We have opened the 2019 call for all organizations and regions.
Please visit the link https://www.redumbrellafund.org/grantmaking/apply-grant/
Deadline shall be on the 31st of July!
We have opened the 2019 call for all organizations and regions.
Please visit the link https://www.redumbrellafund.org/grantmaking/apply-grant/
Deadline shall be on the 31st of July!
We are looking for dedicated sex worker activist from the regions of Africa, Asia and Latin-America for our Program Advisory Committee (PAC)!
Every year our PAC comes together for the final part in the decision making process for the new grants that the Red Umbrella Fund will make. The reading of these grants takes place from from mid-August until early October. The 2019 PAC process ends with a 4 day meet up from 7 to 10 October in Amsterdam.
If you are available and your English is well enough to communicate with other group members, nominate yourself to Red Umbrella Fund before the 21st of July 2019!
Please read the requirements in the attached documents (don’t forget the endorsement letter) and hopefully we see you in October?
by Claire Gheerbrant
Parapli Rouz, meaning ‘red umbrella’ in Mauritian Creole, is the only community-based organization promoting the rights of sex workers in Mauritius. The group has been a grantee partner of the Red Umbrella Fund since 2015. Working in a small island-nation has its particular challenges, like making yourself visible and heard in the increasingly global and connected sex worker movement. But Mauritian sex workers have a lot to say and are getting people to listen.
An underestimated sex worker population
The latest national survey (2014) estimates the sex worker population in Mauritius at 6,223 female sex workers and 1,649 transgender sex workers. Parapli Rouz only comes across a very small number of male sex workers every year. Beyond working in the streets, workplaces include homes, massage parlors, nightclubs, bars, restaurants but also beaches and catamarans. A number of Mauritian sex workers travel back and forth to the neighboring French island of La Reunion, where the pay is better. According to Parapli Rouz, those statistics are copiously underestimated and should be multiplied by two or three to reflect reality. In 2017 alone, Parapli Rouz met with more than 2,000 sex workers through its outreach work.
One of the main challenges sex workers in Mauritius face is the arbitrary arrests of street-based workers. Even if brothel keeping is the only criminalized activity under Mauritian law, street-based sex workers get arrested for “being on the streets at night”, “having condoms in their bags” or “wearing an indecent dress”; although these do not constitute formally punishable offences.
Arrested for “being on the streets at night”
In order to be released, street sex workers are forced to sign erroneous investigation reports and are often denied their right to make a phone call from the police station. The charges they incur often relate to “soliciting”, “importuning” or “idle and disorderly”. When those cases are brought before the court, sex workers are sentenced with fines from 2,000 to 8,000 Mauritian rupees (50 to 200 euros) and prison terms of up to 3 months.
This comic strip – designed by a group of sex workers and drawn by former Parapli Rouz President Dany – is used as a sensitization tool directed at media, parliamentarians and police. It demonstrates in one page the extent of the challenges and abuses faced by sex workers: clients refuse to pay and are violent, police officers are abusive and charge sex workers for soliciting instead of filing their complaints, and health care providers don’t treat their injuries seriously.
A caravan to fight police abuse
To counter these violations of street workers human rights, Parapli Rouz used parts of its first grant from the Red Umbrella Fund to buy a caravan in 2015. The team uses the caravan to do outreach once a week at various workplaces around the island. The mere presence of community workers in the areas of street work has visibly helped against the impunity of police officers, who know they are being watched.
After a first court case was won in 2016 – Parapli Rouz provided legal support and a lawyer to the sex worker exposed to charges and those were dropped by the court- a precedent was set and police stations are now aware that Parapli Rouz is standing with sex workers and that they are no longer easy preys.
This work is paying off: recently a sex worker in Quatre Bornes was arrested but was, for the first time, granted her phone call. Sex workers now carry cards from Parapli Rouz which they present to police officers when they have contact with them. These cards send a strong message that sex workers are not alone nor powerless.
In addition to the caravan, Parapli Rouz expects to set up a telephone hotline for sex workers, reachable 24/7 and free of charge. The aim is to be able to react quickly in cases of emergency, such as violence from clients or the police, when the team is not on the ground, and increase safety of sex workers at all times.
