Posts tagged ‘sex work’

Decriminalisation is the starting point : what next for Canada?

I really like the following extract from an editorial on Prostitution and the Law in the Ottawa Citizen (Sep 30 2010.)  It captures an issue that I think is not well understood – that  removing  criminal laws against sex workers is only the first stage of the reform needed to improve sex workers lives.  Many people in the movement are struggling to respond to the demand for ‘evidence’ that removing the criminal law will itself achieve a whole lot of desirable outcomes, such as reducing HIV or human rights abuses. But no such evidence exists.  The question is wrong. The fact that sex workers are subject to abuses where sex work is legal, as well as where it is semi legal and completly prohibited,  tells us that more than absence of criminal law is needed.

Removal of the criminal law is essential.  It removes the main barrier to sex workers achieving justice. It creates a space that can be filled by effective rights based policy and labour regulations and law. This is what happenned in the much touted example of New Zealand.   But ‘decriminalisation’ is not a solution in itself, and it is not a solution if the gap it creates is filled with wrong policy and law.  Good regulations and policy don’t automatically kick in when criminal laws are removed  – even in rich and well governed countries, let alone where regulatory systems generally  are not well organised.  The process of struggling for effective rights based policy and labour law must now take place in Canada and it’s regrettable that the energy of activists there will first be diverted by an appeal against Justice Himel’s judgement.  What happens next in Canda will be important for the world and we are lucky indeed to have such  strong and determined sex workers  activists there to drive that process. Forward and Upward !

Cheryl  Overs

The judge who struck down Canada’s prostitution laws was doing her job, and doing it well. It will be up to our elected officials to ensure that the removal of those laws does not create new problems…Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court found that the laws “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

She did not take it upon herself to rewrite Canada’s prostitution policy. In fact, she went to great lengths to explain that her job was merely to determine whether government had overstepped its constitutional bounds in creating the current laws. She admitted that in removing those laws, she is opening the door to unlicensed brothels. “It is legitimate for government to study, consult and determine how best to address this issue,” she concluded, and therefore stayed her decision for 30 days. That stay could be extended.While the Ontario and federal governments have vowed to appeal, Parliament still needs to update the prostitution laws. Constitutionality aside, it’s clear that these laws have done nothing to make marginalized women less vulnerable to the monsters who prey on them.

Criminal law that targets the prostitutes themselves might not be the best way to protect prostitutes and their neighbours, but that doesn’t mean that anything goes. The ruling does not require cities to set up red-light districts. There are many ways to regulate prostitution to minimize the harm to women and to their neighbours. And there is certainly nothing in the ruling to prevent governments, at all levels, from working to help prostitutes get out of the business and, in many sad cases, get off of drugs and alcohol.

While Himel did provide a review of practices and policies in some other countries, it’s not her job to choose among them. Parliament should consider which model would work best for Canada. The city governments should have a voice in that discussion and, perhaps, a role in implementing any new policy regime.

The worst mistake would be for Parliament to avoid this question, as it has avoided abortion, same-sex marriage, polygamy and other difficult social issues. In the absence of appropriate regulation, communities could find themselves powerless to stop dangerous activity. This is a conversation Canadians need to have


04/10/2010 at 02:09 1 comment

Evaluation of AVAHAN, HIV prevention in India

Text taken directly from Avahan…

Avahan, the India AIDS Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was begun in 2003 with the National AIDS Control Program and other donors to curtail the spread of HIV in India. In the first five years, Avahan designed and operated its programs in six states in India (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Nagaland and Manipur), which have a combined population of 300 million people. At the end of the first five years  Avahan  provided prevention services to nearly 220,000 female sex workers, 80,000 high-risk men who have sex with men and transgenders, and 18,000 injecting drug users, together with 5 million men at risk. 

Emerging evaluation results from this large scale HIV prevention program have just been published in a special peer-reviewed supplement of Sexually Transmitted Infections that can be accessed at  In the papers you will find  details and measurement issues related to  rate of scale up, costs, quality measures, multiple approaches to condom use, and modeled estimates of infections averted.  All twelve papers and the six accompanying editorials are open access.  (more…)

22/04/2010 at 09:25 1 comment

The Curious Sex Workers Guide to attending the 18th International AIDS Conference

The XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010), will be held in Vienna, Austria, from 18 to 23 July 2010. It is a chance to assess where we are, evaluate recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward. The conference organisers also see it as an opportunity to highlight the critical connection between human rights and HIV.

In the past the conference has provided a forum to hear about new HIV initiatives for sex workers, participate in campaigning and advocacy for sex workers rights and hear about cutting edge research related to sex work.

