418259_398896283457483_192457938_nAPNSW joins NSWP in condemning the recommendation to criminalise the clients of sex workers by MEP Mary Honeyball in a draft report on Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution and its Impact on Gender Equality for a report to the European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee.

There is abundant evidence to show that criminalising sex work has damaging effects,  both in terms of health and human rights outcomes for sex workers.  When clients of sex workers are criminalised, sex workers by extension are criminalised too and are further marginalised and stigmatised. The reported increase in  discrimination against sex workers from settings where clients are currently criminalised extends well beyond community and into NGOs and State institutions.

The conflation of sex work and trafficking particularly troubling as it does not contribute to a public debate in a constructive way. In fact, the issue becomes obscured and is likely to cause more damage to sex workers and trafficked persons due to badly targeted & ill-informed policy responses.  The value of criminalising clients of sex workers is under a cloud as there is no evidence to suggest it is effective in preventing either sex work or trafficking from occurring.    886848_615159821831127_344293926_o

APNSW condemns the stated recommendation and FEMM’s support of it in the strongest possible terms. We do not wish to see the harmful Nordic (Swedish) Model implemented in Europe or anywhere in the world.

APNSW also supports the call for action by The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) asking the Members of European Parliament to reject the report on prostitution and sexual exploitation which recommends the criminalisation of clients of sex workers.

At the same time, we call on the support of women’s organisations around the world to join us in condemning this recommendation and in highlighting the detrimental effects it will undoubtedly visit upon sex workers.

Stop rescuing us!

Stop rescuing us!

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) supports the recommendations contained in the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (December 2012) published by UNDP & the UNDP, UNFPA, UNAIDS report: Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (October 2012), respectively.  The former publication was the result of wide consultation with community, civil society and stakeholders globally. We note with interest that Equality Now did not tender a submission to the Commission. The Asia/Pacific report was a collaborative work, that involved member organisations from APNSW working with the UN, which led to this report having such important recommendations.

Accordingly, we condemn the campaign by Equality Now against the UN recommendations to decriminalise sex work.  At the same time, we unreservedly support NSWP in their rejection of this assault on sex workers’ human rights.  This offensive by Equality Now is an attempt to silence sex workers and replace them with handpicked “survivors” to advance the view that all prostitution is “violence against women”.  This redefining of violence further entrenches victimisation of women from the developing world by Western fundamentalist feminists masquerading as liberal feminists.

At the launch of the Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific Report, we warned that there was a concerted push to eradicate prostitution everywhere. The concern we conveyed at that time was founded in historical prejudice visited upon sex workers by so called ‘feminists’.  The evidence shows that if sex workers are empowered to realise their human rights, abuses within the sex industry can be addressed through labour rights and legal recognition.

APNSW categorically rejects Equality Now’s push to have the Swedish Model criminalising clients enacted in this region. We reject the Swedish Model because it is de facto criminalisation of sex work. The intent behind this model is to eradicate the sex industry worldwide, leaving millions sex workers without a livelihood.  We are of the view that sex workers have the right to consent and to have their consent respected.  The idea that women’s consent can be ignored perpetuates gender inequality. The idea that it is okay to ignore a woman’s consent because she is in sex work ignores the fact that women have rights based on multiple identities. If women are not allowed to have their consent acknowledged as sex workers, is their consent ‘allowed’ as migrant women or as workers, for example.

Human trafficking as defined in the Palermo Protocol is a crime.  Given its seriousness and complexity, it is imperative that anti-trafficking measures actually impact trafficking rather than simply promoting a particular ideology about sex work.

We therefore call on all organisations to oppose this attempt by Equality Now to undermine the rights of sex workers.

APNSW Statement, Sept 2013

by Kay Thi Win

The ATHENA network and ASAP have organized meeting at the Global Fund in Geneva: Strengthening Women’s Engagement with the Global Fund to Champion Gender Equality through the New Funding Model and Beyond. The meeting has organized 10th to 12th July 2013 and 23 community participants attended from:  Zimbabwe, Poland, Malawi, Indonesia, Lithuania, Kenya, Uganda, Ukraine, Canada, South Africa, Myanmar, Zambia, Argentina, Thailand, India, Jamaica, Netherlands, Malaysia, China and Swaziland.


