A demand for basic human rights and safe sex practices marked the ongoing global Sex Workers Freedom Festival in Kolkata, where around 550 representatives from 41 nations are taking part. The July 22-27 festival is being jointly hosted by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (GNSWP) and the city-based Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) and All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW). Kolkata is also hosting the Alternative International AIDS Conference.
The sex workers were denied visas by the US government to participate in the XIX International AIDS Conference which began Sunday in Washington D.C. and has a live digital link with the Indian hub. Dwelling on the society’s refusal to recognise their calling, GNSWP president, Australian Andrew Hunter said it was “sheer hypocrisy” that the people who buy sex are the ones condemning it as a moral sin and denying the basic rights to sex workers.
“We need to be recognised as an individual, as a person. We are human beings after all.” In France, according to male sex worker Thierry Shaffhauser, “Sex work is considered a moral sin. We are denied basic rights like health, safety and travelling permits. It is killing us.”
Seconding Thierry, Khartini Slamah, a Malaysian transgender sex worker, said: “We do not want to be saved. We just want to be treated as equals. Sex work is work.” But the picture is somewhat rosy in New Zealand, where decriminalisation of sex work in 2003, has given them back their rights to a large extent.
Elaborating on this, Anna Pickering said: “If a client refuses to pay up the amount then we can go to a judge and take action against the client.” A far cry from this is Serbia, where sex work is illegal. Said Rada, a Serbian sex worker, “It is quite common for the police to arbitrarily imprison sex workers if they are found with condoms.”