29 Sep

Master Thesis – Roles of Regional Sex Worker Networks

The 6 Roles of Regional Sex Worker Networks

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

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

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

Together means stronger

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

Sex Workers’ rights organising

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

The regional networks

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

The 6 roles

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


1. Convening power

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


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

 

2. Setting the agenda

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

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

3. Platform for sharing & learning

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

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

4. Supporting and engaging in advocacy

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


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

5. Capacity building

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


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

6. Amplifying sex worker voices

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


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

Funding regional networks

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


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

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


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


Illustrations by Hester Scholma

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

14 Sep

Red Umbrella Fund 2020-2025 Strategic Plan

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

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

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

Strategic Plan 2020-2025

 

30 Jul

Red Umbrella Fund Welcomes a New Coordinator

30 July 2020

Dear Community Members, Partners and Allies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Solidarity,

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

 

31 Mar

Sex-workers’ resilience to the COVID crisis: a list of initiatives

Navigate per regions of the world:

GLOBAL

[interactive map access]

NSWP, the global network, launched a COVID-19 impact survey on the sex worker community!

They now have published a similar list on response of their members to the crisis.

LATIN AMERICA

AMMAR Argentina has established a national collection to establish an emergency fund for sex workers and is sharing their banking information for direct deposits. AMMAR now also accept international donations on this paypal account  

In Brasil the Observatório da Prostituição  is editing a list of national  initiatives taken by sex-workers, the list is dynamic and regulary updated on facebook! Here are the initiatives listed for now, copied from their post (07/04/2020): 

GEMPAC (Group of Women Prostitutes in the State of Pará): GEMPAC registered women in the downtown area of Belem to receive food baskets and is working together with public officials to guarantee that the support promised by the State makes it to sex workers. A virtual channel was also opened up to facilitate communication with sex workers about Covid-19 along with a food drive for sex workers and their family. Soon more information will be available about a campaign to raise money for these efforts.
Contact: https://www.facebook.com/gempacpa/

Aprosmig (Association of Sex Workers in Minas Gerais): Organized a campaign for donations of money, food, cleaning products and personal hygiene for sex workers and the homeless. Working with local officials and hotel owners in the Guaicurus red light district to guarantee sex workers unable to return to their homes have a place to live and food while the hotels are closed.
Campaign: https://bit.ly/346NOE8

Coletivo Clã das Lobas (Wolf Pack Collective): Working in partnership with the Coletivo Rebu for women without any support from the hotels in the Guaicurus red light district and surrounding areas. Organized an online campaign to buy food, cleaning and personal hygiene supplies.
Online Campaign: “Juntas Somos Mais Fortes” (Together we’re stronger): http://vaka.me/948763…

CIPMAC (Center of Information, Mobilization and Prevention for Sex Workers in Campina Grande) : Created a virtual campaign and channel of information about COVID-19 on WhatsApp with information about health, care, work and rights. The organization is also registering women to receive food baskets, cleaning and personal hygiene materials and accepting donations of food and fundraising.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/cipmac.milene.7
Donations:
Banco do Brasil
Agencia: 1634-9
Conta corrente: 16.205-1

APROS-PB (Sex Worker Associaton of Paraiba): Through negotiations with local public officials, the organization has been able to guarantee food baskets and personal hygiene kits for sex workers in the João Pessoa metropolitan area.
Contact:  +55 83 98872-0955

AMPSAP: (Amapá Association of Women Sex Workers) Through negotiations with local public officials, the organization has registered sex workers to be able to receive food baskets during this period of social isolation.
Tel: +55 96 9912-5653 WhatsApp +55 96 9185-4629

APRORN (Sex Worker Associaton of Rio Grande do Norte): Busy organizing donations and working with local officials to guarantee food baskets for sex workers. A virtual communication network was also created to facilitate communication with sex workers about COVID-19 and provide support during this period of social isolation.
Contact:
Diana Soares +55 84 98806-5395, +55 84 3033-1651

APPS (Sex Worker Associaton of Pernambucco): Mobilizing through social networks with their members and advocating for support from the Secretariat for Women in the state of Pernambucco.
Contact:
Vania Rezende +55 81 8345-6766

APROSMA (Maranhão State Sex Workers Association) Almost all of the brothels and bars have been closed in São Luis and APROSMA is working with the Secretariat of Human Rights to guarantee food baskets to sex workers and other needy populations downtown. Soon more information will be available about an online campaign to receive financial donations.
Contact:
Maria de Jesus Almeida Costa +55 98 8419-0077

