National Sex Workers’ Day

International Sex Workers’ Rights Day

Sex workers are subjected to inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal policing methods such as physical and sexual abuse, extortion, and false arrest. International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, a holiday commemorating the tireless efforts of harm-reduction advocates around the globe, is celebrated by Sex Workers and allied communities. The day honours and recognises Sex Workers’ exploited working circumstances.

The beginnings of this day can be traced back to 2001, when over 25,000 Sex Workers gathered in India for a festival. This was despite efforts by prohibitionist organisations to prevent it from happening by pressuring the government to revoke their permit. The gathering was organised by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a Calcutta-based organisation. The Durbar translates to “The Unstoppable Women’s Synthesis Committee.” DMSC is a 65000-member Sex Workers’ union that serves as an exclusive venue for female, male, and transgender Sex Workers in West Bengal, India.

Sex Worker organisations around the globe have since designated March 3 as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. Every year on March 3, Sex Workers and activists around the world plan protests, gatherings, art shows, and lectures. These events are to raise awareness about the human rights violations that Sex Workers experience. Events highlight the tenacity of the Sex Work community, the advances activists have made, and the battles that lie ahead.

International Sex Workers’ Day is observed on June 2. On June 2, 1975, approximately 100 Sex Workers gathered at Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France, to voice their outrage at their criminalised and exploitative living conditions. They hung a banner from the steeple and started a global media campaign to express their grievances. This action made national and worldwide headlines, and Sex Workers embarked on strikes all over France, leaving a legacy of activism. Sex Workers occupying the Church demanded several things, including an end to police harassment. They also demanded reopening of the hotels they worked in and a thorough investigation into a succession of Sex Worker murders. Even though the occupation and strike did not result in any legal change, Sex Worker activists credit it with sparking the contemporary Sex Workers’ Rights movement in Europe and the United Kingdom. In 1990, at the 2nd International Conference for NGOs Working on AIDS in Paris, a group of Sex Workers’ Rights advocates working on Sex Work projects worldwide began networking.

Sex Workers are particularly susceptible to violence due to Sex Work’s criminalisation and legal discrimination, aggravated by stigma and discrimination. Every year on December 17, Sex Workers around the globe observe the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Sex Worker Pride began in 2019 to honour and share stories of Sex Workers’ self-determination and the accomplishments of the Sex Worker rights movement. Sex Worker Pride on September 14, joins three other annual worldwide Sex Worker Rights days in drawing attention to Sex Workers’ labour rights, access to justice, and violence against Sex Workers.

Sex Workers worldwide continue to encounter numerous barriers to accessing justice, both as victims of crime and as suspects. Because Sex Work is widely criminalised, most Sex Workers are denied the benefits and rights given to other workers under labour laws. They face criminalisation, detention, deportation, and legal sanctions. International Sex Workers’ Rights Day is about more than just ensuring Sex Workers’ rights; it’s about securing human rights.

Image Source: The Lancet

Image Source: NSWP

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