminalisation of sex work – not the work itself – that can be exploitative. The risks faced by sex workers are created by punitive laws, policies and practices creating unequal power relationship between ill-intentioned clients, law enforcement or third parties (such as brothel-keepers, managers or anyone else who facilitates sex work) on one side, and sex workers on the other.

Understanding the difference between sex work and trafficking6 is an essential step for effective anti-trafficking campaigns that both address trafficking and respect sex workers’ rights. Evidence confirms that poorly designed anti-trafficking interventions, such as those elements suggested by General Recommendation 38 inaccurately portray sex workers as inevitable victims and add to the stigma attached to sex work7. Indeed, such laws often miss actual trafficking victims who urgently require assistance. Resources are focused on “rescuing” sex workers who do not seek interventions or rescue instead of rights-based funding. An overemphasis on trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation also means less attention is paid to other sectors where trafficking is prevalent – such as the labour or domestic work sector. Finally, such misguided laws and policies discourage sex workers and clients from seeking access to health, justice and reporting abuse in the sex industry or incidences of trafficking because of fears of arrest, persecution or “rescue”.

Bringing about social justice in relation to sex work requires that sex work is regarded as work and legally recognised as such. This means repealing the civil and criminal laws that are used to sanction sex work or penalise sex workers. It means bringing sex work under appropriate labour frameworks. It also requires an intersectional lens and incremental approach that challenges stigma as well as social, political and economic exclusion. This will help ensure that sex work is approached in a rights-based manner, make the sex work context safer, increase sex workers’ access to services and the protection of the law, while affirming sex workers’ dignity and rights.8

Sex work is work. It is not trafficking.

Count Me In! is a special joint initiative led by Mama Cash, including the sex worker-led Red Umbrella Fund (RUF), together with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), CREA, Just Associates (JASS) and Urgent Action Fund – Africa (representing its sister funds in the US and Latin America). The Dutch gender platform WO=MEN is a strategic partner for lobbying and advocacy. 

 

1) See NSWP’s Statement on CEDAW committee general recommendation no. 38 accessible at https://www.nswp.org/resource/nswp- statements/nswp-statement-cedaw-committee-general-recommendatio-no-38-2020
2) See Amnesty International’s Research on the CEDAW Committee New General Recommendation on Human Trafficking accessible at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior40/3755/2021/en/
3) See IWRAW Asia Pacifc’s Thematic Paper on A Critique of CEDAW General Recommendation No. 38 accessible at https://www.iwraw-ap.org/resources/critique-of-cedaw-gr38/
4) See CMI!’s Factsheet on Sex Work and the Law accessible https://www.mamacash.org/en/counting-sex-workers-in-campaign
5) See NSWP’s Policy Brief on The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Legislation and Initiatives on Sex Workers accessible at https://www.nswp.org/resource/nswp-policy-briefs/policy-brief-the-impact-anti-trafficking-legislation-and-initiatives-sex
6) Please see CMI fact sheet on sex work and trafficking at https://www.mamacash.org/media/cmi_/factsheets/cmi_trafficking_final.pdf
7) See GAATW’s report on Sex Workers Organising for Change accessible at https://www.gaatw.org/resources/publications/941-sex- workers-organising-for-change
8) See CMI fact sheet on sex work and the law at https://www.mamacash.org/media/cmi_/factsheets/cmi_law_final.pdf

10 May

Programme Advisory Committee Members Recruitment

Red Umbrella Fund is the first-ever global grantmaking collaborative guided by and for sex workers. Red Umbrella Fund is guided by an International Steering Committee (ISC) made up of sex workers and donors. The ISC decides the grantmaking criteria, approves the annual budget and makes other strategic decisions. The Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) advises the ISC about which new grants to make. PAC members read and score the applications and select which applications should be funded by Red Umbrella Fund. PAC members can stay on the PAC for up to 3 years.

The PAC has up to 11 members, always with a large majority (at least 80%) of sex workers. Red Umbrella Fund wants a PAC that is diverse in terms of gender and geography. Red Umbrella Fund is looking for two sex workers or strong allies from somewhere in:
– North America (Canada & United States of America)
– Central Europe and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA)

The minimum requirements necessary to apply to be a PAC Member are:
Language: able to read and discuss funding proposals in English.
Availability: able to commit 5-10 hours each week between 02 August and 15 October 2021 to review applications and to participate in PAC meetings .
Affiliation: be part of and/or endorsed by one sex worker-led group or network.
Internet: regular email and stable internet connection.