Mulheres da Luz (Women of the Light): Organized a campaign for women reached by the NGO in the Luz Park, a prostitution area in downtown São Paulo (closed due to the pandemic), and its surrounding areas. As part of the campaign, the NGO is accepting donations of money and food products (like food baskets) and hygiene (soap, toothpaste, and alcohol in gel).
More information: www.mulheresdaluz.com.br
Campaign: https://www.facebook.com/mulheresdaluz/?ti=as
Instagram: @ongmulheresdaluz

 

Fundation Margen in Chili has a fund raising initiative in Santiago, they are receiving food and donations in this address : Portugal 623 of 11, Santiago, Chile . Their Instagram @somos.margen.

Red Comunitaria Trans in Colombia has set up a relief found for trans women sex workers in Bogota.

Sindicato de Trabajadorxs Sexuales de Quito has set up a fund on gofundme to support sex workers as well as to outline the effects of governmental responses to COVID-19 on the sex-worker community.

OTRANS Guatemala has called for support and donation in order to support trans sex worker, especially the elderly, in their access to first necessities.

AMETS Mexico is facing the COVID-19 crisis by raising donations (money or food) on Twitter.

 
Mexico-La Brigada Callejera is seeking donations to support their campaign to demand support and supplies from the government of Mexico.

 

The sex worker-led group “Sarita Colonia” in Peru is asking for donations in  order to deliver primary necessity goods to sex workers in need.

Miluska Vida y Dignidad from Peru is collecting funds to distribute among those mothers who cannot access the Social Bonus from the State.

 

In Salvador, Plaperts and Mujeres Liquidambar are calling for donations and organise food distribution.

AFRICA

Shwahili version_Poster_Sensitization_SW_COVID-19_DRCMars2020

The African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA) has issued sheets with safety tips for sex workers in time of COVID-19.

KESWA emergency fund.

KESWA also launched a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on Sex Workers.

Click on the image  to access KESWA’s visuals on COVID-19:

A coalition of sex-workers led group in the Republic Democratic of Congo (HODSASUMANDE and ACODHU-TS) has published an advocacy and sensibilization document available in three languages (French, Swahili and English). They also published a report on the stigmatization of Sex Workers during COVID-19. Eng_Report SW situation COVID-19_Mars2020

solidarity fund has been created in South Africa by the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce and Sisonke (National Movement of Sex Workers in South Africa). It is especially drafted for allies to support sex-worker directly.

 

ASIA PACIFIC

NNSW

Scarlett Alliance in Australia has worked with a national coalition of sex workers to form this fund for sex workers in all Australian territories. The link includes a tool to submit a request for assistance.

In Bangladesh, HARC has been reporting about the situation of sex workers during COVID-19.

All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) is calling for support in order to provide sex workers with food, house rents, milk for Children, medicine etc.

Please use the below given account for Donation and share this widely. Donors are eligible for exemption under IT Act.

All India Network of Sex Workers
Account No- 6577000100043599
Punjab National Bank
IFSC Code: PUNB0657700
Branch: Kirari, Suleman Nagar, Delhi
Branch Code: 6577
MICR Code: 110024285

Durbar Mahila in India is supporting sex-workers from the red light districts in Kolkata with food and essential commodities. For that purpose, they are asking for financial support from individuals, organisations and public administrations. You can find their banking details here (website) and here (facebook).

The National Network of Sex Workers of India (NNSW India) set up a fund to provide sex workers and their family food kits (equating one month for one person). They also stress the particular invisibility of sex workers in times of COVID-19, neglected by popular opinion and official help from the state.

Help support monthly packages for 500 homes of sex workers and trans people in Karnataka India for April and May 2020Sangama is a non government organization working for the rights of the working class, non English speaking gender and sexual minorities, sex workers and people living with HIV since 1999.

Sangram Sanstha, sex worker group in Sangli, Miraj, Karad, Satara, Ichalkaranji and Kolhapur is ending the first phase of its emergency fund. 689 sex workers were identified as most vulnerable and will receive a food packet. In total, that represents 3445 kilos of rice, 3445 kilos of wheat flour, 1378 kilos of daal, 1378 litres of oil, spices and tea.

