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

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.

 

***
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”

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

 

 

 

12 Jul

No Bad Migrants

The passport you hold determines a lot of your privileges, access and protection. I have always been able to benefit from a blue American passport— never being questioned while traveling, never having much difficulty obtaining a work or study visa abroad. My passport, white skin, and blonde hair provide me the privilege to exist and move through the world relatively freely. But in Eastern Europe, for example, a sex worker’s passport may determine whether she is – even with a legal residence permit – “targeted for rescue, detention and re-socialisation or deportation programs” by the government or NGOs.


Control

Last year I spent five months researching and writing a master’s thesis on human trafficking prevention campaigns and EU, Dutch, and UN human trafficking policies. I focused on migrant sex workers from Eastern Europe in the Netherlands. Much of the literature review included theories on state control of female sexuality, particularly the control of ‘foreign’ women by criminalising migration and victimizing migrant women sex workers.

This research, in addition to volunteering at the Red Umbrella Fund’s office in the Netherlands for the last eight months, has led me to think more about the status and labour conditions of Eastern European migrant workers, particularly sex workers, in the Netherlands. These experiences, including acquiring a Lithuanian passport for myself, have made me realize that our nationality, as well as our gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, and choice of work can greatly impact how we are perceived by the state. Whether we are feared or welcomed, and which rights we get access to.

Migrant Sex Workers in Europe

“There are stereotypes for instance— the hyper-sexualisation of women depending on [her country of origin]. This is also very harsh for us [sex workers], because when we travel from one country to another or go through airports, they assume we are sex workers just because we come from a specific country.”

–Pauline (Whores and Alliances) (link) referring to the abuse and discrimination black migrant sex workers face in Spain.

blog.nika

Red Edition, Austria

Migrant sex workers, depending on where they are from, what they look like, and which passport they hold, are treated differently by law enforcement, border control, and society. Migrant sex workers make up approximately 65% of the sex worker population in Western Europe and about 17% of the sex worker population in Central Europe (link). Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers have been doing sex work as a means to sustain themselves and their families. The International Committee on the Rights of Sex workers in Europe (ICRSE) recently published a policy brief and recommendations on the rights of migrant sex workers. In this brief, ICRSE highlights that the criminalisation of migration and sex work is extremely problematic and dangerous for migrants and migrant sex workers.

“We want migrant sex workers to be seen and understood, to be acknowledged as migrant sex workers.” (link) -Kemal Ordek, Red Umbrella Turkey

Migrant labour

Structural, political, and economic changes in many regions of the world have led to an increase of migrants, particularly women migrants, seeking work in Europe. May this work be in factories or fields, in domestic or sex work, these are women who are working to support themselves and often times, their families. Migrant sex workers need to be included as part of the larger migration patterns and migrant labour movements, rather than how they are often perceived by the public, law enforcement, and media, as victims of human trafficking. The issue that remains is that sex work is not seen as work, but something that someone ‘must have been forced or tricked into’. So if this is the case, how can migrant sex workers, regardless of which passport they have, be seen as autonomous hard working individuals who moved in order to make a living?

TAMPEP, the European Network for HIV/STI Prevention and Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers, advocates for the human and civil rights of migrant sex workers in Europe. When sex work is criminalised and migration is increasingly controlled, migrants and migrant sex workers are forced even further underground. They can no longer trust the police or government officials, in fear of being arrested, detained, or deported. This is when migrants turn to third parties (i.e., friends, neighbours, family members, acquaintances, travel agents) to assist them in their migration process. This dependency and lack of ability or perceived ability to access justice increases the risk of exploitation.