In order to help facilitate sex worker involvement the Global Network of Sex Work Projects has produced The Curious Sex Workers Guide to attending the 18th International AIDS Conference. The Guide provides information on:

  • Submitting an abstract
  • Participating in the Global Village
  • Scholarships
  • Travelling to Vienna
  • Getting support for attendance

For further information contact the NSWP IAC 2010 Coordinators Faika El-Nagashi and Veronica Munk on

21/12/2009 at 15:14 Leave a comment

Website launched on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Today is International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. The Paulo Longo Research Initiative (PLRI) marks this important day with the launch of its new website,

The PLRI website is a substantial library of resources about sex work in the context of economics, law, health, gender and sexuality, and migration. As it grows the site will increasingly showcase important research findings, host discussions among academics and sex workers and provide text and video news about relevant events and publications. The site will provide health service providers, policy makers, social workers, human rights advocates and students invaluable opportunities to learn about issues that affect sex workers.

December 17 provides an opportunity to reflect on why research is needed to provide evidence to guide measures to protect sex workers from violence and exploitation.  Sex workers from all over the world have long argued that criminal laws against sex work render them vulnerable to abuses, including unprotected sex and lack of access to services and justice. But many countries continue to criminalise sex workers and sex worker organisations everywhere receive frequent reports of violence.

Sex workers all over the world are subject to violence, exploitation and abuse.  For example:

  • USAID research conducted in 2006 in Cambodia found that of the female and transgender sex workers surveyed approximately half were beaten by police; about a third gang-raped by police and about three-quarters were gang-raped by other men during the past year.
  • In Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa Jane Arnott and Anna Louise Crago found that repeated violence, extortion and detention by law enforcement officers leave sex workers feeling constantly under threat in a climate of impunity that fosters further violence and discrimination against sex workers from the community-at-large. Migrants and transgender sex workers are particularly affected.
  • In Pakistan research into sexually transmitted infections by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that HIV services need to be tied in with efforts to reduce discrimination, exploitation and violence against sex workers if they are going to be effective. This includes support programmes designed to increase sex workers’ abilities to defend their own human rights.

The World Health Organisation has recognised clear links between violence and sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV and recently both Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary-General, and Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, have recommended that laws that punish sex workers be repealed in the light of evidence that they increase HIV vulnerability.

On December 17 sex worker organisations in dozens of countries demand an end to violence. Browse the PLRI website to read about the nature and causes of violence against male, female and transgender sex workers and the successes and failures of efforts to reduce it. Help to promote the site by circulating the press release to your contacts.

17/12/2009 at 10:55 Leave a comment

New film from SANGRAM and the International Women’s Health Coalition

To celebrate International Human Rights Day the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), SANGRAM, and rural Indian sex worker advocates have released a new short film. The film explores how the creation of a grass roots sex worker collective has helped improve access to health commodities and services, spread information on and understanding of human rights, created spaces for broader discussions on women’s health and rights and facilitated political advocacy.

Watch the film on….

14/12/2009 at 18:40 Leave a comment

Sex workers and new HIV prevention technologies

Reacting to a peripheries post on microbicides, Cheryl Overs commented “These [definition of microbicides] are a hint of the skewed propaganda about microbicides and an insight into the absence of consideration of how they will affect the millions of sex workers worldwide. Sex workers will lose any hope of using a 99% effective product against STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies, condoms” adding that, “The idea that sex workers will buy and use a combination of different products for different orifices/sex acts is absurd. Especially when one of those products will still have to be a condom.” Cheryl is summing up various concerns expressed in the “Sex work and the new era of HIV prevention and care” report she produced for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW).

Read the full post on the Peripheries blog…

06/10/2009 at 13:19 Leave a comment

Can sex workers be scholars? Nikat Ethiopia says yes!

Graduation celebrations at Nikat

Graduation celebrations at Nikat

Nikat is a sex worker organisation in Ethiopia. It has developed from a small income generation project to an NGO that provides education, social support and health services in the capital and mentors 30 newly established sex workers co-operatives throughout the country

Recently 15 Nikat members graduated in basic computer applications at their Drop in Centre in Addis Abbaba.

Hennock Alemayehu (pictured) director of Timret Le Howit a local NGO that provides support and resources to Nikat said,

“This is a kind of day which helps to continue to work on our ambitious Mission… This is a best example of sex workers’ empowerment”

Cheryl Overs of PLRI said, “This is exactly this kind of work needed to enable sex workers from developing countries to participate in research, programming and policy advocacy meaningfully and effectively. I applaud and congratulate the women of Nikat as well as their supporters such as Timret and condom marketers DKT. Your visionary work and principled commitment is turning high ideals into sustainable reality on the ground.’

10/09/2009 at 10:44 Leave a comment

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