Despite sex workers clearly voicing their needs and interests, the feminist movement has not always listened. This has caused deep harm, not only to sex workers but to many facets of gender justice. Many have treated sex workers as victims of violence who need to be rescued, rehabilitated, and/or trained in more ‘respectable’ forms of labor, instead of advocating for their bodily autonomy, self-determination, wellness and safety. This in itself reinforces broader stereotypes around women as unable to know and express their own needs and undermines key feminist slogans such as ‘Trust Women.’

Sex workers are people of any gender who receive money or goods in exchange for consensual sexual services. Because sex work is criminalised in many places, it can be hard to find reliable data about who is actually taking part in the practice. But we know that many women, poor folks, trans people, Black, indigenous and people of color engage in sex work — in other words, those most impacted by racial, gender, and class injustice. To ignore their needs is to ignore those for whom gender justice is perhaps most central, transformative, and urgent.

Yet, rather than support their rights and liberation, many people instead conflate their consensual choices with trafficking, and the problem extends to many feminist funders. According to the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, ‘the conflation of sex work, trafficking, and exploitation has formed the centerpiece of many feminist campaigns against sex work, waged under the guise of promoting gender equality and ending violence against women.’ This has meant that less than 1 percent of global human rights funding goes to advancing sex workers’ rights, leading to sex worker-led organisations that are insufficiently resourced to either provide direct services themselves, like sexual and reproductive health care, or to advocate that others provide care.

At Global Fund for Women, we have developed key learnings in funding sex worker rights — and made mistakes along the way. Here are a few lessons based on our experiences to date. We share our journey in the hopes that it might spark action among fellow funders.

  • Join other funders to learn and advocate together. 
  • Support those most impacted to lead the way. 
  • Start at home with honest self-reflection.
  • Get on the same page.
  • Codify your position. 
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. 
  • Put your money where your mouth is. 

Read the full article about lessons in funding sex workers rights by Ankit Gupta and Erin Williams at Alliance Magazine.