Every Sex Worker, A Human Rights Defender

aswcon

That is the tagline for the first ever African sex worker-led conference, which is happening next week in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Here’s a little bit of information about the conference grabbed from the PDF of the conference announcement:

The conference will include sex worker-only activities in order to form friendships and create solidarity, as well as organizing sessions to develop the alliance’s mission and principles. The immediate outcome of the conference will be to prepare a position paper and petition that demands an end to the violation of sex workers’ human rights that will be presented to the media and other key bodies and institutions. The issues of sex trafficking and child sex work interact with the adult sex industry, but are pressing concerns that demand separate special attention.

Trafficking should not be automatically conflated with sex work and the plight of people forced to have sex and work in abusive and exploitative conditions should not be limited to trafficked persons. Sex trafficking and child sex work are particular forms of human rights violations, and can be extreme, akin to torture and slavery. Sex trafficking and child sex work thrive in environments where sex work is criminalized since those involved in the sex industry are afraid to report cases of trafficking and exploitation. The conference takes a united stand in the fight against trafficking in any form – sexual slavery, child labour, body parts.

Moreover, the conference organizers believe that empowering sex workers as human rights defenders will allow sex workers to be better equipped and enabled to assist in the struggle against trafficking. Whilst this conference will explore ways sex workers can expose cases of trafficking, the focus of the conference will have more emphasis on those adult individuals who have the physical freedom to leave or remain in the commercial sex industry.

During the conference, a variety of complex issues will be discussed. The participants will examine the controversial debate on sex work. Often sex work is considered in binary terms, defined as being ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. However, like all other activities, sex work has its advantages and disadvantages, its good moments and bad moments. The sex work argument has become clouded by every sex worker, a human right s defender other interacting debates on morality, religion, sexuality, love, desire, relationships, health, the body, laws, public private distinctions, gender identity, and different power relations. The conference will attempt to go deep into the sex work debate – turning over the different facets, aspects, and characteristics of being a sex worker. It seeks to dispel prejudices, embrace different viewpoints, and look at sex work in all its complexities. As a sex worker-led campaign, it will represent all kinds of sex workers, demonstrating that great diversity exists within the sex worker population in terms of gender, class, race, and sexual orientation. Furthermore, the conference will fully recognize that sex work is work and sex workers need rights, not rescue.

These are the folks behind the conference and the organizations involved:

Sex workers
o Sisonke – South African sex worker movement
o Sex workers from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal,
Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

Sex worker organizations and Organizations with sex worker programs and projects
o Botswana Network on Ethics, Law, and HIV/AIDS – BONELA (Botswana)
o Centre for the Development of People – CEDEP (Malawi)
o Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe – GALZ (Zimbabwe)
o International Centre for Reproductive Health – ICRHK (Kenya)
o People Opposing Women’s Abuse – POWA (South Africa)
o Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce – SWEAT (South Africa)
o Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit – RHRU (South Africa)
o The Rainbow Project – TRP (Namibia)
o Uganda Coalition for Crisis Prevention – UCCP (Uganda)
o Women’s Organization Networking for Human Rights Advocacy –
WONETHA (Uganda)

Exciting stuff!

Since October I’ve been working at the International Women’s Health Coalition in New York (yes, I have a full time job, not working for myself for the first time in many years) as their online strategist. The info about this conference comes through one of our partners in South Africa, People Opposing Women’s Abuse, and hopefully I’ll be able to get a report from a conference attendee that I can post here on BNG. In general I’m getting connected up with a worldwide network of people who work on sexual rights and reproductive health issues – and of course nudging folks on sex worker issues where I can. IWHC does a combination of support and grant-making to orgs that work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; we push governments in those regions to make change; and we do policy work in Washington and with the UN – and now that I’m here, there will be online media about lots of that.

Anyway – just wanted to share the African sex worker conference with everyone and let you know what I’m up to.

9 Responses

  1. That’s fantastic news, Dacia! I’m most curious to hear how the conference includes & addresses sex workers who don’t identify as such, but who trade sex for what they need to get by. A woman who sat on the same panel with me at OSI’s pre-conference on Women & HIV, at the AIDS Conference in Mexico City this summer, spoke about how in Southern Africa, home healthcare workers who tend to relatives with HIV come to organizations seeking support, and they find that some of them do sex work but don’t think of it was work — along the lines of home health care work being contested. There’s some groups who want to support these sex workers, and others who don’t want to mention it programmaticaly for fear of losing funding. Of course this all may change with PEPFAR & UNFPA going in a more progressive direction (we hope) but it was something I had never encountered before when trying to understand the social & structural barriers to organizing in Africa.

    OSI just released a report on sex work in Africa; I’m not sure if it has been published online yet, but the Sexual Health & Rights Project worked on it. I’ll link it when it comes around.

  2. A woman who sat on the same panel with me at OSI’s pre-conference on Women & HIV, at the AIDS Conference in Mexico City this summer, spoke about how in Southern Africa, home healthcare workers who tend to relatives with HIV come to organizations seeking support, and they find that some of them do sex work but don’t think of it was work — along the lines of home health care work being contested. There’s some groups who want to support these sex workers, and others who don’t want to mention it programmaticaly for fear of losing funding.

  3. Melissa, what you describe about home carers is well documented in the literature about live-in maids and those who take care of children and the elderly or ill, all over the world, without HIV coming into it. I began my writing about the sex industry through questioning why people think that domestic services are so different from sexual services, or don’t include them. It is very common for migrants who get jobs as maids, and who like being maids, to do sex work on their days off because it’s different and pays so much more. They don’t want to be called sex workers. In fact, the majority of migrants who sell sex don’t want to be called sex workers and don’t want to organise, etc. It’s a major theme of mine, both in the book and, say, in an academic piece at http://www.nodo50.org/Laura_Agustin/a-migrant-world-of-services-or-arent-sexual-services-services-too

    Ambiguity and not wanting to name what one does in a general caring field are salient characteristics. Those who care for the elderly often provide some sort of sexual service, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes unwillingly, sometimes for extra money. etc.

    Laura Agustín

  4. [...] Bound, Not Gagged: Every Sex Worker, A Human Rights Defender “The conference will include sex worker-only activities in order to form friendships and [...]

  5. Im ecstatic that there is an organization in place to protect women and children from human trafficking. You’d be amazed at the amount of young helpless victims out there forced to have sex against their will.

    There are even underground rape videos that are hugely popular in places like Brazil and parts of Europe!

  6. Just back from Brazil attending the world social forum,
    and got a copy of this book; “Selling Sex in Cape Town”. by Chandre Gould
    Great research finally.

  7. Brasil!! Latin America so rocks!!

  8. [...] the first week of February, sex workers in Africa got together for the first ever sex worker-organized conference on the continent. The Cape Town-based Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) was one [...]

  9. [...] Posted on March 17, 2009 by Audacia Ray At the beginning of Februrary, I blogged here about the first sex worker-organized conference happening in Africa. The conference was attended by more than 150 sex workers, who produced a press statement and [...]

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