What can you gain?
• The PAC is an exciting and meaningful opportunity to contribute to Red Umbrella Fund’s grantmaking to sex worker groups around the world.
• As PAC member you learn more about sex worker activism in different regions.
• Many PAC members find the experience useful for their knowledge about philanthropy and activism.

To apply, please send the self-nomination form filled in in English with a support letter to info@redumbrellafund.org by 10 June 2021.
We look forward to hearing from you!

Please find more information on the self-nomination form.
In case of any question please email to info@redumbrellafund.org

03 Mar

Diving Deeper: Under the surface of LGBTI Sex Workers funding data – Global Resources Report (GRR) Factsheet

This factsheet aims to summarize and compile information on funding focused on LGBTQI sex workers from the 2017–2018 Global Resources Report: Government and Philanthropic Support for LGBTI Communities published in May 2020 by Global Philanthropy Project (GPP).

Additionally, this factsheet provides recommendations to funders interested in supporting sex workers within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) communities and shares resources for further learning. Reviewing data for 2017–2018, the most recent available, we see that in all regions and in a global analysis funding focused on LGBTQI sex workers as a population has not matched the growth in overall LGBTQI funding and in some regions has decreased over time.

Why Dive Deeper?
The biennial Global Resources Report contains over 125 pages of data and analysis, yet there are many more ways to assess and engage with the information collected by Funders for LGBTQI Issues and Global Philanthropy Project.
This year, for the first time, GPP is sharing a series of “Diving Deeper” briefs and this factsheet to explore a number of new analyses using the GRR data set. In 2022 we move towards developing and publishing our next iteration of the Global Resources Report.

Why this factsheet?
Sex workers exist across diverse genders, sex characteristics, sexual orientations, and lived experience including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex sex workers. The development of this factsheet began in late 2020 – a year after ILGA World passed a resolution opposing all forms of criminalization and legal oppression of sex work. At the same time, the Trans Day of Remembrance reminded us that between January 2018 and September 2020, 60% of the 3,664 trans and gender diverse individuals murdered whose occupation is known were sex workers.

While there have been some increases in funding for LGBTQI sex workers over time, there is great work ahead to come closer to meeting community needs or move towards funding equity.

This factsheet was co-created by Global Philanthropy Project, Red Umbrella Fund, Funders for LGBTQ issues, and the Sex Work Donor Collaborative.

16 Dec

17 December: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers – Red Umbrella Fund commemorates and looks ahead!

International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Red Umbrella Fund commemorates and look ahead

The International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers was created in 2003 by Dr Annie Sprinkle, with support from sex workers’ rights activists including Robyn Few, as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, United States of America. On this particular day, we take the opportunity to come together, organise against stigma and discrimination that fuel violence, and remember our colleagues who are or have been victims of violence. We also use this day as a moment to reflect on the state of the world and the progress we have made.

As a participatory funding mechanism, Red Umbrella Fund was launched in 2012 from the recognition that too little funding was going to sex worker-led organisations and networks and that this funding often responded to donors’ priorities rather than sex workers’. Eight years after the creation of Red Umbrella Fund, these challenges remain.

In 2017, less than 1% of all human rights funding went to sex workers. Furthermore, recent research carried out by the Sex Work Donor Collaborative pointed out that only a third of grants for sex workers “were tagged “general support,” showing how few foundations are investing in the sustainability of these organizations.” In its latest report, Aidsfonds indicated that “in 2018 sex workers accounted for 6% of all new HIV infections globally. […] Yet programmes for sex workers received only 0.6% of all HIV expenditure”. 

In 2020, because of the global pandemic, many of us lost our incomes, and consequently faced a multitude of challenges. We were also often explicitly discarded from social and economic measures put in place to support workers and from funding decisions affecting our lives. 

This year, sex workers’ movements also grew, became stronger and organised rapidly to respond to this new context. So did Red Umbrella Fund.

  • At Red Umbrella Fund, we published a Solidarity Message in March with a list of sex workers’ initiatives to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, a list of emergency funders and a non-exhaustive list of resources for sex workers.

  • On Sex Worker Pride Day (14 September), we also published our new Strategic Plan, guiding our work until 2025. For greater accessibility, this Strategic Plan was also published in French, Russian and Spanish.

