Karnataka Sex Workers of India

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Karnataka Sex Workers Union

The World Social Forumin Belem Brazil January 27 through February 1st.

For Immediate Release
San Francisco, California

Unionized Sex industry workers made history at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil Jan. 27- Feb. 1 2009. The special trade unionization of the sex industry forum was sponsored in part by India’s sex worker union, Karnataka and the International Commission for Labor Rights. The public forums featured presentations and discussions by trade union representatives from South Africa, Nigeria and Germany that support organizing sex industry workers as well as actual organized prostitutes from Bolivia, Brazil, USA and the host country India.

The meeting culminated in sex industry worker, Carmen Lucia Paz making a statement to the Final Assembly on Labour and Globalization that trade unions and allies in social movements must recognize sex work as such, calling for solidarity to end harassment, discrimination and forced labor through the guarantees of the International Labor Organization’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Those trade unions should support sex workers in challenging the laws that undermine sex worker organizing — through criminal, civil or other means. Historic on all accounts.

Karnataka Sex Worker Union

Gautam Mody, Secretary of India’s New Trade Union Initiative of which Karnataka is officially affiliated, addressed sex worker participants. Mody stated that unionization comes when workers face their bosses. For sex industry workers, those bosses present themselves in many tiers; direct and indirect. South Africa’s Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce presented newly released research of Cape Town’s sex industry. Prostitutes rights organizers hailed this new study documented in the book, “Selling Sex in Cape Town” by Chandre Gould as new standard for researchers when targeting the sex industry. The study discredits claims by anti prostitution and migration groups that Cape Town is an originator, a recruiting site and a destination place for forced labor in the sex industry. The study also disproves statements that disproportionately high numbers of under aged workers dominate the sex industry instead sighted very few actual incidences of underage workers have occurred in Cape Town.

Other distinguished sex work centered acts by NOG’s such as Brazil’s Davida presented on how they were able to create their own funding for HIV services after tuning down 40 million dollars in 2005 from the United States Agency for International Development in which required NGO’s who received the funding to not discusses rights when delivering condoms to prostitutes. Brazil considers prostitutes partners in its successful fight against new HIV infections. Davida produces a clothing line and a fashion show by and for prostitutes. Prostitution is not illegal in Brazil.

The president of Organización Nacional de Activistas por la Emancipación de la Mujer of Bolivia told first hand accounts of how a mob shut down work locations for many prostitutes which resulted in the sex workers going on a hunger strike and sewing their mouths shut. Violence by police drove many workers into seeking protection from the church, only to be turned away by the nuns. Prostitution is not illegal in Bolivia.

But hope was found in the innovative perspective from South Africa’s Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union which stated that sex workers would be included in this union as are other informal sector worker including children. Nigeria’s Labor Congress already recognizes sex work as work. Germany’s public section union, Ver.di presented on a study of sex workers from 2002 and has now made provision to include prostitutes who want to be come members. Prostitutes don’t have to say they are prostitutes in order to join nor do they have to submit to mandatory testing.

Other unionized prostitute groups like Argentina and the Netherlands, as well as other organized groups in Southeast Asia, Australia and Spain where not represented including two other important leaders of Karnataka, the host sex worker union. The two leaders were unable to attend because they didn’t qualify for visas. One had a charge pending stemming from working in a brothel and other for protesting the forced rescue of brothel workers by police who beat and held the rescuees captive in shelters. Prostitution is not illegal in India. Also not in attendance was England’s International Sex Worker Union as members are currently embroiled in opposing legislation that’s would further violate sex industry workers’ human, labor and civil rights.

Maxine Doogan
Erotic Service Providers Union

Feb. 09.09