How to become a trafficker

Unlike the UN’s Palermo Protocol (The UN’s human trafficking article) which clearly states that a human trafficking offense requires a form of coercion or deceit, the Dutch article 273F 1.3 essentially criminalises assisting a migrant in their journey to the Netherlands even without any coercion or deceit. Under this article, taking someone across the border to the Netherlands is enough to be considered human trafficking.

blog.nika2

SWARM, UK

Felicia Anna, a Romanian sex worker and blogger living and working in Amsterdam, discusses this issue in her blog Behind the Red Light District. Felicia Anna uses the following example to illustrate how damaging and infuriating this law is. Someone is driving through Germany heading to the Netherlands, and he or she sees a woman along the road who is looking for a ride to Amsterdam because she wants to work in the Red Light District. She’s alone, no one has deceived her of the work she will do there, or coerced her to go to Amsterdam. The driver agrees, since he or she is already heading to Amsterdam, and why not help a fellow passenger? Once they have crossed the Dutch border together, the driver of the car is a criminal according to Dutch law and the woman is a victim of human trafficking.

It is important to note that this law article only applies to individuals working in the sex industry, even though trafficking and labour exploitation clearly take place in other sectors too. This is one way the Dutch government has problematized migrant sex workers coming to the Netherlands to do sex work. But if the majority of sex workers in Western Europe are migrants, and many of them come from Eastern European countries, why criminalise someone assisting someone else who wants to do sex work in the Netherlands if it is legal for them to do so?

Demands

Based on their own research among migrant sex workers in Europe and Central Asia, ICRSE identifies the following key demands to policy makers:

  • Support the decriminalisation of sex work in order to ensure (undocumented) migrant sex workers’ access to health and justice.
  • Support migrants’ regularisation and an end of deportation of (undocumented) migrant sex workers.
  • Ensure that asylum seekers, refugees and (undocumented) migrants have access to welfare support to economic and employment opportunities.

Sex worker organizing

blog.nika3

SWARM, UK

Last October I was able to observe the Programme Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting of the Red Umbrella Fund as a note taker. Each year, the PAC reviews the grant applications from sex worker groups all over the world and select new grants to be made. In last year’s selection process, the PAC members noted that there seemed to be quite a few new migrant sex worker groups applying for a grant. Migrant sex workers face discrimination on multiple fronts. They face challenges as sex workers and as migrants, and have unique needs to be met. But they are often not included in migrant organisations and not sufficiently included in most sex worker organisations either. This rise in migrant sex worker groups makes me hopeful in that migrant sex workers are increasingly organizing and making their demands heard. To policy makers, as well as the larger sex workers’ rights movements.

 

This blog was written by Nika Norvila, who supported the work of the Red Umbrella Fund as a volunteer for eight months in 2016 and 2017.

17 Dec

SCOT-PEP Reaches Next Milestone

… On Road to End Violence Against Sex Workers

For the first time in the history of the sixteen-year-old Scottish Parliament, a bill  developed in conjunction with sex worker led organisations is being discussed. On November 10, 2015, eight panellists, three Members of the Scottish Parliament and over fifty other interested activists, constituents, and community members gathered at the Scottish Parliament for a public meeting on the Proposed Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Read More

04 Mar

Turkish Trans-Sex Worker makes a case for human rights

On 17 December 2013, the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association in Turkey launched a short video to promote the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

Although it is not illegal, sex work is not considered a legitimate form of employment in Turkey.

This leads to more exploitation of sex workers in every aspect of life. Trans-sex workers are victims of police brutality and social prejudice. Without access to public health care services, they are among the most vulnerable against HIV.

As the Turkish government stays silent, the timing of this video is crucial in terms of increasing public attention before the upcoming national elections in March.

 


This blog by Red Umbrella Fund is crossposted from http://hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/reforming-policy/turkish-trans-sex-worker-makes-a-case-for-human-rights/

06 Dec

Sex workers stand up against Russia’s discriminatory and draconian laws

In May 2013, Russia’s national organization of sex workers, Silver Rose, was denied official registration as a non-government organization (NGO) by Russia’s Ministry of Justice. The Ministry declared that “there is no such profession as sex work,” accusing Silver Rose of violating Article 29 of the country’s constitution. Article 29 prohibits “campaigning and propaganda inciting social, racial, national and or religious hatred and enmity.”