  • Thanks to the support of our donors and of our host organisation, Mama Cash, we were able to carry out a grantmaking cycle, completely online. We received 222 funding applications from 63 countries, 47 more applications than in 2019. 

  • We participated in the Counting Sex Workers In! Campaign aiming to challenge the ways that sex work is most often viewed through a narrow lens of moral judgment, and instead highlight bodily integrity and workers’ rights, especially in “feminist” circles.

  • We continued to strategise with the Sex Worker Donor Collaborative to increase the amount and quality of funding to support sex workers’ rights.

Red Umbrella Fund contributes to a strong, diverse and more sustainable sex workers’ rights movement. Several of our grantees have chosen to use the support they receive from Red Umbrella Fund to respond to violence in all regions of the world with activities ranging from police trainings, trainings for sex workers on safety and security, paralegal trainings, and legal aid services. On 25 November, our grantee Plataforma Latinoamericana de Personas que Ejercen Trabajo Sexual (PLAPERTS) launched a campaign aiming to confront the violence faced by sex workers perpetrated by state actors.

Our vision remains to live in a world where sex workers’ rights are respected as human beings and as workers, so that all sex workers can live lives free from criminalization, stigma, and violence.

To achieve this, funders will play a crucial role. As more and more funders are interested in participatory grantmaking and shifting power, we encourage them to support our work and our experience as the first and only global fund guided by and for sex workers.

Participatory grantmaking is both an ethos and a process ceding decision-making power about funding decisions (including the strategies and criteria behind these decisions) to the communities served. Since its inception, Red Umbrella Fund has been recognised as a creative model of participatory grantmaking, with sex workers being the majority of its International Steering Committee, its Programme Advisory Committee and its Secretariat staff. Because participatory grantmaking is not only about shifting power but also about ensuring good grantmaking decisions, we will continue to promote the systems we developed (and continue to perfect them) as was done in the Guide from Grantcraft entitled: Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking.

We look forward to making the Red Umbrella Fund more accessible, more powerful and more resourced in the five years to come.

#shiftthepower

Kay Thi & Tara (Co-Chairs of the Red Umbrella Fund’s International Steering Committee) & Paul-Gilbert (Coordinator)

If you want to support the work of Red Umbrella Fund, click on this webpage (which was also created in 2020!) or contact us.

24 Nov

Interview: From ‘social evil’ to policy influencer – building sex worker leadership in Vietnam

Former Red Umbrella Fund volunteer, Nathan Desvignes, backpacked through South-east Asia just before the Covid19 pandemic and interviewed two sex workers’ rights activists of the Vietnam Network of Sex Workers (VNSW), Hien and Van, in Hanoi. Below is his account of the encounter.

Sex work in Vietnam
Sex workers in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam faced many challenges following the opening of the economy of the country in the 1990s.
Social and economic inequalities increased, shaping the sex market according to class belonging1. Sex workers have been driven out of red-light districts to roads in the outskirt of the cities or hidden as enterprises such as barber shops, making the outreach work more difficult. Police raids (resulting in fines) are still frequent and sex work is still generally seen as negative and considered a “social evil” by public authorities.

Despite policing, stigma and the economic inequalities in the country, sex workers succeeded to set up their own organizations. Founded in 2012, the Vietnam Network of Sex Workers (VNSW) actively campaigned against the repression of sex-workers, resulting in the closure of all sex worker detention centers (called “rehabilitation centers”) in 2013. The network currently unites over fifty sex worker-led organizations from all provinces of Vietnam, reaching a large diversity of sex workers in relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and place of work. Recently, VNSW has been actively promoting the expertise of sex-worker groups in social policies among local governments and working on its own sustainability.


INTERVIEW:

How did the Vietnam Network of Sex Workers (VNSW) start?

Hien: The VNSW was created during the Vietnam Civil Society Platform on AIDS (VCSPA), our annual meeting day where all the key populations can meet and talk about global strategies. Every year in Vietnam, every key population gathers in this meeting. In 2012 the sex worker led organizations realised that they need to build up their own network and not let the movement be represented by non-sex worker-led NGOs. This desire for a common union, which would be able to represent the movement at a national and international scale but also to function as a platform for sex-workers to meet, coordinate and exchange about their practices and activism, was the idea that led to the creation of the Vietnam National Network of Sex Workers in 2012.

This desire for a common union, which would be able to represent the movement at a national and international scale but also to function as a platform for sex workers to meet, coordinate and exchange about their practices and activism, is the idea that led to the creation of the Vietnam National Network of Sex Workers in 2012.”

