01 Aug

Artivism: A guerrilla tool for sex worker movements

By Aline Fantinatti

I was 20 when Daspu was created in 2005 by Gabriela Leite, a pioneer of the sex workers movement in Brazil. Daspu is short for “Das Putas”, meaning (designed) by the whores. It is the name of a clothing brand created to raise funds for the sex worker NGO Davida. The name Daspu is also a parody on Daslu (“Dasloo”), a famous luxury department store created by and for socialites from São Paulo, the richest city in Latin America.

Coincidentally, Daspu’s creation was launched just before the rich, elegant and well educated owner of Daslu became the target of a federal investigation against tax evasion crimes. Daspu was thus perceived as a sharp provocation which awarded them much public attention and opportunity to share their political message. Daspu inserted itself into the Brazilian mainstream culture, giving a new meaning to the puta identity by performing fashion catwalks in telenovelas, official fashion weeks, cultural institutions and street events. Sex workers participating in Daspu catwalks recreated themselves as fashion models of their own clothes in a celebratory occupation of the catwalk, a territory that up to then had been reserved to Dasluzettes.

Photo: Daspu Catwalk at Satyrianas theater festival 2016, in São Paulo, Brazil. Credit: Daniela Pinheiro

Reporting on Artivism

During my internship at the Red Umbrella Fund, I analyzed if and how their grantee partners have used artivism in their political and social interventions. I could not help but think back about how I had been influenced as a young woman growing up in Brazil when Daspu reached the mass media. These affective memories helped me to understand the significance of the artivism initiatives described by the 63 Red Umbrella Fund’s grantees whose reports I scrutinized. At least 2 in every 3 sex worker groups reviewed mentioned one or more examples of using artivism in their reports. And this was even higher specifically for national and regional sex worker networks. Using arts in activism is common across all regions, although groups reported it most often in Europe, North America and the Caribbean.

Sex worker activists make use of appealing visual elements such as color and shapes, poetic strategies such as word sounds and repetition, and performance to give strength to the messages. Creative methods such as storytelling and graphic design organize and simplify sex workers’ narrative. By making complex political issues more easily understandable, the targeted audience is finally able to connect and to relate to sex workers. A basic example of how social movements regularly use art to empower their message is the creation of rhythmic political mottos.

Somos lindas, estamos listas, somos puta feministas! We are beautiful, we are ready, we are whore feminists!

Photo: Activists chant during a meeting of Sindicato OTRAS (Sex workers organization in Barcelona). The scene was portrayed in the documentary Crossings: The Stories of Migrant Sex Workers.

Guerrila Tactics

Leila Barreto, former member of the Brazilian Network of Prostitutes and GEMPAC (Women Prostitutes Group of Para State) and researcher of sex workers’ movements in Brazil1, explains that a specific characteristic of the sex workers’ movement is that it is oriented towards a guerrilla fight to occupy new spaces2. Expanding your visibility means to get out of your comfort zone and create and be present in conversations with wider audiences that are distanced from their realities.

Art offers sex worker groups guerrilla tools to achieve political visibility among different audiences. It is also used specifically to fight against the stigma imposed on sex workers, with the understanding that stigma is a collective political problem and not an individual fault. Artivism constitutes a useful strategy for many sex worker groups to establish a dialogue with civil society. As with the case of Daspu, many artivism actions that promote public visibility also target the community itself by introducing or affirming a joint identity as sex workers. To build and maintain strong community engagement in the movement, sex worker organizations are determined to tackle the stigma internalized by sex workers themselves.

Silenced

Argentinian anthropologist Dolores Juliano describes the mechanisms of silencing used to control marginalized groups of women in hierarchical societies. In these societies, recognizing which discourses are legitimate and which ones are not is a tool to grant or to deny access to power.

