02 Feb

Round Table on Decriminalising Sex Work in Guyana

On February 2, 2014, Miriam Edwards of Guyana Sex Work Coalition, Joel Simpson of Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and Quincy McEwan Guyana Trans United discussed the need to decriminalize sex work in the program Round Table with Janelle Persaud, aired over NCN Chanel 11.

Guyana

Guyana Sex Work Coalition: Decriminalising Sex Work – The Roundtable

Sex work remains illegal in the country, rendering sex workers vulnerable as they are unable to access health care services, including HIV/AIDS services, and other state services since revealing their profession could put them at risk.

Guyana Sex Work Coalition provides peer-to-peer support and training to sex workers of all genders in Guyana and the wider Caribbean region to build their knowledge and confidence to stand up for their rights. The group advocates for the protection of sex workers, beginning with the recognition of their work as work, their protection against police violence and their access to HIV prevention information and services, anti-retroviral drugs and other health services.

As Miriam asserts, “Sex work is work. Sex workers want to be accepted in society as a human being.”

Stigma, discrimination and violence increase the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV/AIDS. While health care is free in Guyana, the attitude of many health providers towards sex workers, gays, and trans persons keep the latter away from availing of existing services. One member of the Coalition was even banned from the main HIV/AIDS clinic and denied access to ARV when he sought medical attention.

Aside from ensuring its visibility in the media, the Guyana Sex Work Coalition partners with existing health facilities including hospitals and trans health providers as a strategy to reduce stigma and discrimination against sex workers. They also equip sex workers with information on HIV and AIDS, correct and consistent use of condom and condom negotiation.

The Guyana Sex Work Coalition is a grantee of the Red Umbrella Fund.

By Nadia van der Linde, Red Umbrella Fund


This is crossposted from http://hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/reducing-cultural-stigma/round-table-on-decriminalising-sex-work-in-guyana/ 

10 Dec

Sex Workers in India Launch a National Campaign to End Violence against Sex Workers

In August 2013, sex workers representatives from thirteen states affiliated with the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) launched a national campaign for the decriminalization of sex work with the ultimate objective to eliminate violence and exploitation of sex workers in the country. The aim is to amend the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and ensure sex workers’ rights as workers.

India - AINSW

AINSW in India launch a national campaign to end violence against sex workers

Sex work as a profession is not recognized in Indian law. As a result, sex workers are not entitled to a range of public services, protection and benefits other workers enjoy. The working conditions in the brothels are poor and soliciting on the streets is not safe. As Smarajit Jana, adviser of AINSW asserts, “sex workers have to be considered as any other laborer.”

The current legal structure in India is composed of “anti-trafficking” laws designed to prevent the exploitation of women in the sex industry. It ignores the existence of male and trans (hijras or kothis) sex workers and considers all sex workers victims of trafficking.

The Karnataka Sex Workers Union (KSWU) has reported that during a police “raid and rescue” operation on Delhi brothels in 2008, twenty four women were classified as traffickers and fifty one sex workers as victims. However, it later became clear that most of these “so-called victims were adult women who chose to do sex work voluntarily.” In addition, the police operation neither improved the conditions in the brothels nor reduced the number of human trafficking cases but rather victimized self-identified sex workers.

The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) has much impact on the lives of sex workers in India but the law is contradictory in itself.

According to the ITPA, sex work performed in the private space is not illegal; yet it is an offense to live off the earnings of a sex worker. Children, siblings or partners of sex workers are prosecuted if they are over 18 years old and financially dependent. The definition of “public space” is so broad that it makes the compliance very difficult. This uncertainty in the ITPA provides a legal framework for police “raid and rescue” operations to arrest sex workers even when sex work is practiced in the private realm.

As AINSW vice president, Patel, points out: “sex workers are not doing anything illegal. Therefore, no one has a right to harass us or our family members because of the nature of our work.”