After the creation of the network, what were the first goals and missions of the organization?

Hien: The main goal of the network is to improve the sex workers life. How to improve their legitimate rights, labor rights and human rights. At the time of creation of the network, sex workers were still forced to go to detention centers and faced a lot of stigma and discrimination. Sex workers couldn’t talk and take decisions by themselves and could not even come out publicly as sex workers without risking being jailed. We were still seen as a social evil both by the society and the public authorities.

At the time of creation of the network […] we were still seen as a social evil both by the society and the public authorities”

Partly thanks to the establishment of the VNSW, we are now confident to speak in conferences and in front of the government as sex workers. We also started to work with the police, while in the past we were very scared of the police because we could go to prison. Nowadays we can negotiate with the police and we can have a talk. We can even offer support to the police! Some of our members are engaged in a collaboration with local police to help the re-identification of sex workers2.

In the past we were very scared of the police because we could go to prison. Nowadays we can negotiate with the police and we can have a talk”.

In the past, sex workers faced a lot of violence from clients and pimps and even from the police. We didn’t know how to report because we thought that we deserved such kind of violence. But now, thanks to the knowledge disseminated to sex workers, sex workers can relate to the law, policies and to our rights. That way we know that we can report violence to our local group or to the network, and then they will support the legal procedure to report to the police. We have the right to be protected by the police!

Now, thanks to the knowledge disseminated to sex workers […] we know that we can report violence to our local group or to the network, and then they will support the legal procedure to report to the police.

Can you tell us a bit more about this re-identification of sex workers?

Van: Sex worker groups support the police to get ID papers for sex workers and other key populations. We do a survey among key populations who have no identification because you need an identification in order to have access to health insurance and HIV treatment. That is why we are supporting all key populations to have access to ID papers and an insurance card.

You need an identification in order to have access to health insurance and HIV treatment. That is why we are supporting all key populations to have access to ID papers and an insurance card.”

Hien, you are currently a Steering Committee member of the VNSW. Can you tell us why did you join the VNSW?

Hien: I was a sex worker, a drug user and I am living with HIV. Before 2014 I was working in a drug user-led organization focusing on people living with HIV and their access to treatment. Since then, I started to work for the sex worker community directly. Because in sex worker-led organizations, we also do support the sex workers to access HIV treatment.

Can you tell us more about the Community Leadership Fostering Program of the VNSW?

Hien: The grant from the Red Umbrella fund was essential in financing the training of a younger team of community leader. Because the members of the steering committee are quite old and worked for quite a long time, we need to build up replacement in order to better represent our community. Young community leaders often have little experience and less skills, so we need to help them with knowledge and skills as well as opening their mind. Those skills and knowledge are necessary for them to take over the functions of the Steering Committee in the future. We are therefore confident and serene about the future of the network and in the fact that it will live long.

Because the members of the steering committee are quite old and worked for quite a long time, we need to build up replacement in order to better represent our community.”

How were the participants chosen?

Hien: We first called for applications from the 50 member organisations of VNSW. Then the members of all organizations were meeting through Skype to discuss and choose the eligible participants. The applicants had to be involved in their own communities, endorsed by their community-based organisation (CBO) and be under 25 years old, as our goal was to promote youth leadership within the sex worker movement.

And in practice, how did the program go? Did it fulfill your goals?

Hien: In the evaluation session, the participants declared that the training sessions were all very useful to them. For instance, in the session dedicated to communication they learned how to catch the attention of the listener and how to be confident in speaking out, not only in front of their peers but also in front of a large and diverse public. They even had training on the best way to talk, measuring the tonality and rhythm of their voices. After the training sessions all felt more confident in their own agency. Those skills are essential when you organize meetings and have to develop an internal and external communication.

“After the training sessions, all felt more confident in their own agency”

So how were these skills developed?

Van: We did many training sessions with different themes. The first one was named: «Seven habits to be highly effective people». The second training was about presentation: how to talk coherently and how to read efficiently reports and diverse type of publications. In advocacy we have to talk a lot, but also read a lot! Reading also needs training and exercise in order to be able to choose which information is useful or not! Communication is not only useful for meetings but also for outreach work in the field. An important mission of VNSW is to disseminate knowledge, especially harm reduction knowledge about safe sex or safe use of drugs among the community.