 

SWASH, a sex worker group based in Japan has been very active toward the access to public support for sex wokrers in Japan. They published on their Twitter account a CNN article mentionning their fight.

Project X in Singapore is also offering support to sex workers through live videos on Facebook to respond to sex worker questions & they are handing out vouchers to sex workers in need. They also published a covid postser on how to deal with stress on this facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/theprojectxsg/  Finally  they also set up  a mutual aid action to bring groceries to the community.

Empower Thailand has been very reactive on social networks, reporting the effect of COVID-19 on the community and demanding emergency support from the governement. Here you can find their press release in English.

EUROPE

ICRSE Guide

The European Network, the ICRSE, regularly update a list of emergency funds set up by sex-workers in Europe to face the COVID-19 crisis.

 

SWAN, the sex worker-led regional network in Central and Eastern Europe and Central,  has drafted an advocacy document with demands of sex-workers to governements to act in reaction of COVID-19. Available in English and Russian.

 

Red Edition has set up a 24-hour hotline for sex workers in Austria. They primarily focus on support migrant sex workers during this time of social isolation. Please donate via their GoFundMe page.

UTSOPI, the Belgium national sex-worker led organisation, has set up a mutual aid fund. They also organises a weekly Corona TV session, specifically for sex workers, where they have someone talk about a topic of interest for sex workers (in Dutch) : https://www.facebook.com/groups/utsopicoronagazette

ACCEPTESS-T in France is providing financial support for trans* sex workers in their region.

In Lyon, the communautary sex worker association Cabiria has launched a call for donations.

In Toulouse and surrunding, the sex worker association Grisélidis is raising fund for distribution to sex workers.

In France, the Syndicat du Travail Sexuel (STRASS) gathered useful information on their website regarding prevention, harm reduction, access to medical treatment and care as well as current actions and hotlines held by community associations in these times of crisis. They started a fundraiser to provide emergency help for sex workers who most need it. Finally, due to a successful media campaign, 18 deputies challenged Marlène Schiapa (from the state’s secretary in charge of equality between Men and Women) to open a state runned emergency fund for sex-workers.

Berufsverband Erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen e.V (BesD), Germany has posted a guide in German and English on their website. Please consider donating through their emergency fund to support their work in Germany and beyond.

Red Umbrella Athens, Positive Voice, and the Athens sex workers have created an emergency fund for supporting food and basic necessities, but also to cover basic living expenses like rent, electricity, etc.

 

The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, the only front-line sex worker led organisation in Ireland, has established a hardship fund to support local sex workers.

In Italy, a coalition of organisations (including the main sex workers and trans led organisations of Italy) started a national emergency fund.

STAR-The First Sex Workers Collective in the Balkans, in Macedonia, called for a solidarity campaign, stressing the effect of COVID-19 and governmental policies on sex-workers and their families. They published a list of donations platform provided by their partners, mainly sex-workers led organisations.

Sex Work Expertise in the Netherlands has provided this link with information about the financial and legal side of the income support for sex workers (self-employed / ZZP’ers, opting-inners and migrants).

Dutch Emergency Fund in the Netherlands has established an emergency fund. Dutch Emergency Fund is focusing on colleagues with immediate needs, that do not have access to services/ compensation that are accessible to independent workers and brothel workers.

 

PION, Sex Workers Interest Organisation in Norway has unlock some emergency resources to support sex workers in difficulty. You can find their contact to access this resources on their website.


Sex workers in Spain (Coalición Estatal De Trabajadoras Sexuales including AFEMTRAS, Colectivo de Prostitutas de Sevilla, Putas Indignados, Putas Libertarias del Raval, (N)O.M.A.D.A.S, Sección Sindical de Trabajadoras Sexuales de la IAC, Sindicato OTRAS, and Aprosex) have collaborated to establish an emergency fund to help fellow colleagues during this time of crisis. You can help them and donate by following this link.

In Sweden, Fuckförbundet has provided their banking details to support sex workers. Please mark your payment “COVID 19”.

The English Collective of Prostitutes organises a collective action to address sex workers demands directly to MPs. Here is how you can write your MP, demanding for support and not criminalization during the COVID-19 crisis.

Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) has launched a hardship fund (13 March to 20 March) to support sex workers in the UK.

Umbrella Lane is providing support for active sex workers in Scotland through an emergency fund. Update:  The fund reached 10,291£!

