International sex worker day: the origins in a church

Thirty-eight years ago on 2nd June 1975, 150 sex workers occupied Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon in France, to protest about criminalisation of sex work and exploitation. “Across the world, we sex workers are reclaiming the 2nd June as International Sex Worker Day, a day to remind society that we are free women with rights,” explains RedTraSex, the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Sex Workers.

RedTraSex recalls that in June 1975, eight days into the protest, state authorities raided the church and the sex workers were violently repressed. The justice system never investigated the crimes they suffered that day, nor was anyone held to account. A national movement sprung from this incident, and now the 2 June is known as International Sex Worker Day.

RedTraSex explains that across Latin America and the Caribbean, sex workers’ human rights continue being violated on a daily basis. “Violence and discrimination against us persist and continue to affect our lives and our work.”

Even where sex work is not criminalised, legislation can violate sex workers’ rights, such as the lack of differentiation between autonomous sex work and human trafficking, the penalisation of sex workers’ clients, compulsory HIV testing and the criminalisation of HIV transmission. This means sex workers are pushed underground and this increases the risk of physical violence and of getting HIV.

RedTraSex calls for the repeal of codes that criminalise sex work and ask to be considered in the design and implementation of public policy. They also demand that security forces and healthcare providers are trained to guarantee that their human rights are respected and services are accessible free from stigma and discrimination.

© Gideon Mendel for the Alliance

“Across the world, we sex workers are reclaiming the 2nd June as International Sex Worker Day."

— RedTraSex

Alliance’s work with RedTraSex

In the Latin American region, sex workers’ risk of HIV infection is 10-30 times higher than other women. RedTraSex began 15 years ago and the network goes from strength to strength. The Alliance has partnered with RedTraSex since 2004, helping to build its capacity, the quality of its work, and its credibility, so it can have a greater influence in the region, directly representing sex workers.

RedTraSex has a base of strong national organisations across the region, and has become a campaigning powerhouse. It gained representation on 11 Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanisms across Latin America and speaks at numerous conferences, forums and high-level meetings to demand recognition of sex workers’ human rights; in particular for women sex workers to enjoy the free choice of employment, and to just and favourable conditions of work.

The network, its member organisations and the sex workers involved thrive as their own voices are heard at local, national and regional levels. Funding has often been to reduce sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV, and RedTraSex sees this as part of its broader demand for human rights and empowerment. The network is campaigning for the recognition of sex work as work by governments, including laws to regulate sex work that implicitly recognize sex workers as workers and citizens.

In 2012, RedTraSex began implementation of its largest project to date, funded by the Global Fund: a multi-year, multi-country project to strengthen member organisations to expand their reach and impact.