Sex Work and Human Rights

March 3rd ☂ International Sex Workers’ Rights Day

Photo: NeonRights by Matt Lemon Photography*
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March 3rd ☂ International Sex Workers’ Rights Day

March 3rd marks the annual International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. The day was founded in 2001 by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a sex worker collective in India. Over 25,000 sex workers gathered for that inaugural festival, and since then, participation the day is observed globally by sex workers and those showing solidarity to them.

“We felt strongly that that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally. Keeping in view the large mobilization of all types of global sexworkers [female, male, transgender], we proposed to observe 3rd March as the Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

Knowing the usual response of international bodies and views of academicians and intellectuals of the 1st world [many of them consider that sex workers of third world are different from 1st world and can’t take their decision] a call coming from a third world country would be more appropriate at this juncture, we believe. It will be a great pleasure to us if all of you observe the day in your own countries, too. We need your inspiration and support to turn our dreams into reality.” – Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (2002)

There are several other days that aim to raise awareness for sex workers’ rights and highlight the stigma, discrimination and violence they are often faced with. Two of them are the Korean Sex Workers’ Day and the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

June 29th ☂ Korean Sex Workers’ Day

On this day, the National Solidarity of Sex Workers Day was organised, after the Special Anti-Sex Trade Law [which includes a Prevention Act and a Punishment Act] was passed in 2004. Since then, the date is commemorated as Korean Sex Workers Day to honour all sex workers who have contributed to the struggle against discrimination over the years.

Hyeri & Matthias at GG's Sex Workers' Day Party

“I am not a hooker. I’m a sex worker!” (left)
“Don’t stigmatise us! Don’t oppress us!” (right)

December 17th International Day To End Violence against Sex Workers

“The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was originally developed by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and SWOP founder Robyn Few to shine a spotlight on the epidemic of violence against sex workers happening globally. SWOP-USA began commemorating the Day as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, who murdered at least 71 women, most of whom were sex workers from 1982 to 1998.

During the week of December 17th sex worker rights organizations around the world stage actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers. These events also often address issues relating to stigma and discrimination that allows violence against sex workers to occur with impunity. We seek to raise awareness about the barriers faced when attempting to report violence, and promote empowerment and change what has become an unacceptable status quo.” – Sex Workers Outreach Project USA

End Violence Against Sex Workers - Research Project KoreaQuoted/Paraphrased with kind permission by Mistress of Mattresses’ blog post Proof of Feminst Women’s Violence Against Prostitutes.

*The Red Umbrella

The Red Umbrella was first used as a symbol for sex worker solidarity at the 49th Venice Biennale of Art in Italy in 2001. Italian sex workers marched through the streets of Venice with red umbrellas as part of the “Prostitute Pavilion” and CODE:RED art installation by Slovenian artist Tadej Pogacar. The red umbrella march drew attention to the bad work conditions and human rights abuses sex workers faced. Four years later the red umbrella was adopted by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) where it became the emblem for resistance to discrimination. Since then the red umbrella has become the international icon for sex worker’s rights around the world. It symbolises protection from the abuse and intolerance faced by sex workers everywhere but it is also a symbol of their strength.

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In Pictures: Korean Sex Workers’ Day

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