From an HIV/AIDS focus to a lobby and advocacy agenda
Soon after its creation in 2010, Parapli Rouz received funding from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to carryout activities related to HIV/AIDS prevention in the sex workers’ community. Sophie Ganachaud, Coordinator of the organization, explained that Parapli Rouz always wished to work more on advocacy, but it was never recognized as a priority by their potential funders and promoting sex workers rights remains highly controversial.
Indeed, funders tend to focus strongly on HIV/AIDS on the African continent (to which Mauritius is attached), which often makes it difficult for civil society organizations to extend their activities beyond health services and to work on a rights-based approach.
With Red Umbrella Fund’s flexible core funding, Parapli Rouz decided to restructure the organization and dedicate more time for external advocacy. While still working on HIV prevention, the group now has a comprehensive advocacy plan targeting health providers, politicians, police and media.
The group organized a workshop for journalists to shift the moralizing tone and unrealistic portrayal often used in reporting about sex work. This resulted in more and better coverage of the work of the organization in the local press (in French). Based on this success, Parapli Rouz is hiring a communications officer to further expand their outreach and media presence.
Hypocrisy as a worst enemy
Developing relationships with institutional representatives is one of the most challenging aspects of Parapli Rouz’s work. Their experience is that if officials take pro-sex work positions in private meetings, they never share those publicly. The political risk is still high in Mauritius, and religious doctrines too influential. As Sophie Ganachaud, Coordinator of Parapli Rouz, explains: “for Mauritian politicians, supporting sex workers’ rights means signing your own political death warrant and risking the end of your career.”
In 2016, the Minister of Gender Equality joined Parapli Rouz’s commemoration on December 17th (the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers) and publicly offered to collaborate. Unfortunately, she resigned two days later. Parapli Rouz continues to invite government and police officials, hoping they will one day speak out and take a position outside of closed office doors. On December 17th 2018, Parapli Rouz organized a Pacific March and held a formal speech in the “Jardin de la Compagnie” in capital city Port Louis. This was a huge achievement for Parapli Rouz as it was the first time they got the authorization to demonstrate and march in front of the Parliament house. The demonstration was joined by many sex workers and allies and received good media coverage (in French).
Recipe for Success
Following the restructuring of the organisation in 2018, the team moved their office from the capital of Port Louis to bigger and more affordable offices in the central zone of Beau Bassin which is home to a large part of the island’s population. Following this move, Parapli Rouz has successfully organized community gatherings between sex workers from the two regions at their new center in order to increase solidarity between the two groups and decrease issues of territory and competition. Their recipe for success is a concept they refer to as “co-rity”: a mix of “collaboration” and “solidarity’. It is their goal to join the forces of different sex worker communities (trans sex workers, female sex workers, street-based sex workers and workers working from other venues) to face their common enemies and fight for their rights together.
This article was written by Claire Gheerbrant based on an interview with Sophie Ganachaud (coordinator), Shameema Boyroo (Community Mobilization Officer) and Mélanie Babet (Community Mobilization Support Officer).
The comic strips included in the article were designed by Dany, former President of Parapli Rouz who recently passed away, to whom this article is dedicated.
by Nadia van der Linde
Please cite this article as: N van der Linde, ‘Time to Turn Up the Volume’, Anti-Trafficking Review, Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 12, 2019, pp. 194-199, www.antitraffickingreview.org.
I remember my first self-organised donor panel well. It was at the Global Social Change Philanthropy Conference in Washington, DC in 2013. I had just started work as the first coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund—the newly established fund for and by sex workers. I organised a session that would clarify the distinction between sex work and human trafficking and emphasise the need to fund sex worker organising. We had a strong panel: an awesome sex worker activist, a knowledgeable academic, a passionate service provider, and a committed funder. I was, however, in for a rude awakening: even though the line-up was great, the audience was scarce. I thought to myself, if we can’t even get funders to show up and learn about sex workers’ rights, how will we ever meet the needs of sex worker organisations fighting for their basic human rights?
