claiming our rights sex worker community organizing and policy reform
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CLAIMING OUR RIGHTS: SEX WORKER COMMUNITY ORGANIZING AND POLICY REFORM. EXPERIENCES FROM BRAZIL: rights based approaches to prevention Alessandra Sampaio Chacham Mônica Bara Maia. Why Brazil refusal of USAID money was not a big deal….

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claiming our rights sex worker community organizing and policy reform



rights based approaches to prevention

Alessandra Sampaio Chacham

Mônica Bara Maia

why brazil refusal of usaid money was not a big deal
Why Brazil refusal of USAID money was not a big deal…
  • It was a relatively easy decision taken by the “national AIDS council”
  • It was a consequence of long history of interaction and coalition building between social movements and government (more specifically the National Coordination for STDs/AIDS of the Ministry of Health)
  • Brazil had already refused to accept money for abstinence based programs
  • Internally would have been politically more complicated to accept the money
legal framework in brazil
Legal Framework in Brazil
  • Partial prohibition: Criminalization of the associated activities, does not prohibit the act of prostitution, but criminalizes activities and behavior related to prostitution; Sex work as an “illicit object of lawful contract”.
  • Non-prosecution/ suspension of arrests: Policedo not arrest or prosecute under prostitution law or other policies, absent evidence of other crimes or violence (i.e. under-age prostitution, forced prostitution).
  • Historically national health policies encourages to see sex workers as a professional category as a mean to promote self esteem and positive health outcomes, working together with sex workers since 1988.
political context of the 80 s in brazil
Political Context of the 80’s in Brazil
  • 1978: beginning of the end of dictatorship (established in 1964 by a military coup).
  • 1988: end of dictatorship, a new constitution is voted.
  • This 10 years period was characterized by intense social mobilization and organization.
  • One of the main social movements was for Health Reform: “health as a right of every one and a duty of the state”.
  • In 1988 we have SUS, our universal public health system with a provision for mechanism of “social control”, such as the National Health Council.
the coalition national coordination on stds aids and ngos
The Coalition: National Coordination on STDs/AIDS and NGOs
  • In Brazil, it was the NGOs that initially called attention for this disease, denouncing discrimination against persons who were HIV positive as a matter of human rights.
  • In a second moment, the NGOs contributed developing multiple actions to raise awareness and offer treatment to their target populations, actions financed by the Ministry of Health, co-sponsored by the World Bank. Over 400 “ONGs AIDS” were financed by 2002.
  • The huge public campaigns and the guarantee of access to treatment and medicines for the general public are under responsability of federal government.
The policies followed the citizenship rights framework: the right to health as a human right and a citizenship matter.
  • Since 1988 representatives from sex workers’ associations participated in instances of “social control” within the Ministry of Health, making sure its policies followed the principle of self-determination and influencing the development of the first campaigns directed to sex workers: “Previna” and “Previna II”.
  • The National Seminar on AIDS and Prostitution in 2002 was a highlight in this partnership, culminating with the campaing “No shame girl: you have a profession”.
The STD/AIDS National Coordination of the Brazilian Ministry of Health lauched during the Seminar on AIDS and Prostitution, on March 6 of 2002, a national prevention campaign for female sex workers, with emphasis on the development of self-esteem and citizenship rights as a way to promote health among them. The knowledge about their rights, such as to negotiate condom use with the clients, information about proper condom use and on the female condom were also the focus of the campaign.
The campaing, has as theme “Noshame, girl. You have a profession”, was promoted onradiosand in places where paid sex occurs. Besides a jingle for the radio, it had printed materials (folders, manuals) with information on safe sex practices, SDTs,human rights,drug addiction and harm reduction for drug users,and also has stickers for bathrooms, manual of multiplicators (peer couselers), pins and bottoms.
Stickers for clients

Manual for health workers

Booklet for sex workers

Stickers for bathrooms, bedrooms, windows, doors, etc.