NORTH-AMERICA

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In Vancouver, PACE opened a sex-worker led fund providing up to 100-200 USD to sex-workers who self-identified with one marginalized community

Butterfly and Maggies, also based in Toronto, have jointly drafted a community guide for Sex Workers on good practices toward COVID-19. Some information are especially Toronto-based, but most information can be useful to any english-speaking sex-worker, client, third party or ally.

Showing Up for Racial Justice – Toronto has assembled some resources in a single document including strategies and funds for collective care.

In Montreal there is a Mtl Rapid Response initiative for precarious sex workers.

COYOTE-RI has collected a list of resources including information about reproductive health, working online under FOSTA/SESTA, and other materials to support sex workers

The Green Light Project is running a fundraiser to support Seattle sex workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Healing Justice Podcast hosted a roundtable on COVID-19 to talk harm reduction and community support.

Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective & Fund is accepting donations through their website and distributes emergency funds for sex workers. They have also compiled a list of mutual aid resources.

Tits and Sass encourages you  to ask for a relief found! It also links to several resources for USA-based sex workers.

Sex Worker Emergency Endowment of Tucson (SWEET) provides micro grants to sex workers in Tucson and Pima County.

California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance has also shared a resource for undocumented people. It includes some resources that may be relevant for migrant sex workers in California.

Colorado Entertainer Coalition (CEC) is requesting donations for their community of sex workers.

The  Pink Bloc Project, gives micro-grants of $ 100 for sex workers.

SWOP-Boston is offering micro-grants of $50-100 to sex workers who live and/or work in Massachusetts. We are currently prioritizing funding for sex workers affected by racist, queerphobic, and transphobic violence; those who are unhoused; and those who have disabilities or who are immuno-compromised. However, we encourage all sex workers in need of assistance in the area to apply. We will make decisions on a rolling basis every two weeks based on need as well as the order of applications.

Whose Corner Is It Anyway is a Western Massachusetts mutual aid group for street based/low income/housing insecure/drug user community of sex workers. Their gofundme is updated every 2 weeks with current information about their community’s needs. The most recent post details how they are changing their meetings to meet the needs of their members.

The Network of Sex Workers to Excite Revolution Detroit (ANSWER-Detroit) and Radical Care (RADCare) launched the Detroit Sex Worker Mutual Aid Fund to support sex-workers based in Michigan or hustling in Michigan-centric. 

Las Vegas sex workers, now faced with the shutdown of the entire strip and all hotel/casinos, has started this gofundme.

The Black Sex Worker Collective (BSWC) is a New York City project working to provide support for black sex workers in the area. There are a number of ways to provide support available on their website.

In New York, Colectivo Cultural Trangrediendo is a joint initiative from LGBT Center Intercultural Collective Inc and Lorena Borjas Community Fund for trangender folx experiencing intensified precarious and poverty situations.

Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Brooklyn is also running an Emergency COVID Relief crowdfund for New York based sex workers who have been impacted by COVID-19.

Portland sex workers have established a PDX Sex Worker Covid-19 Relief Fund.

Sex Workers Outreach Project in Austin Texas (SWOP ATX) has established a emergency reli-wef fund.

The Philly Red Umbrella Alliance officially launched the Philly Area Sex Workers relief Fund. It is a long term initiative to support the community before, during and after pandmics. It targets those who are routinely barred from institutional access. There is 3 ways to support them:

Flyer by: pennysmasher (IG)
 

No Justice No Pride (NJNP) are looking for support through  Patreon.

18 Mar

Solidarity Message from Red Umbrella Fund Secretariat

Solidarity is not an act of charity, but mutual aid between forces fighting for the same objective. – Samora Machel

In the last few days and weeks and months, the Coronavirus/COVID-19 has spread across the globe and transformed the world. Plans for the year have evaporated and the failures and weaknesses of the various governments and infrastructures have been laid bare.

As ever, the communities of sex workers are situated at the crosshairs, experiencing this new catastrophe in all its multiplicities. Headlines are highlighting the same issues that our grantee-partners and applicants and allies articulate: human rights violations in all its forms including insecure housing, income disparity, food scarcity, unequal access to healthcare and other public services, and violence.

As ever, the communities of sex workers are acting with resiliency and agility. Every hour, our social media platforms are filled with new mutual aid funds, 24-hour hotlines, sex worker guides, and other tools and resources. The sex worker movement is acting in solidarity across contexts in various ways, typical of its strategy historically.