The main objectives of the consultation were:

• To build the capacity of women’s rights advocates, especially women living with HIV, to engage at country, regional and global levels with the Global Fund and its New Funding Model (NFM) from a gender equality perspective.

• learn from experience to date and begin to strengthen the capacity of partners in NFM focal country Dialogue process, the development of concept notes, as well as in the implementation motoring and evaluation and revision of forthcoming Global Fund grants.

I have attended the meeting on behalf of sex worker community and share experience on the Global Fund NFM and country dialogue.  In March 2013,  I have attended Global Fund country dialogue on behalf of AMA (AIDS Myanmar Association) which is the national network of sex workers.

I have share experience and suggestion on gender base currently women are not representatives including my country. In future how, we can make sure that Global Fund NFM will work for gender equality. Also this is so much a challenge for us, a sex worker but we have to voice out our voices is strong.

During these days, we have small group discussion on gender gap, develop an action plan.  I recommended a pre-meeting for just community people in future and explain how it works for sex worker consultation with UN and that the GF should organize pre-meeting for consultations.

Finally we have work for  Strategy, Investment and Impact Committee (SIIC) Recommendations which you can read at the link below.

The main points covered were:

• Gender focal point on all CCMs

• Review the inclusion of “Women and girls” in the definition of key populations

• Enhancing documentation of the data, and identify research and data gaps

• Ensure gender equality is in the next Global Fund Strategy.

Also,  National and Regional Actions: build capacity of women through national and regional training on Gender Equality Strategy (GES) & Global Fund mechanisms.

• Bring women into country dialogues including sex workers.

SIIC Letter on Gender recommendations_16_July

I hope I did good job represent sex worker issues for the consultation.

I certainly try my best.

Kay Thi Win

Policy Officer

Sex worker representatives from Asia Pacific region at the SWIT in Accra, Ghana, June 2013.

Sex worker representatives from Asia Pacific region at the SWIT in Accra, Ghana, June 2013.

by: Tracey Tully
Recently,  in June 2013, sixteen sex workers attended a consultation with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Accra Ghana to develop an implementation tool to operationalise the guidance on Prevention and treatment of HIV and other STIs for sex workers in low- and middle-income countries.     The meeting was supported by the Gates Foundation and USAID and  of the 50 participants in attendance, one third were sex workers with extensive knowledge of sex worker HIV programming.  NSWP held a pre-meeting the day before the consultation started.  This enabled sex workers to critique each section of the draft,  compile a list of non negotiable points and to develop a strategy for how we would approach the two day consultation. This “sex worker only” session is critical to getting the most out of the consultation.  In fact, when NSWP or APNSW meet with UN on important consultations, we now insist on them funding a pre-meeting as a part of the overall process.
We found that most of our requests were considered reasonable and we managed to reach agreement on most things.  Sex workers went in with a clear vision to not vie from the Guidance, or what has affectionately come to be known as the ‘Pink Book’. We tried not to get bogged down in word-smithing, instead opting for driving forward the principles behind our participation in developing The Pink Book.  Two sex workers each engaged about a section and the feedback sessions from section consultations were presented by sex workers.    It still remains to be seen whether what was agreed at the consultation is accurately reflected in the final document.  We hope so and expect things to go as planned. It is important to retain the integrity of the process that has been demonstrated thus far.
SWIT consultation.  Sex workers co-presented.

SWIT consultation. Sex workers co-presented.