An important mission of VNSW is to disseminate knowledge, especially harm reduction knowledge about safe sex or safe use of drugs among the community.”

How do you see the future of the programme?

Hien: I think it is very important to develop this kind of programmes further. One problem is that our members are working a lot but they do not have a salary, that is a very precarious position. Capacity building is important for both the current members to be confident in letting in the leadership of younger members and for new leaders to be confident taking over these responsibilities. Only one member per local group could participate to the program due to the limitation of resources but it allowed us to keep a link between the Steering Committee members and the base of the organizations. Links between individuals and groups are important to keep a coherent movement in Vietnam.

The capacity building also made us face the decrease in funding. Seeing how less and less money comes to community-based organizations, we have to empower our members so they can keep working independently. Right now, the Vietnamese government is implementing modules to support sex workers in collaboration with local organizations. But in order to be considered as a partner, local sex worker organizations have to prove that they have the capacities to reach out to their communities and they need to write a proposal and send it to the authorities. That is why the capacity building is so important for the empowerment of sex workers in Vietnam at this moment.

Seeing how less and less money comes to community-based organizations, we have to empower our members so they can keep working independently.”

Knowledge is changing every day. Even the way we outreach to sex workers has changed. We have to permanently update our practices and knowledge. We now have adapted and try to integrate ways of outreaching online to sex-workers. In the past we used to outreach the sex workers in person. That is why we have to update our knowledge every day and to repeat the training sessions and remain updating it. The most important for now is that each local organization has the capacities to be considered as a partner for the local authorities.

Now I will share about my own experience. Luckily my CBO is a partner of the local government, under the program about social affairs and vice prevention. This is the program in charge of solving any issue related to sex work in general. My CBO is actually one of the partners of local authorities in Hanoi to pilot the sex work official panel in Hanoi. I have a lot of experience and skills because of working in that field for a very long time. That is why the training sessions are so important: to balance the knowledge and power dynamics between the members and be able to work together. And of course, it is important in order to be a reliable partner for the local government. Not all member organizations of VNSW currently have the capacities to be part of such a project yet.

That is why the training sessions are so important: to balance the knowledge and power dynamics between the members and be able to work together. And of course, it is important in order to be a reliable partner for the local government.”

Why do you think funding sex worker organizations is important?

Van and Hien: Funding is very important for the network and community based organizations in general. Funds are needed to enable capacity building and training programmes. The starting point of our community is very low. Sex workers and key populations in Vietnam may have a low level of education. That is why we need to improve sex workers’ knowledge, skills and capacity to be confident in leading the community.

Funding also allow us to promote harm reduction interventions. Sex workers can then outreach to their friends and their own communities, helping them with how to have safe sex. It helps prevent violence, even how to change work if they want to and sometimes how to get some funding from the government.

Funds also allow us to promote harm reduction interventions. Sex workers can then outreach to their friends and their own communities, helping them with how to have safe sex.”

Funding furthermore enables sex workers to work towards a meaningful engagement in advocacy, allowing sex workers’ voices to be heard. Advocacy is very important, as a representative of the sex work community, the network needs to raise the voices of sex workers in consultations and meeting that concern us directly.

So, what are the priorities in advocacy for the VNSW?

Hien: Advocacy takes a long time. In the past we had a meaningful involvement to close all the detention centers in 2012 and 2013. All the detention centers have closed, and all the sex workers that had been arrested were released. Now sex workers are only fined between 5 to 25 dollars.

In the future we now want to advocate for sex work not to be illegal anymore and not to be considered as negative. That concerns not only the worker but also the buyer and many organizations and individuals around it. This is just like people selling food in the market. They are not recognized as workers, but their occupation is not illegal. Decriminalization, access to the full status of citizens and to human rights, that is what we ultimately fight for.

In the future we now want to advocate for sex work not to be illegal anymore and not to be considered as negative. […] Decriminalization, access to the full status of citizens and to human rights, that is what we ultimately fight for.”

In the future we may train all our member to move to become social enterprises. Because the resources are decreasing and at the moment the CBOs have to adapt and find other income. That is why the idea is now to move to social enterprises, a new way of enabling self-sustainability for the community. That would allow that the profit would directly flow back to our communities – and eventually to the whole society. But we still need more funding in order to launch this social enterprise project.

“Because the resources are decreasing at the moment the CBOs have to adapt and find other resources. That is why the idea is now to move to social enterprises, a new way of enabling self-sustainability for the community.”

