Unionized Sex industry workers made history at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil Jan. 27- Feb. 1 2009

Posted on behalf of Maxine Doogan

Unionized Sex industry workers made history at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil Jan. 27Feb. 1 2009. The special trade unionization of the sex industry forum was sponsored in part by India’s sex worker union, Karnataka and the International Commission for Labor Rights. The public forums featured presentations and discussions by trade union representatives from South Africa, Nigeria and Germany that support organizing sex industry workers as well as actual organized prostitutes from Bolivia, Brazil, USA and the host country India.

The meeting culminated in prostitute Carmen Lucia Paz making a statement to the Final Assembly on Labour and Globalization that trade unions and allies in social movements must recognize sex work as such, calling for solidarity to end harassment, discrimination and forced labor through the guarantees of the International Labor Organization’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Those trade unions should support sex workers in challenging the laws that undermine sex worker organizing — through criminal, civil or other means. Historic on all accounts.

Gautam Mody, Secretary of India’s New Trade Union Initiative of which Karnataka is officially affiliated, addressed sex worker participants. Mody stated that unionization comes when workers face their bosses. For sex industry workers those bosses present themselves in many tiers; direct and indirect. South Africa’s Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce presented newly released research of Cape Town’s sex industry. Prostitutes rights organizers hailed this new study documented in the book, “Selling Sex in Cape Town” by Chandre Gould as new standard for researchers when targeting the sex industry. The study discredits claims by anti prostitution and migration groups that Cape Town is the originator and a destination place for forced labor in the sex industry. The study also disproves statements that disproportionately high numbers of under aged workers dominate the sex industry instead sighting very few incidences of underage workers have actually occurred in Cape Town.

Other distinguished sex work centered acts by NOG’s such as Brazil’s Davida presented on how they were able to create their own funding for HIV services after tuning down 40 million dollars in 2005 from the United States Agency for International Development in which required NGO’s who received the funding to not discusses rights when delivering condoms to prostitutes. Brazil considers prostitutes partners in its successful fight against new HIV infections. Davida produces a clothing line and a fashion show by and for prostitutes. Prostitution is not illegal in Brazil.

The president of Organización Nacional de Activistas por la Emancipación de la Mujer of Bolivia told first hand accounts of how a mob shut down work locations for many prostitutes which resulted in the sex workers going on a hunger strike and sewing their mouths shut. Violence by police drove many workers into seeking protection from the church, only to be turned away by the nuns. Prostitution is not illegal in Bolivia.

But hope was found in the innovative perspective from South Africa’s Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union which stated that sex workers would be included in this union as are other informal sector worker including children. Nigeria’s Labor Congress already recognizes sex work as work. Germany’s public section union, Ver.di presented on a study of sex workers from 2002 and has now made provision to include prostitutes who want to be come members. Prostitutes don’t have to say they are prostitutes in order to join nor do they have to submit to mandatory testing.

Other unionized prostitute groups like Argentina’s, Spain, Netherlands, Southeast Asia where not represented as some were other important leaders of Karnataka, the host sex worker union, who were unable to take part in this international organizing event because they were unable to qualify for visas. Two leaders have criminal charges pending; one stemming from working in a brothel and other from protesting the forced rescue of brothel workers by police who beat them and held the women captive in shelters. Prostitution is not illegal in India. Also not in attendance was England’s International Sex Worker Union as members are currently embroiled in opposing legislation that’s would further violate sex industry workers’ human, labor and civil rights.

Maxine Doogan

Erotic Service Providers Union

http://espu-ca.org/wp/

Feb. 09.09

3 Responses

  1. Maxine thank you for this information, for going to Brasil and making these great inroads with great international activists!

  2. Thanks Jill. And what does it mean when third world prostitutes sponsor a first world prostitute to an international forum like this?

    It means that criminalization plays a role in our ability to organize ourselves, but we’re not going to let a little thing like that stop us!

  3. I know what it meant to me in Chile, Maxine. It meant the world to meet the activists, to see the work they do. To see how much more advanced Chile, which also does not criminalize prostitution, is than the US.

    I so believe it is imperative that we network with activists in other countries. Many countries are far more advanced than we and there is a lot we can gain with networking and building alliances with them.

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