Sex workers are criminalised for their means of making a living in all but a handful of countries and jurisdictions. Addressing stigma and violence are key priorities of sex worker groups everywhere. For most sex workers, police are not there to protect them but perpetrate most of the violence against them.Harassment, confiscation of condoms, extortion, arbitrary arrest, and rape are common examples of police violence. Even in the Netherlands, where sex work is regulated, most sex workers do not report cases of physical or sexual violence to the police. A rare exception is New Zealand, where sex work is decriminalised and the government helps fund a sex worker organisation to provide information, services, and support to their peers. The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective and police work together to prevent violence and encourage sex workers to file a report when they experience sexual assault and other violent crimes.
Sex workers across the world are organising against criminalisation, which puts not just their livelihood at risk but their entire lives—and those of their loved ones. They are generally recognised as marginalised and highly vulnerable in today’s societies, embodying multiple layers of stigma because of the work they do, and also because they are often poor, lack formal education, belong to Indigenous or migrant populations, identify as trans or gay, or are single mothers. However, funding to support sex worker organisations and their community mobilisation efforts is scarce. In 2013, foundations invested a meagre USD 11 million in grants to support sex worker rights worldwide. Most sex worker organisations have no funding at all, but those that do receive an institutional grant usually still have annual budgets below USD 70,000 and their reliance on volunteer work remains high. At the same time, raid and rescue programmes and rehabilitation centres continue to be generously funded as, supposedly, models of supporting or ‘helping’ women in the sex industry.
Sex worker organisations call on funders to provide more funding that is long term and covers rent, salaries, trainings, legal services, and advocacy. They also want funders to speak up in support of sex workers’ rights. A conversation I had recently with another human rights funder revealed that, while they had given some grants to sex worker groups before, they had never realised that most peer human rights funders still do not fund such work. We clearly need to more effectively leverage our access and knowledge to educate and activate our philanthropic peers.
The best way to educate funders is through people’s lived experiences. We interviewed staff of funding organisations who had changed their perspective from assuming all sex work (or prostitution) is exploitation and trafficking to recognising sex workers as human beings who are entitled to rights, including in relation to their work. This revealed that academic evidence, UN documents, and human rights organisations’ public support for sex workers’ rights are all helpful, but the main lever to a more nuanced understanding comes from direct interactions with sex workers. We need to bring funders and sex workers in the same room.
The international donor-activist dialogue on sex work and trafficking that took place in 2008 was one notable success of getting funders to listen to sex workers. Members of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) played a crucial role in subsequent donor education, speaking from lived experience about the harms of many anti-trafficking initiatives on sex workers. By the end of the event, funders were united in their acknowledgement that sex workers need funding to effectively organise and stand up for their rights. Four years later, the Red Umbrella Fund was launched.
So far, the Red Umbrella Fund has awarded 158 grants to 103 sex worker-led groups in over fifty countries. These investments have resulted in stronger organisations and leadership and increased solidarity and connections within the movement and with other movements. This is not, however, nearly enough to foster real change. For every grant awarded, applications by many other groups had to be declined due to the limited money available.
Since the fund was established in 2012, our grantee partners have taught us how the conflation of sex work and trafficking plays out in their daily lives. It is not just that anti-trafficking policies often harm them; stigma and criminalisation also create a social climate where sex workers are at greater risk of being trafficked and survivors of trafficking may have few other options to make a living than sex work. Although they hardly ever mention it in their own publications, many sex worker groups provide crucial services and support to people who have experienced trafficking. Similarly, labour unions and women’s organisations that stand up for domestic workers or agricultural labourers who work in poor conditions do not force them to quit their work or support incarcerating them, but instead focus on improving their labour conditions and self-organising capacity. As one sex worker at a donor-activist meeting organised by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) in Bangkok in February 2018 stated:
It is no surprise that a review of the grant applications we received over the years shows that, although local contexts differ greatly, ending stigma, violence, and criminalisation are the key priorities for sex worker organisations everywhere. Sex worker organisations prevent exploitation and trafficking by providing safe spaces, information, support, and accompaniment to relevant services. Their campaigns for decriminalisation of sex work are crucial to build safer work environments where problems can be reported to police and justice can be sought. And where, as is highlighted by the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, sex workers have the right to say yes, but also the right to say no.