Principles guiding the Ministry and NGOs action/ interventions
  • Self-esteem, self-determination and citizenship
  • To reduce HIV infection among sex workers and clients: empowering them was a mean and peer counseling one of the main tools
  • The inclusion of sex workers’ needs in the national health system
  • The affirmation sex work as a profession: the sex worker is a professional with rightto have access to pension, to retirement and to take vacations and sick leaves.
values and principles of the brazilian network of prostitutes
Values and Principles of the Brazilian Network of Prostitutes
  • To assume sex work as a professional identity and seek the acknowledgement our activities.
  • To keep prostitutes’ social movement organized
  • Social Equality.
  • Liberty, dignity, solidarity e respect to the differences.
  • Protagonism and autonomy.
  • Valorization of our lives and our work: self-esteem.
  • Rejection of the abolitionism and victimization.
  • Right to citizenship and refuse of the ghetto.
main conquests
Main Conquests
  • Inclusion of the category “sex worker“ in the Brazilian Classification of Occupation, from Ministry of Work and Employment.
  • Presentation to National Congress of a Project of Law that acknowledges prostitution as a professional activity, by representative Fernando Gabeira.
  • First national on life quality of female sex workers promoted by UNB and the National Coordination of STD/Aids.
  • National Campaign “No shame, girl. You have a professional", promoted the National Coordination of STD/Aids.
  • Promotion of the concept and the practice of the organization of the category.
  • Development of strategies for the promotion of citizenship and prevention of STD/HIV/Aids by prostitutes’ organizations.
Proposed Law n° 98, from 2003

Dispose on the possibility of demand payment for services of sexual nature and suppress articles. 228, 229 and 231 from Penal Code.

The National Congress decrees:

Art. 1° Is legal the payment for providing services of sexual nature

§ 1º The payment for providing services of sexual nature will be due equally by the time the person stays available to those services, regardless the person had been solicited to provide those services of not.

§ 2º The payment for providing services of sexual nature can only be demanded by the person providing them or who had been available to provide those.

Art. 2° Suppress the articles 228, 229 and 231 of the Penal Code.

Art. 3º. This law is valid at the date of its publication.

daspu visibility f ashion f or sex workers and every other woman
DASPU: Visibility Fashion for sex workers and every other woman
  • T-SHIRTS slogans:

“Good girls go to heaven and bad girls everywhere else”

“I am bad I can be worse”

“Mary Madeleine: she who loved very much”

“PU davida”


our experience with musa in the battle for life
Our experience with Musa: In The Battle For Life
  • One of first feminist NGOs in Brazil to work for HIV prevention among female sex worker following the principle of self-determination.
  • For us empowerment is the way to reach the goal of decreasing HIV infections.
  • Fight for citizenship rights for sex workers: integrating them to the national health system and to workers’ benefits
  • The incentive sex workers organizations (regional seminary on AIDS and prostitution, November 2002)
  • Our tool: peer counseling, sex workers were trained as health agents
main difficulties perceived by us
Main difficulties perceived by us
  • Peer counseling: ended up only a means to distribute condoms.
  • peer counselors sometimes acquired “privileged position over others, showing less interest to foment autonomy and reproducing “paternalistic’, tutelage over others.
  • disassociate from public policies, actions are punctual, benefiting small numbers.
  • It is very hard to promote more organized political action in long term
  • NGOs: cooptation by government, especially at local level.
  • “poverty, powerlessness” are good for NGOs, fostering dependence.
  • dispute over resources among NGOs, diluting money and efforts. NGOs lose a lot of time with activities means instead of ends.
  • lack of sustainability in long term
  • false idea of ‘virtuous’ of social movements hides internal conflicts, internal disputes tend to be very disruptive and stunt growth
  • legitimates lack of action from state because after all the NGOs are already doing it.
  • Insufficient monitoring, evaluation and accountability of those programs