We have a list of emergency funders on our website that may be able to provide some additional funding. We are also reaching out to other funders to create more opportunities for sex worker groups to get emergency support. We hope to have more news on this soon!

In the meantime, we are seeing the sex worker community collaborating and creating ways for all of us to provide mutual aid, which we will share on our website and social media on an ongoing basis. If you know of any that are not included here, please share them with us, on our Facebook page or via info@redumbrellafund.org

In solidarity,

Red Umbrella Fund Secretariat

 

25 Feb

New Grantees

The Red Umbrella Fund made 30 new grants in 2019! This is more grants than we ever made before in one year. We welcomed 19 new grantee partners and continue to supporting 21 other sex worker-led groups and networks that we have funded before.  You can view the complete list of grants here: https://www.redumbrellafund.org/grantees/

All new grants were selected by our Program Advisory Committee (PAC), which reviewed over 100 applications eligible applications from across the world. The PAC is comprised of eleven sex worker rights activists from different geographic regions and is at least 80% current/former sex workers. For three months they volunteered countless hours to review applications and select the final grantee-partners.

We  thank our 2019 PAC for their expertise and efforts to ensure Red Umbrella Fund is self-determined by the global sex worker community. They had to make extremely difficult decisions as the funds available were in no way sufficient to match the needs of the applications received.

At the moment the International Steering Committee (ISC) is meeting to reflect on the 2019 developments and achievements, and determine the new strategic plan and set the new priorities for the coming year.

16 Dec

An injury to one is an injury to all

by Nathan Desvignes

Sex workers in Europe have been facing grave attacks on their rights in recent years. Although sex workers’ organisations are under-resourced, they are fighting back fiercely and have had some notable achievements in getting others to finally care and join in. Slowly but steadily, more people are starting to realize that the denial of human rights to sex workers, will ultimately affect us all. Or as the old labour slogan goes: an injury to one is an injury to all.

The Swedish Model Expansion: A Backlash against Social Justice

In February 2014, the European Parliament voted in favor of a recommendation to criminalise sex workers’ clients, also known as the Swedish or Nordic model. This recommendation was put forward in a resolution by a Member of European Parliament (MEP) called Honeyball and it was strongly pushed for by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL). At that time I was studying about the sex workers’ movement at my university, but I did not speak up about this.

Report by Fuckförbundet, 2019

The Swedish model is based on the paradoxical idea of ‘helping’ sex-workers by criminalizing their clients and third parties (a category which includes managers but also drivers or bookkeepers). Even if these intentions to protect women who they see as victims are genuine, the model has proven to be harmful and has increased stigma and violence against women and trans people in Sweden, France and Ireland. The Swedish model does not result in a reduction of poverty, stigma and repression of women sex workers. Quite the opposite, it makes their work more difficult and more dangerous. It encourages the controlling of female migration and has resulted in deportations of women. And to sustain its legitimacy, defendants of the model conveniently ignore and disqualify the dissident voices of sex workers. This happened in Sweden, and this happened at European level.

Sex Workers’ Dissent

But the sex workers’ movement did not sit quietly. ICRSE, one of the regional sex workers’ networks in Europe, published a letter opposing the Honeyball resolution that was signed by 560 organizations. They also facilitated an academic critique endorsed by 94 academics that uncovers the bias of the resolution and its claims. And five years later, sex workers continue their protest. In September 2019, at the occasion of the 20 years jubilee of the ‘Swedish model’, activists and researchers gathered in Sweden to discuss the consequences of the model.

I spoke to Luca Stevenson about that period, when he had just joined the ICRSE as the Coordinator:

“The position taken by the European Parliament was, unfortunately, not really surprising. The shocking part was that it was the Parliament, a democratic institution, that made this report. The quality of the report is the proof that statistics can be used for anything, including denying one’s rights. The whole report is based on stigma and discrimination, not on sex workers’ demands or even scientific evidence.”

Demonstration for sex workers rights in Sweden, September 2019. Photo credit: Fuckförbundet.

Attacks on Marginalized Groups

By purposefully conflating every form of sex work with trafficking, the Honeyball resolution denies sex workers the capacity to organize and the possibility to use their own body and social skills to earn an income. According to Stevenson, this is just one illustration of a bigger trend that is happening everywhere:

“Such attacks against the most stigmatised and marginalised groups are all part of a repressive wave of populism. For us, the importance now is to develop an intersectional movement for social justice across the region and across the globe.”