A peer activist funder recently explained the evolution of their donor advocacy strategy to me, which had gone from ‘philanthro-shaming’ (highlighting the urgent need to increase funding in a particular area to avoid or address a certain problem) to unapologetically using the popular concept of FOMO, the fear of missing out. Too often, he shared, we highlight funding gaps and needs, hoping it will persuade funders to fill the abyss. That may help some allied funders to expand their grantmaking, but it will not convince the sex worker rights funding ‘virgins’. The reality is that even many self-identified social justice funders still claim ‘neutrality’ on the topic of sex workers’ rights, or simply lack the courage to speak out. Those funders need to realise that they are not the first sheep to leap over the ditch. In the case of this peer activist funder, their new donor advocacy strategy, therefore, intends to take a ‘jump on the bandwagon or miss out’ approach, highlighting that funding sex worker organising is the thing to do, and now!
I don’t think this bandwagon approach alone will do the trick, but at least we have started forming a band and developing some common tunes. Different funders have started coming together in a new collaborative effort to ensure that more funding is directed to the sex worker rights movements. Now it’s time to turn up that volume and reach the right audience.
Nadia van der Linde is the Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Geography from the University of Amsterdam and has years of international experience, particularly in the field of sexual and reproductive rights, advocacy, and (youth) participation processes. Nadia has worked for the Youth Coalition, the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, the People’s Health Movement, Stichting Alexander, the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). She is the chairperson of the Prostitution Information Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Email: email@example.com.
 M Bhattacharjya, E Fulu and L Murthy, The Right(s) Evidence: Sex work, violence and HIV in Asia. A multi-country qualitative study, UNFPA, UNDP and APNSW (CASAM), Bangkok, 2015, retrieved 19 December 2018, http://www.asia-pacific.undp.org/content/dam/rbap/docs/Research%20&%20Publications/hiv_aids/rbap-hhd-2015-the-rights-evidence-sex-work-violence-and-hiv-in-asia.pdf.
 M Kloek and M Dijkstra, Sex Work, Stigma and Violence in the Netherlands, Aidsfonds, Amsterdam, 2018, https://www.soaaids.nl/sites/default/files/documenten/Prostitutie/Sex%20Work%20Stigma%20and%20Violence%20in%20the%20Netherlands%20Report%28digital%29.pdf.
 E McKay, ‘World-first partnership between NZ Police and Prostitutes’ Collective’, NZ Herald, 17 December 2018, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12178217.
 J Dorf, Sex Worker Health and Rights: Where is the funding?, Open Society Institute, New York, 2006, https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/where.pdf.
 Mama Cash, Red Umbrella Fund and Open Society Foundations, Funding for Sex Worker Rights. Opportunities for foundations to fund more and better, Mama Cash/RUF, Amsterdam, 2014, https://www.redumbrellafund.org/report.
 N van der Linde and S Bos, ‘Mind the Gap—What we learned about how funders can be moved in the right direction’, Alliance Magazine, 7 September 2016, https://www.alliancemagazine.org/blog/mind-the-gap-what-we-learned-about-how-funders-can-be-moved-in-the-right-direction.
 CREA, NSWP and SHARP, Sex Work and Trafficking A Donor/Activist Dialogue on Rights and Funding, CREA, NSWP and SHARP, 2008, https://www.redumbrellafund.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Donor_Dialogue_Final_REPORT_December2008.pdf.
 Red Umbrella Fund, The Creation of a Collaborative Fund for and by Sex Workers, 2017, https://www.redumbrellafund.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Red-Umbrella-Fund-The-creation-of-a-Collaborative-Fund.pdf.
 See, for example, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Sex Workers Organising for Change: Self-representation, community mobilization, and working conditions, GAATW, Bangkok, 2018.
 Ibid.; see also: W Volbehr, ‘Improving Anti-Trafficking Strategies: Why sex workers should be involved’, Open Democracy, 17 July 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/wendelijn-vollbehr/improving-anti-trafficking-strategies-why-sex-workers-should-be-inv.
 NZPC, Our Right to Say Yes, Our Right to Say No, n.d., http://www.nzpc.org.nz/pdfs/Right-to-Say-Yes-or-No-Poster.pdf.
** Sorry – now closed **
The Red Umbrella Fund is looking for committed sex worker rights activists to join our International Steering Committee (ISC)!