From the 30 June– 3 July 2013, the 7TH International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.   In the leadup to the conference was a two day community forum held with stakeholders from across the HIV sector. Andrew Hunter chaired a session on Day 1 entitledIAS 2013 Community Forum invitation TasP Implementation Science Research Agenda- Concept noteThe meeting had attendees representing a diverse group of researchers, technical experts, policymakers and civil society representatives.  Day two was the more community focused session, so there were plenty of people in attendance from local groups. IAS 2013 Community Forum invitation with Dr Rachel Baggaley of WHO on the experience of SWIT process and spoke briefly about the implications for sex worker organisations on the ground, of the PEPFAR pledge being struck down by the US Supreme Court.  In the short term it will depend on US-based INGOs currently working with sex worker in low to middle income countries developing a policy that aspires to be sex worker led.  We hope to see a gradual shift of power away from top-heavy programming models to models that recognise the intrinsic value of sex worker self determination.   We will continue to lobby for International NGOs to be able to access PEPFAR funding and would ask USAID to consider the ethical implications of funding programmes that violate the free speech rights of anybody, anywhere.  Shiba from APN+ presented on the threat TPP poses to generic medicines.
March against TPP which threatens access to affordable treatment

March against TPP which threatens access to affordable treatment

On the Day the main Conference conference began, Malaysian and regional HIV activists marched through the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and presented a memorandum to the President of the IAS seeking support to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) that threaten access to life saving treatment.  By the end of that day, IAS released a statement in support of our request.  We even got coverage in the Washington Post.  The fight to keep generic medicines on the market is under threat due to TPP and the danger posed by this agreement threatens not only access to affordable medicines for all,  but our ability to end AIDS in Asia by 2015.

All in all, the this scientific conference was more community friendly than any held before. The session on Sex Work Research covered PrEP which is an issue worthy of input from sex workers. This was discussed extensively at the SWIT consultation in Ghana.     It is probably not worth spending vast sums of money to send people this conference, but it is important to have some representation from your community to contribute to discussions.   .

WNU organises Protest in Phnom Penh Against EU-India Free Trade Agreement


To: H.E. Dinesh K. Pataik, Ambassador of the Republic of India in Cambodia
Phnom Penh, April 9, 2013

Dear H.E Dinesh K. Pataik

We, Cambodian garment workers, sex workers, entertainment workers, people living with HIV, LGBTs, university students, feminists and human right activists from different networks and organisations came together to express our concern about the threat posed by the forthcoming EU-India free trade agreement to the lives of millions of people in Cambodia and many other developing countries across the world. Numerous reports inform us that the FTA negotiation between the EU and India is about to conclude. We are concerned that the EU-India FTA will create another uneven and unequal relation of so-called free trade that more often than not favours richer countries and larger businesses at the expense of poor farmers and workers in developing countries. More importantly, we are particularly alarmed by the severe damage that the forthcoming EU-India FTA may cause to the lives of millions of people in poor countries like Cambodia.

We have been informed about the repeated attempt of the EU to include Intellectual Property Rights provisions that are very likely to undermine the stable supply of affordable life-saving medicines to poorer parts of the world. It is extremely worrisome that, despite assurance made by the Indian government regarding its determination not to include any measures hampering the production and provision of affordable generic medicines, the EU continues to put pressure on the Indian counterpart to accept Data Exclusivity, Intellectual Property Enforcement Measures and Investment Rules, all of which are designed to protect the interests of European pharmaceutical giants by curbing the availability of generic medicines cheaply produced in India. It is apparent that these provisions aim to secure bigger profits for large European pharmaceutical corporations and discourage production of cheap generic medicines in India, which have been saving millions of lives across the world.
We are saddened that behind the rhetoric of democracy, human rights and freedom the EU is in fact prioritising corporate interests to the lives of millions of people. It is needless to say that those affordable generic drugs are absolutely vital for the lives of millions who otherwise cannot afford expensive treatment of life threatening diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV-AIDS. Many suffering from such serious diseases would not be able to survive without these generic drugs produced in India.

In Cambodia alone, 75,000 people living with HIV rely heavily on generic medicines for their survival. According to the projection of the Cambodia’s National Center for HIV/AIDS (NCHADS), Dermatology and STI, 48,000 out of 75,000 people living with HIV are now on ARVs and Cambodia relies hugely on the generic drugs supported by donors. According to UNAIDS, in 2009 the budget spent of treatment service is about US$15 million per year. We believe that if generic drugs from India made unavailable HIV treatment cost for each Cambodian patient will increase about 15 times from current US$175 to more than US$2,500 a month. Any measures to make such treatment unaffordable to the poor population will pose an imminent threat to the lives of those people and their families including their children.