Building Bridges Between Communities

Building alliances with other communities became a priority for ICRSE, both as a strategy and as an end in itself. As Stevenson clarifies:

“We wanted to make it understood that sex workers are also part of other discriminated and criminalized communities – such as LGBTI and migrants – and are often the most marginalized within them. Our aim was to mainstream the sex worker question at both grassroots and European levels.”

For instance, local migrant organizations should be able to provide support for the sex workers within their communities. And vice versa. As Stevenson explains:

“We purposefully became members of different networks. It was very important for us that the sex worker organizations would learn from others and become more intersectional as well, and to address issues of transphobia and racism in our own sex worker rights organizing.”

By making the voices of its members more visible partly though the publication of a series of intersectional resources in their diverse communities, ICRSE intended, step by step, to bring a broad range of allies to the table. As shared by Stevenson:

ICRSE building a network of allies in Brussels, September 2019. Photo credit: Nathan Desvignes

“As these networks are based on the democratic representation of their members, they should therefore recognize that sex workers are present in every sphere of society. So that sex workers’ rights are, in fact, migrants’, LGBTI, and labour rights.”

Success

And the strategy is showing success. In 2016, Transgender Europe (TGEU) spoke out in support of decriminalisation of sex work, followed by ILGA Europe in 2018 and ILGA World in 2019. More recently also PICUM integrated the decriminalisation of sex work as one of the approaches to support and empower their communities. Other organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) and Doctors of the World (MdM) have also demonstrated awareness that sex workers’ rights are not separate from their own organisational human rights or health focus and that this needs to be incorporated into their work. ICRSE has also been reaching out to women’s organisations, homeless people’s organisations, and sexual and reproductive rights advocates, among others.

What Funders Need to Learn

I then spoke with Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator at the Red Umbrella Fund, about funders’ response to the attacks on sex workers’ rights and the limited funding available for sex worker organising. She agreed there is much that funders can learn from the sex workers’ rights movements:

“The way that ICRSE has been successful at strategically building alliances across movements and communities, including among LGBTI communities, undocumented migrants, feminists, human rights activists and others, is something that I see too little of in funder spaces.”

Not having a portfolio or policy on sex work does not mean sex workers are not already included or affected by a funder’s grantmaking. Communities do not fit neatly into funder-defined boxes. As Van der Linde shared:

“When I ask funders whether they support sex workers’ rights, many funders tell me they ‘do not have a portfolio on sex work’ and therefore cannot fund sex worker groups. While they do have a portfolio on women, LGBTI, health, or HIV! They have still not made the connection or are not willing to acknowledge the overlap, intersections, or implications.”

Demonstration for sex workers’ rights in Sweden, 2019. Photo: Fuckförbundet.

Legislation passed in the name of ‘equality’ has been detrimental to the health and rights of those most harmed by inequality, while their – sex workers’ – experiences have been systematically ignored or dismissed. Funders concerned about refugees, civil society, drug users, HIV, human rights, women, gender based violence, and labour rights, among others, should all be reflecting on the extent to which their grants are reaching the most marginalized and stigmatized within those communities. In the current social political climate and economic structure, this usually includes sex workers. Funders should be encouraging bridges to be built between communities and movements.

Final Reflections

It is through my recent work experiences at the ICRSE and the Red Umbrella Fund that the intersections between movements and necessity and urgency for allies to speak out and support sex workers’ rights activism has become clear to me. If we want to be effective in our fight against the reactionary and populist waves here in Europe, we have to acknowledge that the sex workers’ fight for self-determination is right at its heart and will impact us all.

 

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This article was written by Nathan Desvignes. Nathan graduated with a master’s degree in history of political philosophy (a partnership between Sciences Po Lyon and ENS de Lyon) in 2019, specialized in sociology of sex work, history of feminism and history of anarchism. He has a general interest in social sciences: “As a feminist and anarchist activist, the fight for sex workers’ rights always appeared to me as a primary place of intersectionality from which anarchists and feminists have a lot to learn.” While volunteering for ICRSE, the European sex worker network, followed by the Red Umbrella Fund, the only global sex worker-led fund, Nathan wrote his Master’s thesis on the common history of anarchism and sex work activism (in French): “Emma Goldman face au Mann Act de 1910: un regard anarchiste sur la prostitution”

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.