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APNSW attends 12th Sex Worker Academy Africa

APNSW’s Project Officer recently attended the 12th Sex Worker Academy Africa, held 6-12 November, 2016, in Kenya, Nairobi. This was the first African Sex Worker Academy attended by an APNSW representative, who was tasked with observing how the Academy is organised and structured, and how the content of the Sex Worker Academy could be tailored to fit the Asia and Pacific context.

The Sex Worker Academy Africa is an initiative of APNSW’s sister regional network, the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). The logistics relating to the Academy, including facilitating the 7-day program are undertaken by the Kenyan Sex Worker Alliance (KESWA). The Academy is held quarterly (every 3 months) in Nairobi, Kenya, and involves 12 representatives from 2 different African nations, in addition to a permanent space for 6 representatives from geographically disparate areas of Kenya.

Prior to each academy, KESWA and ASWA put out a call for participants. There is a rigorous selection process for potential applicants, who must provide evidence of how they are involved in the sex worker movement in their localities, in addition to outlining strategies they will use to share the knowledge and experiences from the Academy with their respective communities. A total of 18 sex worker leaders of various gender identities and expression are selected for each Academy (six from Kenya and 12 from two other African nations). The 12th Academy included participants from Mozambique, Ghana, and Kenya.

In addition to all participants identifying as sex workers, the Academy is completely facilitated and organised by sex workers. As reflected in ongoing evaluation of the Academy, the initiative provides a real-life example of active sex worker mobilisation and empowerment, which has been highly inspirational to all graduates. The Academy serves as an example of how organised and mobilised sex worker communities can operate autonomously to achieve program outcomes with a high impact, using a minimum of resources.

The Academy was founded in 2014, following African sex work leaders undertaking a bilateral exchange program with Indian sex worker collectives, VAMP and Ashodaya. With technical support from VAMP, Ashodaya, and NSWP, the African Academy’s curriculum was developed and faculty members (i.e. facilitators) recruited and trained for the first Academy implemented in May 2014.

The Academy uses an interactive and participatory methodology, and utilises both theoretical and practical approaches to learning. This includes: dedicated discussion times (e.g. “Open Zones”, a concept which dedicates time to discussion, sharing of experiences, debating ideas, and critical analysis of theories and practices); field trips to best practice sex worker run/led spaces; group and individual presentations; films/ videos; games; art and dance advocacy; and classroom-based theoretical approaches.

The Academy aims to:

  • strengthen networks and relationships between African sex worker networks;
  • provide a space in which participants can learn from each other and share their experiences of community mobilisation, including the systemic barriers they face locally, and strategies to overcome these challenges;
  • enable participants to understand approaches to sex work, including developing strategies to strengthen the rights of sex workers in their countries;
  • develop skills in shaping advocacy strategies within each country, including processes for challenging and changing oppressive laws and by-laws;
  • enable participants to understand components of HIV prevention in relation to human rights, community empowerment and violence reduction programs;
  • strengthen the role of sex workers in rights based HIV programs;
  • and to provide a Pan-African capacity development platform for sex worker leaders to ensure sustainability of the sex worker movement.

Throughout the 7-day Academy, participants are familiarised with the key theoretical foundations underpinning the African sex worker movement. This includes: exploration of legislative environments in which sex work occurs; strategies for undertaking advocacy (including non-traditional forms of advocacy, such as art and dance advocacy) ; best practice community health care programs targeting sex workers; community responses to violence; human rights; developing outreach plans and recruiting peers; condom and lube programming; understanding policies and positions; and the impacts of criminalisation on sex worker communities and our ability to mobilise.

Key outcomes of the Academy include country teams developing an arts-based advocacy project, including a banner, illustrating the specific issues faced by sex workers nationally, and a theatrical performance which complements the banner and articulates the issues facing sex workers. Similarly, sex worker representatives of each country collaborate to create a national advocacy strategy, with the aim of implementing the strategy in each respective country over the following year.

The Academy’s finale event involves country groups showcasing their art advocacy and theatrical performances, followed by a graduation ceremony and community party. At the completion of the 12th Academy, all the participants expressed their gratitude to ASWA and KESWA for facilitating the Academy, and shared heart-felt experiences of solidarity, relationship building, self-empowerment, and enthusiasm for continuing the struggle for sex worker rights.

An extensive trip report will be developed and distributed to APNSW members via email in the near future.           

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