Sex worker groups around the world hold events and actions to mark International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, which is held annually on 3rd March.
This day’s history goes back to 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit. The event was organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group that has over 50,000 sex worker members, and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3rd March as an annual, international event: International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
NSWP uses International Sex Workers’ Rights Day as a chance to focus on the theme of labour rights. Where sex work is criminalised, sex workers’ workplaces are often excluded from national labour laws. This creates an environment where sex workers have no option but to accept exploitative working conditions. The struggle for the recognition of sex work as work is closely tied to the struggle for decriminalisation.
This year, NSWP members held a host of different activities to mark the day.
The African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) is a pan-African network of sex worker-led national networks and national and local organisations led by and/or working with female, male and transgender sex workers. ASWA is NSWP’s regional network in Africa.
ASWA observed International Sex Workers’ Rights Day by calling for the decriminalisation of sex work. In a post on their website, ASWA stated:
“Sex workers in Africa called for the decriminalization of sex work in Africa during the International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
ASWA observed the International Sex Workers Rights Day by calling for the respect, protection and promotion of the rights of the sex workers in Africa.”
In Uganda, Lady Mermaid Empowerment Centre, in partnership with Uganda Network for Sex Work-Led Organisations (UNESO), launched NEEKO, a print magazine for and by sex workers in their diversities in Uganda.
The launch of the magazine was celebrated with in person and virtual events and you can access the magazine online now.
In Barundi, Solidarite Pour Les Droits Des Travailleuses De Sexe (RSDTS) planned a day of reflection on sex work through the presentation of a documentary film.
Asia and the Pacific
In India, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) and All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) organised an online programme on the 3rd of March to celebrate International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. The online platform was open from noon to 5:30 PM (IST) to encourage participation from sex workers according to their convenient time and participants gathered to discuss sex workers’ rights.
Elsewhere in India, Rot Association of Meghalaya (RAM) wrote a Letter to the Editor that appeared in The Meghalayan. You can read the full letter here. In the letter, RAM's President outlines the damaging impacts of criminalisation and calls for decriminalisation.
"But living in Meghalaya, a state where sex work is still criminalised, most Meghalayans may be surprised to know that even we sex workers have such rights. Some may even argue we should not have rights at all, but we do and International Sex Workers’ Rights Day isn’t just about securing the civil rights of sex workers, it’s about securing our human rights, too. But it’s evident that our human rights are rarely recognised until we are murdered. The criminalisation of our work maintains unsafe conditions for us. It prohibits us from creating safe places to see our customers, to negotiate our work, and to access safety when needed.
So having been discriminated for decades, this International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, we now demand to see a ‘Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill’ be introduced immediately which recognises our work and respects us sex workers. This bill should also regulate the sex industry like any other service industry. Most forms of consensual adult sex work remain heavily criminalised in Meghalaya, driving the sex industry underground, and resulting in sex workers fearing police. This bill should remove offences relating to consensual adult sex work altogether.
Fifty years have passed. We are on the threshold of a new age, but indifference is all I see. It’s high time the Meghalaya government took notice of the hundreds of sex workers across the state, who are trying to be heard and recognised in the fight for better working conditions, and end violence against them. It’s time to decriminalise sex work!
HARC - HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre in Bangladesh planned two activities to mark the day. Sex workers gathered for the whole day and they involved government and other stakeholders to get commitments to protect the human rights of sex workers. They also ran a media campaign involving union leaders, parliament members, and sex worker activists to get the recognition of sex work as work. HARC Bangladesh reported that their activities ran successfully, and a news outlet covered the activities with the headline “Sex Work is a Decent Work and Sex Worker Rights are Human Rights”. You can read the article here. A video was also published that you can watch here.
TAMPEP used International Sex Workers’ Rights Day to launch their new TAMPEP/Global Passport Project app, an app aimed for migrants and refugees in Europe. They emphasised the importance of the day as “a day to reinforce that sex work is work, to stand against stigma and discrimination, and to show solidarity with migrants and refugees.”
The TAMPEP/ Global Passport Project app acts as a DocWallet, a secure place to store documents like IDs, medical records, diplomas, etc; it also has a map with information on services providing social and medical assistance; and it features a multimedia tool to denounce human rights violations and abuses.
All organisations mentioned in the app are safe, non-discriminatory and offer anonymous services. The Red Umbrella icons on Google Maps within the app indicate where sex workers can get reliable support. For the moment, the app is a pilot project and shows only services in 13 European countries.
You can access the TAMPEP/GPP app via the Google Play Store.
In North Macedonia, STAR - The First Sex Workers Collective in the Balkans organised their second charity online auction “Action for Reaction 2” in order to provide direct support for sex workers who are still feeling the effects of the socio-economic crisis caused by COVID-19. The charity auction runs from 28.02.2022 to 07.03.2022 and you can follow it online on their dedicated Facebook event.
STAR- The First Sex Workers Collective in the Balkans also held its Annual Assembly of the members of the Association for 2022 on International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
In Ecuador, Asociacion De Mujeres Trabajadoras Del Sexo "Colectivo Flor De Azalea", gave an account to their colleagues at the national level about their role within the Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism (CMM). This was a commitment they made when they were given a place on the CCM.
North America and the Caribbean
In the United States, The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center celebrated the reintroduction of the the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act (SSWSA). In a press release, The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center stated:
“The SSWSA makes a seemingly straightforward ask of the US government: to study and report on the health and safety consequences of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) on people who trade sex. But the outcomes will be much deeper; if passed, this bill will create a monumental shift in how we understand digital oversight and regulation, anti-trafficking efforts, and sex workers’ rights.
As co-chairs of the Sex Worker Subgroup of the Federal LGBTQPLHIV Criminal Justice Working Group (SWP), the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center and Reframe Health and Justice (RHJ) are thrilled to see this important re-introduction. Our organizations work individually and collectively to support the health and safety of people who trade sex. In carrying out our missions to defend the human rights of sex workers, we also seek to end human trafficking while defending the rights of people disproportionately represented in the sex trades, inclusive of LGBQ+ and TGNC communities, BIPOC communities, and migrant communities. The SSWSA deepens our collective work by seeking to better understand how people in the sex trades use digital spaces to stay safe and the health and safety implications of losing online platforms since the enactment of SESTA/FOSTA. “
Elsewhere in the United States, BAYSWAN released a blast-from-the-past poetry podcast from PJ Starr and NJRUA. The podcast features poetry, a potted history, original music and a chance to learn more about March 3rd in audio form.
BAYSWAN also celebrated with the March 3rd edition of Heaux Skills with Jenna Torres and the BSWC. This special event looked at how to organise around electoral issues.
In Canada, The Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (SWWAC) organised a March 3rd event in Winnipeg. Beginning around 6pm, they had a visual and auditory show, which was projected onto a screen. This will involved speaking (in English), and images. Closed captioning was also provided. SWWAC produced a video, which can be viewed below.
Sex workers, allies, and people who wanted to learn more were all welcome. This event was also a chance for sex workers to find out more about SWWAC.