Violence against sex workers is a constant phenomenon that includes police extortion and torture. Sex workers are arrested, harassed and even raped by the police. Kusum, the general secretary of AINSW: “Police conduct raids and manhandle our children. They insult and beat us and treat us inhumanely and often trump up false charges. Violence by the police is the major problem in our profession and police are the major beneficiary of trafficking in the country.”

In March 2013, they sent a letter to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) sharing their critique of the IPT and their subsequent lobbying with parliamentarians has successfully prevented further harmful amendments of ITPA to be accepted. The Commission on Women Empowerment and Social Justice has since invited AINSW to be involved in developing policy to empower women, including sex workers, in the country.

AINSW is a national network of over eighty sex worker organizations from 13 states of India. It was formally registered in 2010. AINSW demands the recognition of sex work as work, combats police violence and aims to change laws that discriminate against sex workers. AINSW is a grantee of the Red Umbrella Fund.

by Piril Kazanci, Red Umbrella Fund


This is crossposted from http://hivadvocates.net/advocacy-stories/reforming-policy/sex-workers-in-india-launch-a-national-campaign-to-end-violence-against-sex-workers

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.

17 Oct

Sex workers defend UN recommendations

In 2012, as the result of lengthy and consultative processes, a number of UN agencies published two reports *) that recommend the decriminalisation of sex work to help address human rights abuses faced by sex workers, and call for better access to health services.

Sisonke march on International Sex Worker Rights Day in Cape Town

Sisonke march on International Sex Worker Rights Day in Cape Town

Recently, Equality Now, a USA based NGO working to end violence against women and girls, has critiqued this recommendation claiming that it is “in direct opposition to international human rights standards” and “jeopardizes efforts to prevent and address sex trafficking and promote gender equality”. Instead, Equality now prefers to promote the so-called “Swedish model” which criminalizes the purchase of sex services.

In response, local and international sex workers’ rights groups have issued statements in defence of their human rights. Red Umbrella Fund grantee Sisonke from South Africa has issued a statement in collaboration with the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).

“When Equality Now suggests “we listen” – who are they suggesting we listen to?”,

Kholi Buthelezi, National Coordinator of Sisonke questioned.

“I would like them to listen to me, and other sex workers who participated in the deliberations of the Commission [on HIV and the Law]. The Swedish model has failed, criminalisation does not prevent nor enable anyone to address trafficking – rather it enables stigma and drives violence against sex workers”.

In the statement, Sisonke addresses the many misconceptions raised by Equality Now and makes a case for a revised report.

“The UN together with a spectrum of experts, researchers and advisors have made knowledgeable and powerful recommendations based on hundreds of testimonies, and on evidence based on rigorous research. Its recommendations should be supported – not labelled as jeopardising gender equality.”

Sisonke presents itself as the national movement of sex workers in South Africa. Based in Cape Town, Sisonke currently has active representation in seven provinces and fights for the decriminalisation of sex work and improvement of working and living conditions for sex workers. The network’s activities comprise the mobilisation, organisation and sensitization of sex workers through outreach activities, trainings and workshops and campaigns on human rights. Through advocacy campaigns, public events and meetings, Sisonke has been successful in addressing issues of violence, discrimination and unsafe working conditions for sex workers. They have also secured better access to services and advocate forthe inclusion of sex workers in decision-making spaces.

Sisonke is hosted by SWEAT and is a founding member of the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). With the one-year core grant from the Red Umbrella Fund, Sisonke is able to expand its work throughout South Africa and strengthen its internal structures by setting up a National Steering Committee of sex workers.

By Eva Cukier, Red Umbrella Fund

 

*) HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (2012), the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report published by UNDP and Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (2012) by UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS.

An excerpt from Sisonke's Work Wise booklet

An excerpt from Sisonke’s Work Wise booklet


Related statements by international networks of sex workers:

  • Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
  • Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW)
  • African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA)

Crossposted from Mama Cash