We are also focusing on the connection between the local sex worker groups and the local government, now that they have increasingly become partners. That helps to prove that the sex worker led organizations are reliable partners and that sex workers should be protected and not prevented.

Thank you!


Vietnam, Sex Work and Covid19

Missing in this interview is how hard the sex workers in Vietnam have been hit by the Covid19 pandemic in recent months. As described by Red Umbrella Fund grantee partner Strong Ladies in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam:

In the period before the Covid pandemic the sex worker community worked in diverse settings, such as gathering points, hot spots, massage services, and online services. Transgender sex workers mainly worked in hot spots, online, and in some bars. There have been several cases of transgender sex workers being abused by clients when clients discovered they were transgender. For them, sex work is considered the only way to earn an income and save money for surgeries in order to physically match their gender identity.

During the Covid pandemic the work situation got heavily affected for the sex worker community. Most of us have lost customers leading to serious affects on our income. A lot of the sex workers are originally from neighboring provinces and need to keep making enough money in order to pay the rent for their accommodation. Some are lucky to get some kind of reduction on the rent because of the Covid situation. In Ho Chi Minh City, there are many “Rice ATM’s”, but sex workers are afraid to go out and accept these offered goods. Mainly because when they show up all dressed, it is then considered that they are not in need and do not face difficult situations and therefore are not entitled.”

Nathan would like to thank Hien and Van for welcoming him in the locals of VNSW and take their time answering all his questions. He would also like to give his thanks and solidarity to all the sex worker activists in Vietnam which work stands to him as one of the bravest examples of raising for social change. Finally, he’d like to highlight the importance of the facilitating organizations, sex-worker led as the Red Umbrella Fund or allies as the SCDI (the host organisation of the VNSW) in Vietnam.

______________________________________

Resources & further reading:

Facebook page of VNSW: https://www.facebook.com/vnswvietnam/

Membership of VNSW to the Global Network: https://www.nswp.org/members/vietnam-network-sex-workers

Report of the Regional Office for the Western Pacific of the the WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (2001): http://www.wpro.who.int/hiv/documents/docs/Sex_Work_in_Asia_July2001.pdf

Joined report of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), The Department for Social Evil Prevention (DSEP) under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) facilitated by the United Nations (2012): https://vietnam.iom.int/sites/default/files/IOM_Files/Projects/Migration_Gender/Final_report_Sex_work_and_Mobility_ENG.pdf

Academic resources:

Kay Hoang, K. (2011). “She’s Not a Low-Class Dirty Girl!”: Sex Work in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40(4), 367–396. doi:10.1177/0891241611403481 

Ngo, A. D., McCurdy, S. A., Ross, M. W., Markham, C., Ratliff, E. A., & Pham, H. T. B. (2007). The lives of female sex workers in Vietnam: Findings from a qualitative study. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 9(6), 555–570. doi:10.1080/13691050701380018 

1 For an extensive study Kay Hoang, K. (2011). “She’s Not a Low-Class Dirty Girl!”: Sex Work in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40(4), 367–396. doi:10.1177/0891241611403481

2 Re-identification in Vietnam is a public program aiming to issue legal identification to all citizens of Vietnam. The lack of legal identification is often a barrier to access to human rights in Vietnam, especially in rural areas.

29 Sep

Master Thesis – Roles of Regional Sex Worker Networks

The 6 Roles of Regional Sex Worker Networks

By Hester Scholma, Graduating Student,
Master Thesis Sociology, Vrije Univeristeit Amsterdam 

Network means together and together makes stronger. We [regional networks] can make the Sex Worker Movement stronger at the country level, at the regional level and move together to get sex workers’ rights”

Almost a third of the Red Umbrella Fund grantmaking budget goes to regional networks of sex workers because they are seen as important within the Sex Workers’ Rights Movement. But why, exactly? The Programme Advisory Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund has asked for further clarification on the importance of regional networks and a funder demonstrated interest to better understand the roles of networks in social movements. All in all, plenty of reasons to start an exploratory research into the work of regional sex worker networks.

Together means stronger

It sounds obvious: together means stronger. We all know that sowing and harvesting a field of wheat by hand is easier when we do it together instead of alone. Building a house goes much faster with many hands and multiple brains adding skills and knowledge on construction, electricity or design. An individual protesting against municipal policy in front of the town hall can make a statement but protesting in a group usually makes this statement stronger. It may feel logical that regional networks contribute to stronger local and national organisations and a stronger movement, the question is how?

