Sex workers and members of the LGBTQ community in Winnipeg, Canada held three Valentine’s card-making events in February 2016. The events in Winnipeg were organised by members of the Winnipeg Working Group, Genderfest Winnipeg, and the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW). A sister event was held in Nairobi, Kenya by the Kenyan Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA).
The card making was part of the ICW’s ‘Love Positive Women’ campaign that encourages people to show their love for women living with HIV each year between the 1st and 14th of February. The Winnipeg Working Group and KESWA focused their event on sex workers living with HIV.
In Canada, sex workers living with HIV face criminalisation both for sex work and for HIV non-disclosure. The situation is similar in Kenya with both sex work and HIV criminalised. The ‘Loving Positive Women’ events hoped to create solidarity between sex workers and allies in both countries.
“In North America, HIV stigma so high, and [...] building community and support for sex workers living with HIV is really challenging. Stigma against sex workers living with HIV is treated as acceptable in many sex work communities,” Genderfest Winnipeg organiser Jonny Mexico told NSWP by email. “So not only did this event provide a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with sex workers in Kenya, it also helped to create more space for sex workers in Winnipeg to hear that they are welcome and loved, and experience solidarity.”
“This event was an intersectional event; being part of the LPW campaign, part of Genderfest Winnipeg, as well as being a pilot project for Sex Worker Day Of Art,” said Mexico.
“Considering there was a snow storm out, the event went well!” Mexico added. The event in Winnipeg brought together current and former sex workers and allies. “It was an amazing feeling to create something, to share it, to network and bond over it, to relax and visit while making it. “
The events created cards, signs, and a video to share with Kenyan sex worker organisation KESWA. KESWA, in turn, held their own events to coincide with those in Winnipeg.
“Love Positive Women is a project that uses social media to link local grassroots gestures of love,” said Velvine Sarah Jobiese, a member of KESWA who spoke to NSWP by email. “The message from KESWA to Winnipeg reads ‘Togetherness + love and care =solidarity. We Share a Common Agenda’. The messages were shared via social media.”
The events were aimed at “expressing love and solidarity and an appreciation for each other and the work that we do,” said Mexico.
“This was the best valentine gift to KESWA and [the] Winnipeg Working Group,” said Jobiese.
The video created by the Winnipeg Working Group for KESWA can be found here.
Mexico has committed to making Love Positive Women an annual part of Genderfest Winnipeg.