Having seen the importance of made-in-India generic drugs for the lives of millions, we in no ways can express our frustration about the attempt of EU and European pharmaceutical giants to control the production of these cheap medicines. This must stop right now. It is a true example of putting profits before people’s lives and take advantage of people’s illness for corporate profits. Our lives should not be regarded as a business opportunity.

We urge the EU to reconsider its pursuit of intellectual property rights for medicines and to realise that blindly protecting the interests of large European pharmaceutical corporations will lead to nothing but a subtle form of genocide of the poor, their families and children in developing countries across the world. WE DEMAND:

1. The EU to stop attempting to introduce measures aiming to undermine the production and distribution of Indian generic drugs essential for the lives of millions of people across the world.

2. The EU to stop using FTA to threaten India and sovereignty of the Indian people.

3. The EU to take PEOPLE before profit.

4. The Indian government to resist such attempts of the EU and by all means continue producing and distributing generic drugs for the welfare of the poor.

5. All governments to discard all kinds of FTAs that affect people in poor countries negatively.

We the Cambodian grassroots people from different networks and organisations again strongly urge the EU and Indian government to think about the long-term consequence of such a trade agreement in order for them not to be remembered as a threat to humanity. Otherwise, they will face a huge pressure from international civil society and people’s movements for human dignity. We will continue to struggle against such an attempt to turn our lives into business opportunities, in solidarity with people of India and other developing countries who deserve decent healthy life as much as anyone in the developed world.



9 April 2013, endorsed by Cambodian networks and organisations including:

1. Action for Environment and Communities (AEC)

2. Cambodian Prostitute Union (CPU)

3. Cambodian Community of Women Living with HIV (CCW)

4. Cambodian MSM Positive Network (CMPN+)

5. Cambodian Network of Men and Women for Development (CNMWD)

6. Cam-ASEAN

7. Messenger Band (MB)

8. National Network of Entertainment Workers (NNEW)

9. People’s Action for Change

10. Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK)

11. Social Action for Change

12. Women’s Network for Unity (WNU)

13. Worker’s Information Center (WIC)

Kaythi July 2012

We are as pleased as punch to announce that the beloved Chair of our network,  Kay Thi Win has been elected to the International Board of the Association of Women in Development (AWID).  This is an enormous personal victory for Kay Thi whose quiet & charming conviction make her a compelling advocate for any issue about which she is passionate.  As we in the sex worker movement already know, Kay Thi is the consummate solidarity player and this is no doubt the reason TOP, Myanmar is promoted by the United Nations as one of the best practice models for Sex Worker HIV Programming in the world.

 We feel that Kay Thi’s inclusion as part of AWID’s decision making body is a big step forward in bridging the gap between sex workers and the broader feminist movement.  The inclusion of sex workers as part of the 12th AWID International Forum on Women’s Rights in Development in Istanbul last year, as well Kaythi’s powerful plenary which moved the audience to stand in solidarity with sex workers, were most definitely signs of a path to meaningful engagement across all sectors of the women’s movement.  Kay Thi’s  contribution to AWID as part of the Board and her experience  in the area of HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health will bring insight and perspective that might otherwise remain unheard.
Perhaps we can now step off the artificial trajectory that US policy has set the feminist movement upon, and continue to debate our legitimate differences as we did in the days of second wave feminism.   Perhaps it is time for us all to reclaim feminism from the forces that conspire to usurp our collective power.
How exciting for sex workers that for the first time ever, we have a voice in this most important forum for women’s rights.
What can we say, but “congratulations Kay Thi. You do the everybody in sex worker movement a wonderful, invaluable service!”

The inaugural Trust Women Conference was held in London recently, supported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune. I was invited to speak on a panel entitled ‘how to put the anti-trafficking business out of business‘ with people who address the issue of sex trafficking including infamous abolitionist, Ruchira Gupta.

