The day originated in 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival, despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit. The event was organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group that has over 50,000 sex worker members, and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3rd March as an annual, international event: International Sex Worker Rights Day.
Sex workers’ rights are human rights. This includes:
- the right to non-discrimination – sex workers experience a high degree of stigma and discrimination and often choose not to disclose their sex work to even their closest friends and family members (Benoit, 2017)
- the right to life, liberty and security of the person – sex workers have many barriers to accessing police protection and reporting violence, and reports from sex workers are not always investigated (Benoit, 2016)
- the right to health – 40% of Canadian sex workers report having unmet health care needs and are three times less likely to access the health care they need (Benoit, 2016)
- the right to working conditions that are safe and healthy – the criminalization of sex buyers forces sex workers to work in isolation and secrecy, and consequently limits their ability to work safely
- the right to freedom of expression and association – Canadian law forces sex workers to work alone and limits their ability to communicate with clients and effectively negotiate the terms of service
- the right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment – sex workers have up to a 75% lifetime risk of physical or sexual violence (CPHA, 2014), and are 60 to 120 times more likely to die by homicide than non-sex workers (Stats Canada, 2007)
Upholding sex workers’ human rights is key to ending violence, exploitation and discrimination against sex workers and people who sell or trade sexual services.
How can you help?
- Language reinforces stigma – use the term sex worker rather than other options that are less respectful
- Maintain confidentiality – avoid ‘outing’ someone as a current or former sex worker, it may be unsafe for them
- Be the change – learn about issues that affect sex workers, support sex workers in your community, and get involved!
About Shift Calgary
Using a harm reduction and human rights based approach, Shift provides support, outreach, education and advocacy services for adults currently or formerly working in the sex industry with the goal of building capacity, promoting mental health and increasing social inclusion. Find out more at www.shiftcalgary.org.