“The division between good and bad women benefits the stability of the system. Prostitution stigma has nothing to do with what sex worker are or do. It represents a potent element of control for the women who are not in the industry. The model of the selfless wife and mother demands a lot of sacrifice. […] the only way to make sure that women adapt to it is to ensure that the other possibility is worse.” 3

The social panic about what sex workers can unveil about gender and sexual roles is the reason why sex workers are denied the possibility to speak for themselves. Sex workers’ discourse is thus constantly undermined and only validated when it presents them as victims. According to Juliano, the silencing of sex workers is used as a power maintenance strategy4.Sex worker organisations make use of the multiple conventional political dialogue tools: reports, formal advocacy actions, meetings, and field work, but only a narrow audience is able and interested enough to dive into dry policy reports. Sex worker activists therefore try more creative strategies to get their messages across.

Creativity as a Path to Success?

Georgina Orellano, secretary general of AMMAR (Asociación de Mujeres Meretrices de Argentina) in Argentina, disclosed that a street art intervention in 2013 allowed the organization to realize that sex workers activism should take on a creative path. Together with an advertisement team, AMMAR developed an action to call the attention of the public to their mission using short and incisive communication elements. The campaign was based on data from AMMAR’s community based research which revealed that many sex workers in Argentina were single mothers and their family’s main source of income.

AMMAR came up with a street art intervention to get attention for the need to protect these women from exploitation and police violence. Illustrated black and white decals were placed on some of the busiest corners of Buenos Aires. On one side you could see a sex worker, but once you turned around the corner you could see that she carried a baby stroller or two kids by her hand. The message: “86% of sex workers are mothers – we need a law that regulates sex work”. AMMAR’s name and mission were clearly communicated. The murals went viral on social media platforms and received extensive local and international media coverage, including in The Guardian

“Street Corner Moms showed AMMAR that creative interventions can generate social consciousness among society in general and that it took the movement away from the sectors AMMAR always intervened, amplifying the message of the workers.”
– Georgina Orellano (interview April 2019)

Photo: Street Corner Moms. Credit: AMMAR

AMMAR has since developed many other creative strategies using documentary and cultural festivals to “occupy spaces” beyond the usual, introducing counter narratives to oppose the stigmatizing discourses on sex work. One such example is their collaboration in 2017 with MAMBA (Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires), where AMMAR hosted guided tours during the exhibition of Argentinian painter Antonio Berni. Berni’s 1970s critical realism depict narratives about the world of sex work embodied by his muse Ramona Montiel. AMMAR’s members organized a tour covering different topics such as the street and stigma.

“A lot of the images settled by art history is present in sex workers narratives until today. For instance, people still think that we are always wearing high heels and fishnets. We were there to intervene in this narrative.”
– Georgina Orellano (interview April 2019)

Mock Arrests and Condom Seizures

Empower, a longstanding sex worker organization in Thailand, develops street performances through its Honey Bee Troupe to create awareness among the local public on sex workers’ issues. They pressure policy makers through media exposure and direct interactions with relevant stakeholders. By using basic props and costumes that are understood across cultures and languages, the group gets their message across in diverse locations.

The organization further developed their format to directly respond and to influence political decision makers during conferences. At the AIDS Conference in 2018, in order to protest against the “condom as evidence” policies used in many countries, the group dressed as police officers and performed mock arrests of delegates to get them to sign a ‘subpoena’ demanding end to the use of condoms as evidence and to decriminalize sex work. Approaching ‘suspects’ with typical verbal and gesture commands, the police characters seized over 1,000 condoms and attracted much attention.

Photo: Honey Bee Troupe during AIDS Conference 2018. Credit: English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP)

Establishing a puta conversation

As I grew up in a conservative suburban town around São Paulo, Daspu was my first point of contact with the sex workers’ movement in Brazil. Sex workers’ artivism sparkled in me a reflection on gender roles long before I came across feminism. The sex worker movement needs guerrilla tactics to occupy new spaces, as this struggle is not won with conventional strategies. Artistic elements in activism contribute to empathy and call attention to different and often larger audiences. Art has allowed sex worker activists to create opportunities to build support, influence opinions, and to challenge longtime encroached ideas.