'how to put the trafficking business out of business'

‘how to put the trafficking business out of business’

In the days leading up to the  conference, Gupta had issued a series of media offensives upon sex workers which began last weekend with an attack on peer educators in the Indian press. Liz Ford, who is the Deputy Editor of The Guardian’s Global Development section and an apparent abolitionist sympathiser, appeared at the conference only to provide an outlet for Ms Gupta’s unfounded characterisations of women engaged in sex work. Ford falsely claimed in The Guardian that Ruchira Gupta is an ‘activist for sex workers‘. I presume this was a device to undermine any authority derived from my self-disclosure as a sex worker, on the panel discussion that followed these defamatory stories.

Ford published two articles based upon the same interview with Gupta, which  made horrifying and illusory allegations about sex worker activists; in particular those who attended the Sex Worker Freedom Festival in Kolkata earlier this year.  She called attendees “pimps and traffickers” . Gupta spoke using the usual alarmist and disempowering rhetoric that abolitionists tend to employ, invoking terms such as “brutalised”; “raped”; “invaded”; “used-up at 30″ to describe sex work. Predictably, she suggested the need for even more punitive measures against people associated with the sex industry and more funding to combat the problem from “the grassroots”.  It’s illuminating to see what two Harvard undergraduate donors thought about Ms Gupta’s ‘grassroots intitiatives‘ in 2010 after visiting one of her sites.


The sensible shoe award for most stigmatising headline of 2012 goes to…..

Guardian journalist Liz Ford  Liz Ford of The Guardian! 

 “Life of a sex worker: disease, abortion,

  debt bondage and death – video.”

One wonders how Ford would react to publicly being labelled a ‘pimp’ or a ‘trafficker’ or whether the woman has any sense of decency at all. What an absolute, unmitigated nerve!

Still, the most shocking claim came to be when Gupta uttered the words, “the average age of a prostitute in India is between 9 and 13“. This alarming statistic was framed in the context of globalisation and the egregious effects of neoliberalisation policies which she claimed was driving demand for prostitutes that are younger and younger.  I mused about where she might have pulled that figure, other than out of thin air. I promptly concluded that she was conflating two figures that abolitionists throw around a lot: the oft-quoted and oft-debunked figure that the ‘average age of entry into prostitution is 13‘ and the research Melissa Farley did in Aotearoa (New Zealand) where she claimed that the ‘average age of entry into prostitution for Maori women was 9.’  In this instance however, Gupta was not even claiming an ‘average age of entry’.  No Siree. This was the average age of a prostitute in India!

Cover of conference booklet on trafficking and prostitution.

Cover of conference booklet on trafficking and prostitution.

What was most striking about the psychological warfare waged upon me by these two somewhat influential women, was how readily prepared they were to employ violent tactics in order to discredit and isolate me from the conference proper. They did this by colluding to proliferate untruths about sex workers; by characterising sex workers involved in the HIV response as ‘pimps and traffickers’ and the rest as people who are “deeply damaged”. Their conduct was coercive inasmuch as they have enough power within patriarchal catacombs such as the mainstream press, to be able to use it in a cynical way to issue their message. Not only did they use the press as a vehicle to spread their ideology, but it was also a systematic attempt to discredit me, as an activist in APNSW, in the mind of anyone who might have viewed those stories prior to hearing what I had to say to the conference.

The logic seems to work as follows: if you have ever worked in the sex industry and you are unwilling to announce that the experience utterly destroyed your life and robbed you of a sense of self,  you are suffering from some kind of disorder.  Let’s call it ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. You have become so accustomed to the ‘brutalization’ of having accepted money for sex, that you consider brutalization to be normal.  Spectators who haven’t suffered ‘death by Powerpoint’ by this stage, must remain alert and remember that these are not the voices of sex workers you are hearing. They are storytellers in the business of telling fictional stories.   Coincidentally it is men and women like Ms Gupta who are in possession of the solutions for the poor  funding stream that is ‘women & girls’ who are unfortunate enough to fall within their purview and be categorised as “trafficked”. And there are a lot of men in the ‘slavery expert’ business. Knights in shining armour abound.