Silver Rose

Silver Rose stand up for the rights of sex workers in Russia

Since Putin has taken up second term as president, human rights organizations are facing ever greater challenges when monitoring and reporting human rights violations across the country. Harsh laws have been adopted, including those that persecute of anyone voicing criticism of the regime. In fact, anyone who lives a so-called “non-traditional lifestyle,” such as gays, lesbians, transgender, people living with HIV/Aids and drug users, are exposed to discrimination and stigmatization.

In this light, sex workers, who often belong to a variety of extra vulnerable societal subgroups, are forced to live under equally harsh conditions.

In Russia, sex work is criminalized, leaving sex workers without a social or legal status. Meanwhile, stigma and discrimination against sex workers is encouraged by the Orthodox Church which portrays sex workers as a manifestation of society’s moral decay. Sex workers are seen as sinners and home wreckers, unworthy of raising children. While the widespread HIV/Aids problem in Russia is widely seen as a ‘foreign complot’ and quality treatment is generally absent, sex workers are having an even harder time to guard their health and access affordable medication. Moreover, Russia’s sex workers are extremely mobile and not always in possession of the right documents, thus increasing their vulnerability to harassment from the state and non-state agents.

“We want to pull sex workers out of the grip of violence, social discrimination and corruption,” Irina Maslova of Silver Rose remarked.

By July, Silver Rose’s leader and a former sex worker herself, Maslova sent a complaint to the St. Petersburg district court, reporting a violation of her civil rights and freedoms and requesting the court to dismiss the Ministry’s decision and instead recognize Silver Rose as a legitimate NGO. However, the judge upheld the Ministry’s decision to refuse registration, stating technical inconsistencies in the group’s formal request.

But Silver Rose is not the kind of group to give up. “Official registration will mean that the state acknowledges our existence, that we have same human rights as others, which need protection,” Maslova asserted to the Russian Service of the BBC.

Agora, a human rights association has been assisting Silver Rose to prepare another request for registration, despite the likelihood that this motion will be declined. Nevertheless, Silver Rose’s sex workers are determined to pursue justice at the European Court of Human Rights that is based in Strasbourg.

By Eva Cukier, Red Umbrella Fund


About Silver Rose
Since 2006, civil partnership Silver Rose has fought for the legal recognition of sex workers in Russia. Today, the group has presence in no less than 10 regions, representing the interests of a large part of the estimated 3 million sex workers in the country. Through campaigns, media work and participation in meetings and conferences, the group brings public attention to urgent problems as physical, sexual and economic violence against sex workers in Russia. The group operates a hotline for sex workers and provides legal aid to sex workers in cases of violence and harassment with which sex workers in Russia are confronted on an everyday level. Silver Rose is a grantee of the Red Umbrella Fund.


This is crossposted from http://www.hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/sex-workers-stand-against-russias-discriminatory-and-draconian-laws

24 Oct

Sex Workers stop harmful bill in Scottish Parliament

A young collective of sex workers has successfully opposed the attempts of the Scottish parliament to introduce the Swedish model. Although the Swedish model decriminalizes sex workers, it prohibits the buying of sex and renting of room for the purpose of sex work. The law aims to protect women from violence however it has rendered sex workers more vulnerable to violence, stigma and sexually transmitted infection. In June 2013, parliamentarian Rhoda Grant filed a bill calling for the Swedish model, arguing that sex workers must not regulate themselves.

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But the Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) has consistently lobbied against the proposed measure, bringing with them their own experience on the ground as sex workers and their collective learning as a movement. They emphasize that the Bill conflates sex work and sexual exploitation, and in the process, increases stigma against and denies any agency to sex workers.

As one female sex worker connected to SWOU explains:

“The criminalisation of our clients serves only to make our work more difficult and risky. We as workers are flung into a buyers market, with less ability to negotiate safety and safe meeting with clients – who would be taking a much bigger risk if they were criminalised – on OUR terms. Sex workers who rely on their clients will be forced to let crimes go unreported, lest they harm their income by drawing attention to their other clients. Sex workers under this law would be far more vulnerable and isolated from police in the event of violence”.

