Sex Work Activists Criticize Brazil Ban on "Happy Being a Prostitute" Campaign

Sex work activists are critical of the decision by Brazil’s Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha, to remove all posters that read "I am Happy To Be a Prostitute" from the Health department’s STD/AIDS’s website and other public health materials.

According to a report carried in CNN, the ads were meant to get rid of the growing stigma in Brazil against being a prostitute. The poster was one element of a larger campaign entitled Without Shame to Use Condoms, launched on International Prostitutes Day (June 2nd).

The campaign also aimed to promote safe sex and reduce the stigma against sex workers.

All of the campaign materials were developed by sex workers during a participatory workshop in March of 2013 that was organized and sponsored by the Ministry of Health.  Minister Padilha, however, alleged that he had not approved the material stating that as long as he is Minister, “this type” of material would not be produced by the government.

"I do not think this is a message the ministry should be sending. For as long as I remain in office an ad like that will not be part of our campaigns," said Alexander Padilha, the head of the Health Ministry in Brazil.

"The role of the ministry is to have specific content to encourage prevention among sex workers, who are a very vulnerable group," Padilha added.

Padilha also dismissed director Dirceu Greco from the ad campaign. The controversial ad was brought to light on Tuesday by the Committee for Human Rights and Minorities of the House, which determined that the campaign has been misinterpreted.

Another key factor that contributed to this campaign is the growing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among Brazilians, especially HIV and AIDS.

Despite this ban, an awareness campaign will take place, albeit a little differently. The upcoming ad will be called "Not ashamed of using a condom."

Sex work activist and blogger, Gabriela, who writes in A Kiss for Gabriela, condemned the move saying ‘The Minister’s decision to bow to political pressure is indicative of a politics of fear that is becoming pervasive in Brazil. The current government is afraid of losing votes from some radical evangelical groups which have gained significant political influence.’

‘Padilha’s decision to cancel the Without Shame to Use Condoms campaign is the third time that the government has censored vital health information materials.’

According to Gabriela, the Minister’s action are the ‘third time that the government has censored vital health information materials’ ‘In early 2012, Padilha censored a campaign designed for Carnaval that featured gay youth –one of the groups where HIV/AIDS has most increased in Brazil–and in March of 2013, the government cancelled the distribution of an AIDS prevention kit for adolescents that mentioned homosexuality, drugs, and pregnancy.’

Prostitution is legal in Brazil and is expected to spike as the nation gears up for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. In the city of Belo Horizonte, prostitutes are taking up free English classes to enable them to communicate with clients.

Gabriela is critical of the international media reporting on this ban:

"Rather than focusing on the human rights violations that this censorship represents, and its connection to previous censorship and the conservative turn in Brazilian politics that is silencing the voices of prostitutes, much of the international media has fallen back on tropes based on moral panics about large sports events and 'sex tourism.'

Gabriela writes in her blog, "Unfortunately international coverage has trivialized what should have been portrayed as an important story about political trends and much reportage has repeated the hype about feared 'increases' in prostitution and 'sexual exploitation' at the upcoming 2014 World Cup."