What if I would never have seen sex workers perform on a Daspu catwalk?

…Perhaps I would still have become a sex worker ally, but there would certainly be fewer chances for sex workers’ political messages to be seen and heard without such artivism.

 

***

Aline volunteered as a research student at the Red Umbrella Fund while completing her masters degree in Gender Studies at the Utrecht University. She also a BA in International Relations from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo. After working for 10 years in the corporate sector, she started to investigate and to write about sexual rights related issues. During her work at the Red Umbrella Fund, Aline investigated how sex workers use art to create and to sustain a wider debate about labour, exploitation, agency, class and gender roles.

***

With special thanks for the generous interviews offered by Georgina Orellano, Secretary-General at AMMAR in Argentina, Liz Hilton from Empower Thailand and Leila Barreto, former member of GEMPAC (a sex worker group from the State of Para) and the Brazilian Network of Prostitutes.

***

Footnotes:

1 Barreto also likes to point out her identity as a Filha da Puta, daughter of a whore. Barreto is the daughter of Lourdes Barreto, one of the founders of the sex workers movement in Brazil. Leila Barreto also created the annual cultural political event Puta Dei which takes place in various cities of Brazil since 2012. It is organised along with the International Sex Workers’ Day, celebrated by the global sex worker community every 2nd of June.

2 Barreto, L. (2016). Prostituição: a história recontada: transas sociais e institucionais em Belém (Prostitution, a retold story: social and institutional intercourses in Belém)(Specialization in Education in Human Rights and Diversity). Universidade Federal do Pará.

3 Juliano, D. (2002). La prostitución: el espejo oscuro. Barcelona: Icaria.

4 Juliano, D. (2017). Tomar la palabra: mujeres, discursos y silencios (To take over the word: women, discourses and silences). Barcelona: Edicions Bellaterra.

19 Jun

Red Umbrella Fund is looking for new PAC members to join us in Amsterdam!

** This process is closed for 2018 – new opportunities are expected in 2020 **
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?

PAC Self Nomination form 2019

27 May

“We are Human Before Anything Else” – Sex Worker Organising in Mauritius

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.

Public campaign from Parapli Rouz – “I have the same rights as you”

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.

On the sign “Despite violence and discrimination, we are still standing strong”

 

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.

On the sign : “’We are human before anything else.Thank you Parapli Rouz”

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.”

Public campaign sign from Parapli Rouz Coordinator Sophie that says: “Stop hypocrisy”

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).

On the sign: “We have the right to take care of our health”

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.

08 May

Time to Turn Up the Volume

by Nadia van der Linde

Please cite this article as: N van der Linde, ‘Time to Turn Up the Volume’, Anti-Trafficking ReviewAnti-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?

Why the Need for Donor Support?

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.[1]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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] In 2013, foundations invested a meagre USD 11 million in grants to support sex worker rights worldwide.[5] 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.[6] 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.

Changing Perspective

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.

Self-organising for Labour Rights

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.[10] 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:

We are fighting for our rights, for our labour rights, for better working conditions. Sex workers and clients, for the most part, are against trafficking and exploitation. Sex workers support trafficked people, and we protect them from the police.

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.[11] 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.[12]

Conclusion

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: nadia@redumbrellafund.org.

Notes:

[1]      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.

[2]      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.

[3]      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.

[4]      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.

[5]      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.

[6]      Ibid.

[7]      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.

[8]      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.

[9]      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.

[10]     See, for example, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Sex Workers Organising for Change: Self-representation, community mobilization, and working conditions, GAATW, Bangkok, 2018.

[11]     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.

[12]     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.

21 Dec

Join the ISC

** Sorry – now closed **
The Red Umbrella Fund is looking for committed sex worker rights activists to join our International Steering Committee (ISC)!

  •  Are you a sex worker and an experienced activist interested in supporting the sex workers’ rights movements at a global level?
  • Do you agree with the need to respect sex work as work and ensure that sex workers everywhere can organize themselves to claim their human rights?