Sex Workers’ rights organising

Many sex worker organisations, focused on promoting the human rights of sex workers, formed throughout the 1980s both in countries in the Global North and the Global South. The Sex Workers’ Rights Movement began to internationalise from the 1980s and the now fully globalized movement is one of the most geographically diverse and intersectional social movements in the world. The movement represents the interests of sex workers from many different countries, with varied races, gender identities and sexual orientations. It includes sex worker-led organisations working locally, nationally and internationally1.

The regional networks

The regional networks are groups of sex worker groups across countries in a particular geographic region. These networks connect organisations, and sometimes individual activists, to each other. They work with their members in the region and also work on a global level, sometimes together with other regional networks. The currently known regional sex worker-led networks are: ASWA in Africa; APNSW in Asia and the Pacific; ICRSE, SWAN and TAMPEP in Europe; and RedTraSex, PLAPERTS and CSWC in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, there are a few sub-regional networks and networks that unite sex workers and allies.

The 6 roles

To explore the contribution and relevance of the regional networks, conversations were held with people directly engaged in such regional networks, a representative of NSWP and some funders of sex worker-led organisations. Through these conversations, six regional networks’ key roles came to light: convening power, setting the agenda, platform for sharing and learning, supporting and engaging in advocacy, capacity building and amplifying sex worker voices.


1. Convening power

The regional networks bring people and organisations together from different contexts and backgrounds, physically or online. This can create movement consciousness. Regional networks can also make connections with other international bodies or social movements.


“We had 200 sex workers from about 10 countries. And it was just amazing because we met people from countries we didn’t even [normally] think about. You’re thinking that these are issues we’re facing in our country only, but that was such a powerful moment because sex workers spoke about human rights violations and that was the first time we were like we want decriminalisation. A lot of work had gone to mobilize the countries to bring sex workers to come for this conference. I’m getting goose bumps even as I’m talking about it. It was very, very moving”

 

2. Setting the agenda

The regional networks set a shared agenda together with members. This generates a clear message of the movements’ ideas and demands for both the movement itself and for outsiders. It is clear that one of the main objectives of the regional sex worker networks is the decriminalisation of sex work. This has not always been the case.

I think this is not something to take for granted. It took a lot and a lot of work to come to this unity. And to come to this unified voice and demand, what’s their message. So it definitely speaks to the movement and its success”

3. Platform for sharing & learning

The regional networks create opportunities for members to share experiences and learn from each other. For example, this platform creates the possibility for new sex worker-led organisations to do an ‘internship’ at more established organisations and the possibility to improve strategies together.

A strategy that was shared by one country – and maybe had a few challenges or a few hiccups – when the next country implements that same strategy, they’re able to see the loopholes and be able to address those challenges and make it a better strategy”

4. Supporting and engaging in advocacy

Regional networks support local and national advocacy and bring advocacy to the regional and global levels. Their advocacy is strengthened by the fact that they represent a big group of people. They have the position to gather information, provide numbers and engage in joint advocacy.


“When there were cases of murders of sex workers in Kenya, all other countries came on board to support Kenya and statements were being issued from other countries condemning this. That would never have happened if we did not have that regional platform”

5. Capacity building

Regional networks support local and national organisations to strengthen their skills, knowledge and organisations and in turn build the capacity of the movement as a whole. Regional networks regularly organise trainings and workshops for their membership. ASWA even established an entire training programme, jointly with the Kenyan national network KESWA and with support from the global network NSWP, called the Sex Worker Academy Africa.


“10 years ago there was no leader at the national level, maybe at the regional level one or two leaders. And now look at the countries. Every country has one or two organisations, there is leadership of sex workers, and they are fighting for their rights”

6. Amplifying sex worker voices

The regional networks represent a diversity of sex workers from the region and give local sex workers a platform to speak, both within the movement as well as outside of the movement on a regional or global level.


“[At a regional meeting] One of the sex workers from Myanmar was talking about violence against sex workers by police. In that meeting there were many representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs and he said: oh my god I don’t know anything about this, I had no idea that this was happening in our country, nobody ever told me that this was happening”

Funding regional networks

The regional networks play an important role in making the movement stronger as a whole and in impacting the international and global level that have an influence on local realities. However, regional networks face multiple obstacles and this makes it difficult for them to fully fulfil all the roles named above. One of the biggest challenges regional sex worker networks face is lack of funding. Without flexible and core funding, the regional networks cannot live up to their full potential to strengthen the Sex Workers’ Rights Movement and to keep working on decriminalisation and the protection of human rights of sex workers.


