International Sex Workers’ Day and Access to Justice

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On 2 June 1975, approximately 100 sex workers occupied Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France, to express their anger about their criminalised and exploitative living conditions. They hung a banner from the steeple which read ‘Our children do not want their mothers to go to jail’, and launched a media campaign to broadcast their grievances to the world. Their action made national and international news headlines, started a strike that involved sex workers from all over France, and created a legacy of activism that is celebrated each year on International Sex Workers’ Day.

On 2 June, NSWP focuses on the theme of Access to Justice when commemorating International Sex Workers’ Day. Sex workers around the world continue to face a wide range of barriers to accessing justice, both as victims of crime and when charged with crimes. Since sex work is widely criminalised, most sex workers are denied access to the benefits and rights afforded to other workers under labour laws and face the risk of criminalisation, detention, deportation and legal sanction.

When sex workers occupied the Parisienne Chapel of St Bernard in 1975 in solidarity with the sex workers in Lyon, Simone de Beauvoir told Reuters News Service, ‘I hope they are successful and I am ready, with my friends in the women’s liberation movement, to support this movement’.

In 1975, Simone de Beauvoir acknowledged the role of the women’s liberation movement in supporting sex workers’ rights. In 2020, this is a crucial aspect of intersectional activism that must not be forgotten.

In 2020, the global community will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). UN Women has described 2020 as a “pivotal year for the accelerated realisation of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, everywhere.”

It is crucial that the empowerment and protection of sex workers is included in this pursuit of equality.

The COVID-19 global health emergency led to the effective cancellation of CSW2020, where activists in the women’s movement, including an NSWP sex work delegation, were due to discuss the Beijing+25 agenda. In advance of the formal Beijing+25 review at the High Level Meeting at the UN General Assembly in September 2020, UN Women have convened the Generation Equality Forum, and multi-stakeholder Generation Equality Action Coalitions have also been formed as multi-stakeholder partnerships that aim to mobilise governments, civil society, international organisations, and the private sector. Sex workers must be part of this process. If sex workers continue to be excluded from discussions that affect their lives we end up with punitive laws, policies and practices that deny our access to justice.

See how our members are commemorating International Sex Workers' Day on our events calendar.