We have 3 positions open for new ISC members from:

  • any Spanish speaking countries in Latin America or the Caribbean;
  • any Francophone and Lusophone countries in Africa;
  • any country in South Asia.

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):

  1. Sets the grantmaking criteria and priorities, selects the Program Advisory Committee (PAC) members, and approves the new. (Grantmaking)
  2. Recruits, supervises and supports the Fund Coordinator, and approves policies and procedures related to strategic and key programmatic decisions. (Management)
  3. Reviews and approves the Red Umbrella Fund annual plan and budget. (Planning)
  4. Ensures that the Red Umbrella Fund’s communications are consistent with the agendas of key global and regional networks of sex workers and the fund’s own vision and mission. (Communication)
  5. Supports communication, cross-learning, and capacity building. (Learning and sharing)

What we are looking for:

  • Sex workers’ rights activist, who identify as (current or former) sex workers and are part of a sex worker-led organisation.
  • Sex workers’ rights activists based in South Asia, Latin America (Spanish speaking countries) or Africa (French and Lusophone countries). Note that the other (sub-)regions already have representation on the ISC at the moment.
  • Able to communicate well (read, write and speak!) in English, Spanish, French or Russian. We especially encourage English speaking activists to nominate themselves.
  • Someone with regular e-mail access and availability to attend ISC meetings (by phone, WhatsApp or Skype) and at least one international meeting per year.
  • Someone able to volunteer several hours per week for ISC discussions and responsibilities at different times of the year.
  • Candidates must be interested and available to commit to actively participate in the ISC for at least three years. Membership can be renewed once for another three years.

Read the Call for Nominations to join the ISC with more information!

The Self-Nominations Forms as we are not accepting nomination anymore.

More information:

  • Applications were accepted in English, Spanish and French.
  • Who are the current ISC members?
  • Learn about the history of the Red Umbrella Fund
22 Jun

Call for Applications Open

Sorry – the Red Umbrella Fund’s 2018 Global Call for Applications is now closed!

  • Is your group, organisation or network led by sex workers?
  • Do you agree that sex work should be recognised as work?
  • Do you contribute to building and strengthening the sex workers’ rights movement(s)?

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.

Apply for a grant here next year![credit images: Atelier Victoria Catalina]

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!

08 Jun

STAR: From the Las Vegas of Macedonia to a pop up red light window

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.”

Expanding

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.

Condoms

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.

(МАКФАКС ВО ЖИВО) Шест сексуални работнички преку излози нудат услуги на булевар во Скопје

Think twice

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

 

 

 

01 Jun

Come Join the PAC

CALL FOR NOMINATIONS

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.

Application form here.

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:

  • Latin America;
  • Asia or the Pacific;
  • Europe or Central Asia; or
  • Anywhere – but with a global (or at least international) understanding of the movement.

Minimum requirements:

  • Language: able to read and discuss funding proposals in English.
  • Availability: able to commit 5-10 hours each week between 15 August and 3 October 2018 to review applications and to participate in the PAC meeting in Amsterdam (7 – 10 October 2018). Travel and meeting costs will be covered.
  • Affiliation: be part of and/or endorsed by at least one sex worker-led group or network.
  • Internet: regular email and some Skype contact.

What else you need to know:

  • If your group plans to send in an application to the Red Umbrella Fund, you can also be on the PAC. But we will make sure that you will of course not  score your own application!
  • PAC membership is voluntary, unpaid and requires a high level of commitment.
  • PAC members must be able to read about 5 proposals each week during the review period (15 August – 3 October).
  • Positions for allies are limited on the PAC and relevant sex worker candidates will be prioritized.

But also:

  • The PAC is an exciting and meaningful opportunity to contribute to the 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 own fundraising and activism.

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

18 May

Sex Workers are Feminists Too

“Today I want to talk about sex workers.”

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.

Money & Movements

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.

Nothing about us without us

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?”

Transformational Stories

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