She added,

“Lawmakers must listen to us, not speak over our heads. We are the experts on our own lives and to ignore the knowledge we have on issues such as harm reduction and safe working conditions is completely appalling.”

SWOU is a UK-based collective comprised of current and former sex workers that aims to challenge the taboos surrounding sex work, primarily using public events to advocate against prejudice and discrimination. Since its inception in 2009, SWOU has actively created a safe haven where sex workers of all genders and backgrounds can gather, socialize, exchange, learn new skills, build their confidence and self-esteem as workers and develop joint events.

Credit: Jannica Honey

Demonstration against criminalisation of clients of sex workers in Glasgow in 2013. Organised by Sex Worker Open University. Photo credit: Jannica Honey

SWOU organized effective campaigns that made Scottish political parties consider the mounting evidence that highlights the dangers of the Swedish model. Contrary to what promoters of the Swedish model claim, international research has proven the Swedish model to be counterproductive and ineffective in protecting sex workers from exploitation and violence. On the contrary, both sex workers and researchers report an increasingly unsafe environment for sex workers as a result of the criminalisation of clients. Condoms, for instance, are not as accessible to buyers who will be engaged in a supposedly illegal act. Meanwhile, sex workers feel discouraged to report abuses to the police.

“Members of the Sex Worker Open University, in collaboration with SCOT-PEP and the support of many activists, worked tirelessly to create a sex workers’ rights festival in Glasgow in April to give voices to sex workers that would have been directly affected by such a law: loss of income, raids by the police, increased difficulty in screening clients, and increased stigma would have been just a few of the consequences of the criminalization of our clients. We are very proud of what we have achieved and we hope this victory will inspire our comrades to keep fighting such law in other countries,”

shares Luca Stevenson, one of SWOU’s founders.

With pressure from SWOU and other like-minded groups, who have also made substantive interventions, the bill was dropped.

“Achievements like these are pivotal to the struggle of sex workers against policies that purport to protect them but do more harm than good. Groups like the Sex Worker Open University make us understand that sex workers are the ones best placed to judge their position and decide on solutions to their problems,”

Nadia van der Linde, Coordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund points out.

 

Just recently, on 9 October 2013, SWOU sent an open letter, signed by 30 other organizations, calling on the Nottingham Women’s Conference to stop excluding sex workers from the conference, arguing that feminism needs sex workers. The letter provided sharp critiques against the widely held misconception that sex workers are not capable of engaging in a thought-provoking debate. In its response, the Nottingham Women’s Conference apologised and promised to be taking the concerns seriously and to be “continuing to look at the inclusivity of the event”.

Their fierce communication and recent success in policy advocacy makes SWOU a great example of an innovative self-led sex workers’ initiative. Through its communications work and trainings, the group has given a voice to sex workers and makes sure that this voice is heard in decision-making spaces. SWOU’s projects range from organising debates and workshops on sex work in public spaces and universities. It organizes public film festivals portraying the lives and struggles of sex workers around the world and engages in academic research on the effectiveness of national policies on sex work. SWOU is one of the grantees of the Red Umbrella Fund.

By Cherise Balentin and Eva Cukier, Red Umbrella Fund

International Sex Workers’ rights Festival in Glasgow:

In April 2013, SWOU, together with the Scottish sex workers’ collective SCOT-PEP (http://www.scot-pep.org.uk/), organised an international Sex Workers’ Rights Festival in Glasgow. In this five-day event, sex workers from various European and international sex workers’ organisations (such as STRASS from France, Scarlett Alliance from Australia and the NSWP) came together to discuss and share experiences, to show films, documentaries and art exhibitions produced by sex workers, workshops sharing information on the sex workers’ rights movements, and peer learning sessions by and for sex workers. The event was a great success and contributed to public awareness of sex workers’ rights in the UK.