We have 3 positions open for new ISC members from:
Roles and Responsibilities
The International Steering Committee (ISC) is responsible for the key strategic and programmatic decisions of the Red Umbrella Fund. While its members come from different parts of the world, all ISC members are expected to keep the global perspective of the Red Umbrella Fund at the forefront of their decision making. The International Steering Committee (ISC):
What we are looking for:
Read the Call for Nominations to join the ISC with more information!
The Self-Nominations Forms as we are not accepting nomination anymore.
Sorry – the Red Umbrella Fund’s 2018 Global Call for Applications is now closed!
The Red Umbrella Fund gives grants to sex worker-led groups and networks that are registered or unregistered. In 2018, we expect to make about 25 core funding grants to local, national and international sex worker-led organisations and networks.
La nueva convocatoria global del Fondo Paraguas Rojo 2018 está cerrada
Haz clic aquí para Español.
Фонд «Красный Зонт» закрыто прием заявок о соискании грантов на 2018 год!
Нажмите здесь для Pусский!
Notre 2018 Appel à Propositions est fermé!
Cliquez ici pour l’application Français!
Sex work is a topic that receives ‘bad press’ and is often misunderstood. However, we commonly find written articles that use pictures of high heels, red light districts or the eroticised female body to make their own articles against sex work more ‘sexy’.
Some sex workers fight back against the current double morality discourses. This blog is about the human rights defenders of the first sex worker collective in the Balkans; the power of claiming back the use of their own imagery to make a political campaign and how they are expanding.
We are sitting in a small basement bar in Gostivar. An old gas heater and a fake window seem to be the only light on what is a cold January morning. Gligor is sharing a seat with me, also Slavica’s friend, who hardly speaks any English but was happy to join us. On the other side of the table, Dennis –my partner on my first self-funded field visit to one of our grantee partners- talks with other members. STAR’s success is the result of the joint effort of many individuals.
”This city, Gostivar, has so much to offer to sex workers. Why? Because people has so much money. People go out of the city and work hard and then come back to Macedonia and has money to spend. They spend their money with sex workers. These people treat the girls like princesses. … it is very good that this money is spent here in Gostivar,” comments Slavica, a member of sex worker organisation STAR in Macedonia.
“We have so much good night life, so many bars, clubs, clients and some people from everywhere from Macedonia coming here for sexual services,” continues Slavica. “We have sex workers on the street, in the clubs, on out-call, in front of the Casinos… For this reason, I tell you, Gostivar is like Las Vegas of Macedonia.”
It is not a coincidence that STAR is planning to rent a second office here in Gostivar. Training and workshops have been conducted to build the capacity of the organisation in the area. Now they are looking for the best space to rent their second office. STAR just received a second grant from the Red Umbrella Fund, and to expand their focal points seems to be the logical next step to take.
STAR was created in 2008 and got registered in 2010 as the Association for the Support of Marginalised Workers following a year long struggle with state institutions who refused to recognise sex workers as legitimate agents of a collective. Today, STAR is an active agent of the civil sector, striving for ‘a world without violence where sex workers can perform their chosen profession in a democratic and tolerant society’, as stated on their website.
Migrant sex workers
Gostivar is a city based in the Western part of Macedonia, with a population mix of Macedonian, Albanian and Turkish.
“Most sex workers are not from Macedonia. They are migrants. We have more than half of workers who come from outside Macedonia. We have girls from Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, some girls from Bosnia. They are not officially migrants here because they don’t have a regular status like immigrants. They come here, they work and then, they leave the country”, points Gligor, who works at the STAR office in Skopje
”Some male sex workers from here,”- continues Gligor- “they do the same. They go to Greece to work because the law there affects only women. So, some men can go there and work and then come back and enjoy their money.”
Step by Step
Slavica joins again: “Fifteen years ago, here in Gostivar, it was a big taboo to say that you were doing sex work. If a girl said it, she could have had a problem. She had nowhere to go to communicate any of their needs. So, we have started the work that we do at STAR. They can feel good and strong about what they are doing. … These girls now feel they have like a family”.
“Five minutes of talking can change everything… Maybe I can’t help her, but I can listen. It is very good that you have somebody who listens to your problems. It is one step. After that, we are going step by step”, shares Slavica.