Another noteworthy aspect of the Guardian video is when Gupta iterates that the point of the Trust Women Conference was to focus on the “demand” side of prostitution as a way to fight trafficking.  Here, she and Liz Ford are informing Guardian readers about the primary focus of the conference even prior to the scheduled panel discussion on what the most effective interventions to fight human trafficking might possibly be. The International Herald Tribune did not cover the “women for sale” day in such a pre-determined light and they organised the conference.

The kind of maltreatment I received from Ford and Gupta used to be solely the provenance of the ‘old boys club’.  This is a slightly more sophisticated incarnation of that; where the abuse is being perpetrated by women against one woman (but who is the only representative of millions of sex working women allowed in)…  And it is being done in the name of Feminism. The most ironic aspect of their strategic alliance is that The Guardian Global Development section is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose programmes for sex workers in India are the subject of constant malicious attacks by Ms Gupta and her organisation Apne Aap.  She also calls them pimps and traffickers. How fortuitous for Ms Ford that she can heave her ideological cake and eat it too. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

On the panel, Mexican journalist and winner of the Trust Women Award, Lydia Cacho spoke about ‘ending demand’ for  prostitution and the success of the program she runs in Cancun, sensitising boys between 14-18 to not become clients.   The Body Shop guy basically covered for his employer L’oreal, the second largest chemical company in the world which has been accused of greenwashing  and has a demonstrably atrocious history of animal rights abuses.  He called for ‘human trafficking-free’ labeling that guaranteed trafficked-free products.  The Not for Sale guy talked about social marketing initiatives in what appears to be an ethical (Christian?) capitalist scheme that produces soups and juices to sell to sex workers and “vulnerable women”. He stated that he had half a million dollars in pledges for this venture and a call for matched funding of that figure became one of the inputs from our session.  I stressed the need for empirical data on human trafficking and the importance of a consistent definition of terms used in relation to trafficking and the need to gain some clarity before we talk about ‘best practice’ interventions on human trafficking.

Lawyer Karen Silverman, the only panelist with whom I vaguely connected on a human level, iterated the importance of broadening the discussion on migration rights, citizenship rights and labour rights. Although she was approaching the issue from a different perspective, it was refreshing to be in the company of someone who wasn’t just focused on getting a piece of the Anti-trafficking Pie. She also highlighted the fact that many trafficked women are held in custody for long periods of time and that we need to devise strategies to address this problem.

partner NGOs: Equality Now; IJM; Polaris Project; Not for Sale.

partner NGOs: Equality Now; IJM; Polaris Project; Not for Sale.

I was the final speaker on the panel and began by explaining that the advent of the anti-trafficking industry has resulted in an increase in violence against sex workers.  I stated that the impact of criminalisation had driven sex workers underground, making them prone to violence, increased health risks and coercive treatment from others.  I went into some detail about the regularity of human rights abuses that are occurring in arbitrary detention settings in Cambodia, such as the Somaly Mam Foundation and her organisation AFESIP as reported to sex worker organisations in Cambodia. I stated that these abuses were catalogued in a Human Rights Watch Report from 2010.  I warned people consuming human trafficking narratives to be wary of statistics that are quoted and to question the quality of anecdotal information received.  I went on to speak about the recent revelation in the Cambodian press that a high profile story being regurgitated in the mass media had been proven to be untrue.  Long Pross is a young Cambodian woman who is being touted by Somaly Mam’s Voices for Change  program as a victim with an unimaginably horrendous history of being trafficked as a child and having her eye gouged out by the brothel owner. Her story has been exposed as a complete fabrication by an investigative journalist who interviewed a string of people involved, including Long Pross’ parents; the surgeon who removed her eye and the tumor she developed at age 7 ;and the Cambodian anti-trafficking Police whose records revealed that no complaint had ever been filed in relation to this woman being trafficked as a child.

