I just had the pleasure of discovering a new site on sex work: Sex Work Activists, Allies and You. I’ve consistently had trouble finding a clear online 101 on sex work activism, and the SWAAY site seems to fit the bill. It was started by Furry Girl, a super smart sex worker and writer. I feel I should note that she specifically does not identify as a feminist — but I admire her work and, as a self-identified feminist, I’d like to promote it. (If you’re looking for other great sex worker bloggers, Furry Girl’s blogroll is an awesome place to start.)
I would especially like to promote the new SWAAY project: a billboard campaign. Here’s Furry Girl’s post on how and why she designed the billboard the way she did; excerpt:
Why this particular design? I spent a bunch of time thinking of what I most want to convey to the general public about sex work. But then, I realized that I was getting ahead of myself, since very few people even know the term “sex worker.” So I want to start small, and educational. I want to just tell people what “sex worker” means, as well as a topical point about how sex work is not sex trafficking.
[The billboard would read thus:]
Sex Worker: a person who consensually exchanges their own sexual labor or sexual performance for compensation. Sex work is not the same as forced sex trafficking. Learn about the people & facts behind sex work at SWAAY.org.
Please consider donating to the billboard campaign by clicking here.
When I was working in public health, I heard about an amazing Brazilian anti-HIV campaign called Maria Without Shame, which featured pictures of a sex worker accompanied by slogans like: “You need have no shame, girl. You have a profession.” Furry Girl’s campaign reminds me of Maria Without Shame because both are focused on decreasing stigma around sex work. (Here’s another similar anti-stigma campaign from Canada, which features pictures of sex workers’ family members saying things like “I’m proud of my tramp.”) Unfortunately, although Brazil had a great HIV program that was considered to be among the most successful in the developing world … the USA denied them funding because Brazilian health officials refused to thoroughly condemn sex work. No, seriously, this actually happened — here’s a snip from a 2006 Washington Post article on the topic (note: the article, and the following excerpt, both contain stigmatizing attitudes and language about sex work and sex workers):
Brazil received a letter from USAID declaring the country ineligible for a renewal of a $48 million AIDS prevention grant. The United States requires all countries receiving AIDS funding help to formally state that prostitution is dehumanizing and degrading, and Brazil last year — alone among AIDS aid recipients — was unwilling to do that.
A working partnership with prostitutes, health officials here say, is a key reason that the country’s AIDS prevention and treatment programs are considered by the United Nations to be the most successful in the developing world. There are at least 600,000 people infected with HIV in Brazil — but that is only half the number predicted by the World Bank a decade ago.
“When we started in the 1980s, our projected AIDS rates were exactly the same as Africa’s, but now it’s a completely different story,” said Mariangela Simao, deputy director of Brazil’s national HIV-AIDS program in Brasilia. “I’m convinced it’s a result of the way the government has responded. We provide information and resources, and don’t enter into moral or religious issues.”
… In Rio, free condoms were passed out like candy as part of a national goal to distribute 25 million of them before Carnival ended Tuesday. At a suburban bus stop, pamphlets distributed by the Health Ministry advertised a character called “Maria Without Shame,” a cleavage-flaunting cartoon prostitute who reminds sex workers to take pride in their jobs and tells people that condoms should be used without guilt.
Read more about sex workers and HIV prevention at this great page on avert.org.
As a side note, if you donate at least $7 to the SWAAY billboard campaign, you’ll get a pack of SWAAY’s awesome heart-shaped stickers, which bear the slogans “Sex work is real work” and “Respect sex workers”.
As a side side note, I can’t help noticing that the SWAAY website is promoting an awesome upcoming sex worker film festival in Chicago! The film fest is slated to take place August 11-13, and it’s going to be super cool … especially since it’s in partnership with my very own Sex Positive Documentary Film Series.
I’ve written before that all women, whether we’re sex workers or not, ought to care about the way sex workers are attacked, marginalized and harmed because those social patterns hurt all of us. Other further reading on feminism and sex work might include the archives for Feministe guest contributor Renegade Evolution.
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