I can feel the excitement about the idea of renting a new space and the work of this newly formed branch of STAR, learning from the stories of sex workers here. We have left the bar and we are walking along Vardar River that extends through Gostivar, cutting it in half, passes through the capital Skopje, goes through the country and enters Greece. This river seems to be the moving constant of Macedonian sex work landscape.
Gligor joins the conversation and wants to share the importance of having their own organisation.
‘’Once I was working for a service provider. And everything was different. I was supposed to give condoms only to those people who defined as a sex worker. But a lot of men I reached didn’t want to be referred as such, even if they were doing so. It can be a taboo to define yourself as a sex worker to a stranger. For me, it is not important where people are coming from or if they define as sex workers. It is important to give them condoms, which they need’’, says Gligor with a candid smile.
Close to Parliament
In Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, Borce Bozinov, President of STAR shares with us the story of one of the co-founders of the organization. She passed away two years ago. Her name was Laura Feer. She co-started this group back in 2006. Borce shares his experiences with shared leaderships and involving membership. Decentralising their focal points seems to have been a successful strategy for this group whose members share a passion for the work they do.
The main STAR office is strategically placed close to Parliament. Their dedicated team divide their tasks between communication, finance and outreach activities. With almost all members having a background in the sex industry, they are the ones in the best position to determine sex workers’ needs combined with strategic lobbying.
From advocacy to access to sexual and reproductive health services and the use of the SWIT tool, STAR is the only sex worker’s group by and for sex workers in Macedonia and beyond.
We got to learn about how they managed to improve their office space thanks to core funding. In the picture, Dennis poses with members from the Skojpe branch.
Pop-up in Skopje
The group is excited to talk about their activities. We sit around a table and colorful pictures appear on the screen of a laptop. They are part of STAR’s latest 17th of December campaign. The community organisation rented an empty beauty and nail shop for a day and converted it in what it could have been a window from the Red Light District of Amsterdam. Some members of STAR did not hesitate to jump in sexy clothes and use their seductiveness to… make a point about the need of safe spaces for work in the city!
Using banners, the performers asked the passers-by if they would like to have consented paid sex. It was only a matter of time before traffic had to be closed due to the numbers of curious viewers.
In a context where sex work is a taboo that is starting to be eroded by the actions of this group, the re appropriation of their own imagery in a political campaign is a powerful strategy. The results speak by themselves: 26 positive appearances in the media, including an interview in-situ to Borce on the National News TV which gave a positive approach to the action. The video has been played over 45.000 times so far.
“Before you close all your global perspective about sex workers, think twice: Why zero tolerance to the oldest profession??? The feminists should answer this!” highlighted Borce.
I would like to conclude by remembering Laura Freer, for what she co-initiated once, for being a pioneer and a source of inspiration for STAR’s current members, to us and to the movement. Thank you so much to Laura and all STAR members!
Skopje Red Light District performance organized by STAR. Photo taken by Vanco Dzambaski, Open Society Foundation – Macedonia.
Text and black and white pictures by Vera Rodriguez
The Red Umbrella Fund is looking for 6 activists to join the Programme Advisory Committee (PAC)! The PAC is the international sex worker-led peer group that reads the applications received by the Red Umbrella Fund and selects which new grants to make.
What do PAC members do?
PAC members read and score the applications and select which applications should be funded by the Red Umbrella Fund. Some of this work takes place from home and by e-mail, some in-person at a meeting in Amsterdam. New PAC members commit for one grantmaking process (until October 2018), and can stay on the PAC for up to 3 years.
Who are on the PAC?
The PAC has up to 11 members, always with a large majority (at least 80%) sex workers. The Red Umbrella Fund wants a PAC that is diverse in terms of gender and geography
Who can apply?
We have vacancies for sex workers or strong allies from:
What else you need to know:
About the Red Umbrella Fund
The Red Umbrella Fund is a global fund by and for sex workers. We publish one Call for Applications each year. Since 2012, the Red Umbrella Fund has made 129 grants to sex worker-led groups and networks in over 50 countries.
Read about the experience of another PAC member here
This was not your regular presentation opening at a meeting with funders. But then, it was not your regular meeting. From 11 to 13 April 2018, a unique encounter of very diverse activists and funders took place in Kenya to talk – and dream – about feminist movement building. The methodology required everyone’s participation while innovative scenario sessions forced participants to get out of their comfort zone, think beyond their organisational priorities, and imagine a different future.