I stated that Long Pross had appeared with celebrities such as Meg Ryan and Susan Sarandon on reality tours they conducted in Cambodia promoting the Somaly Mam Foundation. I stated she had appeared with Hillary Clinton and on Oprah as the “Face of Slavery” and that her testimonial had been profiled on Half the Sky.

This picture of Hillary Clinton hugging Long Pross was being displayed on the overhead when I went on to add that this story had been covered by many popular media sources including Oprah and PBS who had recently screened her ‘testimonial’ on Half the Sky.

This picture of Hillary Clinton hugging Long Pross was being displayed on the overhead when my session was cut short.

 At this point the moderator Tim Large politely interjected and apologetically informed me that we were running short of time and that we would now have to turn to Q&A and develop our inputs for the Conference Call to Action. I may have broken some unwritten protocol by mentioning Half the Sky from the panel, especially as Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn are on the advisory board for Trust Women,and also because he had spoken on the video that introduced our session.   The overarching point I was trying to make was that it is crucial for journalists to confirm every piece of information they receive before sending it to print.   I wanted to point out how easily such fabricated narratives can proliferate into the mainstream consciousness if reporters do not exercise caution.

The point at which truth-in-reporting intersects with the profit motive was illustrated quite plainly with the swift end to my presentation.  I was trying to convey the importance of the human rights aspect and emphasise that responses to trafficking must be based in truth.  There were a couple of exceptional moments during the conference when empassioned women spoke about their experiences, but I did not feel I had witnessed a lot of truth-telling in these two days. I did not appreciate the way many of the issues were framed, such as the Arab Spring with more than a hint of anti-Islamism or the focus on the atrocious behaviour of people from the Global South – Female Genital Mutilation, Forced Marriage, When culture clashes with Law.  And of course, Women for Sale. There was little mention of the role Colonisation or Western Imperialism play in the global profile.

During the reading of the Conference Declaration, I was following the official twitter feed on the big screen and saw quite a few positive tweets about my presentation including a two from the Trust Women rapporteur. They disappeared within an hour. Thankfully we have activists in the movement who are vigilant and one diligent observer from $carlet Timor managed to save a few .

 Afterwards, a high-ranking journalist approached me and expressed shock at my allegations of impropriety in relation to Half the Sky. I told her there were journalists in Cambodia working to expose the violence of the anti-trafficking industry because it has become a significant problem. She asked me if I knew that Mr Kristof was a Pulitzer prize winning journalist to which I nodded and she added that the Trust Women conference had been inspired by the stories contained in Half the Sky.  She asked me had I read it.  I said ‘no’. She promised to send me a copy. I told her I would forward the requisite articles that formed the basis of my allegations about the fabricated victim-narrative.


When Ruchira Gupta says that the traffickers are becoming wise and “outsmarting us”, I take that as acknowledgement that she recognises there is something authentic about the sex worker movement- a truth.  I think she recognises that we are building something special, having discovered our power as autonomous individuals and as part of the vibrant tapestry of resistance that forms our global solidarity movement. Responses to trafficking must be based in truth, not conflations or exaggerations or imaginings or outright lies. The UN is beginning to recognise the magnitude of the dilemma, as are many journalists and hopefully this awareness will expand into a larger context.

 It was strange to sit on a panel with someone for whom your very existence is a threat. In asserting that the sex worker movement is a self-determination movement, I am informing the likes of Gupta and her abolitionist ilk, that perhaps they are not relevant to our context. There is no place for them in our lives or as part of our stories. If sex workers can do it for themselves, those white saviours and their grateful cohorts don’t have an industry to build around us. And that’s probably the best outcome for all- especially those who have been trafficked.

It is sex workers who are subverting the patriarchy, not the gun-ho protectionists who imagine freedom to go only as far as being “equal” to men. Ours is the feminist project. Ours is a huge global movement that is led by women. And as long as sex workers are at the table engaging in the discourse, we will continue to provide inputs that cannot be ignored.

Sex workers are not the problem. We are part of the solution.

Tracey Tully, APNSW Staff.


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