History of the Sex Worker Rights Movement

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Walking in sex workers’ heels on Women’s Day

9 Aug

On 9 August 2013, South Africa’s National Women’s Day, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and the country’s sex worker movement Sisonke launched the 'In Her Heels' toolkit, at the Artscape Women/Humanity Arts Festival. ‘In Her Heels’ is a sensitisation training tool that puts participants in sex workers’ heels – using story cards and different scenarios that are based on sex workers real life stories. The two-day launch saw approximately 73 participants (some men) take part.

Chouf Minorities is formed in Tunisia

1 Jan

Chouf Minorities is a feminist organisation advocating for LBTSW women’s bodily and sexual rights in Tunisia. It was formed in 2012, and officially registered the following year. The NGO’s main objectives are empowering, building and creating positive visibility for women with non-normative sexualities. Chouf aims to ‘break the image and label of “sexual minorities” given to us by civil society and the “criminal” one by the government’, said the President of Chouf, Khouloud Mahdhaoui. Chouf defines women as everyone who biologically, socially or politically self-identifies as a woman.

CHESA/TSSNU is formed in Tanzania


Community Health Education Services and Advocacy (CHESA) is a network of LGBTQIs, sex workers, and persons living with HIV. It was originally established in 2008 as the Tanzania Sisi Sex Workers Network Unit (TSSNU). In December 2011 it formally registered as a non-governmental organisation that supports these key populations in claiming social, economic and health rights.

Stonewall Riot

28 Jun

The Stonewall Riot is often considered the starting point of the modern gay rights movement in the Global North, despite earlier outbreaks of resistance such as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot of 1966 in San Francisco. What is not often clear in the popular retelling of the story is the fact that a transgender sex worker of colour was at the front of the action.

The Stonewall Inn, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, was well-known as a hangout for sex workers, transgender people of colour and other marginalised people – which made it a target for the police who raided it regularly.

New York Conference on Prostitution

16 Dec

In December, 1971 a feminist ‘Conference on Prostitution’ was held in Chelsea High School in New York City. Organised by thirty women belonging to various feminist groups, the conference featured workshops and a final discussion panel on ‘The Elimination of Prostitution.’ It was, writes Melinda Chateauvert in her book Sex Workers Unite, ‘one of the earliest confrontations between sex workers and feminists who had never worked in the sex industry. It did not bode well for future alliances.’

PEERS Forms in Victoria, Canada

27 Oct

On the 27th of October, 1995 a support group for sex workers, which would later become known as PEERS Victoria Resources Society, was formed by a group of women involved in street-based outreach work in downtown Victoria.

Co-founder Jannit Rabinovitch was a community organiser who had spearheaded many innovative women’s services in the region and Barb Smith, another co-founder, had been in the sex industry and recognised the need for sex worker specific services in Victoria.

Davida and Brazilian Government Refuse USAID Grant after PEPFAR Implementation

29 Apr

After the introduction of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) by US President George Bush Davida and the Brazilian Aids and STI Programme rejected the remaining $40 million what was left of a $48 million grant from the USAID (US Agency for International Development) which was to run over 5 years.