“I am a beautiful woman and I use my body to make a living,” the presentation continues.
The speaker is Phelister Abdalla, Coordinator of the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA), a national network with members in each of the country’s districts. In Kenya, stigma against sex workers is rampant, as is violence from police and others. Although sex work itself is not directly criminalised by law, in practice it is. Sex work can be prohibited by municipal bylaw, and to aid, abet, compel or incite prostitution is explicitly illegal. Phelister is also a member of the International Steering Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund, where, as she says, “it is sex workers who are deciding where the money goes.” Standing up in front of a crowd with over a hundred pairs of eyes looking directly at her, Phelister seems fearless and impressive.
“I make people happy and get money for that,” she adds comfortably.
A hundred pair of eyes looked at her in anticipation. Many people in the room had never (to their knowledge) met a sex worker before. Let alone listened to a sex worker speak.
The entire encounter, called Money & Movements, was organised by a consortium of organisations called Count Me In! with the aim to get new, more and better (more accessible, sustainable, flexible) money to support feminist movement building. Feminist activists from all regions and diverse backgrounds and communities, including sex worker rights activists from Argentina, Guyana, USA, Uganda, Kenya and Myanmar, contributed to the conversations.
Also in terms of funder presence there was much diversity. Multi-and bilateral funders, private foundations, as well as public foundations including regional women’s funds travelled the globe to contribute, listen and learn.
Already in the introductory session, the right tone was set when participants themselves highlighted the importance of the principle “nothing about us without us”. A bilateral funder sitting at my table nodded. Another courageous funder – not from one of the activist-led funds – emphasized that “we need to shift the power of money.” “Indeed,” added an activist at the same table:
“We often hear inclusion is expensive. But what is the cost of exclusion?”
Phelister was one of the key storytellers on the first day, following stories from other women activists from different regions who highlighted passions of women with disabilities (“we have passions beyond our disability!”) and indigenous organising. With every activist who spoke out, the urgency of inclusion and the need for diversity in movements became more apparent.
“This world is full of stigma and discrimination,” continued Phelister. She described how twenty sex workers were killed in just a month time.
“We were not sure we would make it home to our children late at night. Or whether our kids would get the news ‘there is no more mother’.”
That year, on the 17th of December, the international day to end violence against sex workers, they decided to march against violence against sex workers.
“We wanted people to see us. We weren’t sure if anyone would show up, but over 1500 people came. We showed people who we are. We are women who believe in our bodies, who believe in our jobs. Sex work is work.”
In the past year, KESWA has been completing in-depth research of human rights violations against sex workers in preparation of their plan to take the government to court. Already, KESWA supports sex workers whose rights are violated in the litigation of their cases. The rulings in each case, along with the evidence they have been documenting, will be used to push for the repeal of laws that work to criminalize sex work and thus harm sex workers in Kenya.
Another country with high levels of violence against sex workers where sex workers are taking their government to court is the US (for example in Alaska and California). Just as people were getting on an airplane to join the Money & Movements convening new legislation was passed in US Congress called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). This immediately resulted in the shutting down of websites critical to sex workers for their advertising and safety across the country. By the end of the convening, our social media accounts were flooding with reports from sex workers who lost their main source of income and were left homeless without the ability to pay rent. Levels of violence against sex workers increased immediately.
“And this is not just in the US,” clarified Phelister.
“It’s also happening right here in Kenya. Backpage – a well-known and established adult ads webpage – has also shut down here. Sex workers use that page to find clients and screen clients and stay safe.”
Phelister set the scene for a multitude of conversations and plans during the three-day meeting around funding for feminist movements. And for a feminist future that includes sex workers.
“Sex workers are feminists too. We belong in the feminist movement. My body, my business!”
By Nadia van der Linde
The Red Umbrella Fund received 130 eligible applications from sex worker-led groups and networks during our Global Call for Applications last year. All these applications were reviewed and scored by our 11-member Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) and, after many days of deliberation among the sex worker activists, 26 groups were selected for a new grant. We are thrilled to announce that the total grant amount for all our new grants in 2017 was just over 1 million US dollars!
In fact, since the creation of the Red Umbrella Fund in 2012, we have made 129 core funding grants to 91 different groups and networks for a total amount of just under 4 million US dollars.