“There is a general interest of funders to support local initiatives because of the immediate impact. But the problem that those sex workers are experiencing do not only link to their individual situation but also to the legal context of their country and the cultural context of the whole region. Networks are able to use the stories of their members and take it to a higher level and make a larger change. If those networks don’t do this regional effort, it creates a huge vacuum because local organisations often are not able to step up to the next level for policy change”

[1] Chi Adanna Mgbako, The Mainstreaming of Sex Workers’ Rights as Human Rights, 43 Harv. J. L. & Gender 92 (2020)
Available at: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/faculty_scholarship/1092


This blog post was written by Hester Scholma, a sociology student at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Hester conducted qualitative research in partnership with the Red Umbrella Fund in 2020. If you are interested in this study and want to receive more information or a copy of the thesis, please contact the Red Umbrella Fund at: info@redumbrellafund.org


Illustrations by Hester Scholma

1Chi Adanna Mgbako, The Mainstreaming of Sex Workers’ Rights as Human Rights, 43 Harv. J. L. & Gender 92 (2020)
Available at: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/faculty_scholarship/1092

14 Sep

Red Umbrella Fund 2020-2025 Strategic Plan

Today is International Sex Worker Pride Day which began in 2019, and is an opportunity to celebrate and share stories of sex workers’ self-determination and the achievements of the sex worker rights movement.

Sex Worker Pride extends to all marginalised by criminalisation, discrimination and stigma across the sex worker movement and celebrates the diversity within our community during International Sex Worker Pride.

On this special day we at Red Umbrella Fund would also like to present to you our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan. Our mission remains to strengthen the sex workers’ rights movement and its sustainability by catalysing new funding! Please read al about it.

Strategic Plan 2020-2025

 

30 Jul

Red Umbrella Fund Welcomes a New Coordinator

30 July 2020

Dear Community Members, Partners and Allies,

The International Steering Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund (RUF) is pleased to welcome Paul-Gilbert Colletaz as our new coordinator. As a sex worker and human rights advocate, Paul-Gilbert has been firmly rooted in the sex workers’ rights movement for many years.

The Red Umbrella Fund is the first and only global fund guided by and for sex workers. RUF aims to strengthen and sustain the sex workers’ rights movements through financial and non-financial support as well as through advocacy and communication efforts focused on catalysing new funding to support sex workers’ rights movements.

As a long-term organizational ally, Paul-Gilbert previously served as programme manager for the Global Network of Sex Workers (NSWP), programme coordinator for Solidarité Sida, and as civil society member on the International Steering Committee of the Robert Carr Network Fund. Paul-Gilbert’s commitment to self-representation and self-determination have been strengthened through his professional experiences as an advocate, building resilience and solidarity among sex workers across genders, race, sexualities, identity, experience and geographical borders.

Says Paul-Gilbert, “the sex workers’ rights movement has always brought out the fiercest forms of commitment and passion among so many people. At RUF I look forward to strengthening that legacy by being responsible, transparent, and accountable in our grantmaking and fundraising efforts for the greater realisation of our human rights”.

Paul-Gilbert succeeds RUF’s founding coordinator, Nadia Van Der Linde.  During her tenure, Nadia worked tirelessly to increase funding for sex workers globally. She and her team created platforms for sex workers themselves to elevate sex workers’ rights, made it possible for nascent and unregistered sex worker groups to access funds for the first time, shared RUF’s thoughtful participatory grantmaking approach and encouraged other funders to adopt similar models, and above all, always kept sex worker communities at the center of the work.

While there has been much progress, the worldwide political and financial threats facing sex workers are only intensifying and the need for more funding to build empowered, resilient, and active sex worker-led organisations and networks could not be more urgent. Together with the dedicated RUF staff, we are confident that Paul-Gilbert will strengthen our  programs and fundraising efforts to meet the ongoing challenges of our time. Paul-Gilbert will start on the 3rd of August working remotely from Paris for the remainder of the year. We thank you for your support and hope you will join us in warmly welcoming Paul-Gilbert to the team.

In Solidarity,

Tara Burns & Kay Thi Win
Co-Chairs of the RUF International Steering Committee (ISC)