In the selection of grantee partners, the Programme Advisory Committee always confirms that the final selection reaches a diversity of groups and networks, including those working at local level, like Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS) in Canada or Asociación de Trabajadoras Sexuales Trans de Quito in the capital of Ecuador, those working more at national level, like All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) in India, Desiree Alliance in the US, and Organización Nacional de Activistas por la Emancipación de la Mujer (ONAEM) in Bolivia, as well as those working at regional level such as RedTraSex in Latin America. As well as a diversity of reach, the PAC ensures that groups that work with women, men and trans sex workers are all included. Some new grantee partners have a more specific focus, such as Ashraya in India that works with sex workers who are living with HIV or Rainbow Mirrors Uganda that focuses on young trans sex workers. Another grantee partner, TAMPEP, was recently transformed into a regional network of migrant sex workers in Europe.
The grantee selection includes some groups that are relatively new (two years old or less), such as the Surinamese Coalition of Sex Workers (SUCOS) in Surinam and the migrant sex worker group Red Edition in Austria. About one in three grants are made to groups that are not formally registered, like Asociación de Mujeres Liquidámbar in El Salvador. Reasons for not being registered can be multiple; sometimes it is a political choice of the group, in other cases the registration process is complex, lengthy, or registration is simply denied to self-organising sex workers. For just over one-third of the grantee partners, like for Strumphet Alliance Network in Fiji, this is the first international grant the group has ever received. Other groups, like Organisasi Perubahan Sosial Indonesia (OPSI) in Indonesia and Parapli Rouz in Mauritius, have more experience with international funds but need the Red Umbrella Fund grant to support their organizational development and human rights advocacy costs that are hard to cover with the restricted project and services-focused funding more commonly accessible to them.
Whereas all grantee partners work in countries where sex work is highly stigmatized and criminalized one way or another, the safety concerns differ greatly per country. In some countries violence against sex workers is extremely high, and some groups have a strong focus on violence prevention and trauma healing services. Many leaders in the movement have shared receiving threats or direct violence related to their public identity as a sex worker. This risk is often further increased when someone also identifies with or demonstrates support to LGBTQ communities. Arbitrary arrests, police abuse and brothel evictions are common among many of our grantee partners. HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Center (HARC) in Bangladesh, for example, has organized strongly around brothel evictions. Numerous groups limit their online presence, and one of our grantee partners remains anonymous in our communications to prevent potential repercussions.
Other groups put in much effort to increase their public visibility. Macedonian sex worker organization STAR-STAR, for example, has organized impressive demonstrations full of red umbrellas and, in December 2017, attracted visibility through their Skopje Red Light District art performance as shown in this video. Also Men Against Aids Youth Group (MAAYGO) in Kenya, Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) in the UK and Unidas en la Esperanza (UNES) in Paraguay have used video as a tool to get their messages out. AMMAR Cordoba in Argentina consistently shows their presence at demonstrations, events, and local festivals and markets.
We are proud to have been able to contribute to getting more and better money to the sex workers’ rights movements, and we thank our institutional and individual donors for their support. But it is also clear that there is a still a significant gap for the movement in accessing the funds needed for their organizing and activism. For two-thirds of the grantee partners, this is their first grant from the Red Umbrella Fund.
“It is exciting to have a fund where we, sex workers, are in the driver’s seat but also very difficult. Each year, we make new grants to sex worker groups in different parts of the world and these groups do such great and important work. But it also means that each year we have to say ‘sorry you were not selected’ to the majority of the groups that apply and this is hard. We know how hard it is because we have that experience too.”
– Tara Burns, International Steering Committee (ISC) of the Red Umbrella Fund
Whereas it is great to be able to support new grantee partners, it also means opportunities for longer-term partnership from the Red Umbrella Fund have not been available for all groups that we would have liked to continue to support.
Next month, the International Steering Committee (ISC) of the Red Umbrella Fund will come together to make new decisions about the Red Umbrella Fund’s strategies and priorities. Follow us on social media to make sure you don’t miss our next call for applications.
By Nadia van der Linde
Coordinator, Red Umbrella Fund
Additional introductions and information about the new grantee partners can be found on the Red Umbrella Fund’s Facebook page.