Friends Frangipani established in Papua New Guinea

Following international press coverage of the extreme violence used by police in the 2004 raid of Port Moresby’s “3 Mile Road” brothel; sex worker advocates and Australian’s bilateral aid organisation, AUSAID, focused on supporting Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) sex workers to form a peer-led advocacy network.

Local sex workers in Port Moresby had been meeting regularly through an international evangelical project; however, during a 2004 visit to the project by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, sex workers explained that they felt exploited by the project and had not received wages for the “rehabilitative” work they were undertaking.

In describing the “3 Mile Road” brothel raid to Mr Downer, sex workers recalled they were publicly paraded through the centre of town, forced to swallow condoms and sexually assaulted by state actors. Subsequently, with support from Mr Downer, AUSAID undertook to fund a collaborative capacity building and community mobilisation project between Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Worker Association, and Poro Support (Save the Children), a PNG Non Government  Organisation (NGO) which provided services to men who had sex with men, including male sex workers.

Cathy Ketepa
Cathy Ketepa, current manager of Friends Frangipani.

This funding partnership was an outcome of an AUSAID initiative, the Australian and Asia Pacific Consortium on HIV (the Consortium), which essentially aimed to “twin” Australia’s national community based organisations with their counterparts in the region to provide technical support, capacity development and to strengthen the relationships between regional networks. As there was no PNG sex worker organisation for Scarlet Alliance to “twin” with, the Consortium supported Scarlet Alliance’s efforts to work with local sex workers to form a national organisation.

In 2005, sex workers, with the support of Scarlet Alliance and Poro Support, were funded to hold a national meeting, which included sex workers from 6 different regions of the country. As a result of the meeting, sex workers identified that they were enthusiastic about forming their own network, in addition to enhancing their ability to advocate for law reform. Sex workers also identified that they were keen to: educate and undertake advocacy within PNG’s conservative Christian communities in relation to living with HIV; to challenge the stigma and discrimination associated with sex work; increase access to ARVs and other essential medications; and to seek legal redress from police and others responsible for gender based violence.

The group decided that due to their lived experience, their new network – named Friends Frangipani – would open its membership and governance structure to exclusively sex workers. The new network negotiated a sub-committee governance structure, which included a representative from each province. Friends Frangipani also developed a process in which local sub-committee members be nominated by sex workers in their own communities. Sub-committee members would subsequently be responsible for mobilising their local communities, in addition to facilitating local skills-building workshops around local, national and regional issues of significance, and undertaking outreach. Since 2005, sub-committee meetings have been held several times a year, and every 2 years a national forum involving 6 elected sex worker representatives (1 from each province) is held in a different province of PNG.

In 2006, during a national meeting in the province of Goroka, Friends Frangipani developed an official constitution, which explicitly stated that they were a sex worker-led and run organisation. With continuing technical support from Scarlet Alliance, Friends Frangipani incorporated as an independent organisation and successfully opened their first drop-in centre – for sex workers of all genders – in the Port Moresby suburb of Boroka.

Friends Frangipani poster presentation at IAC
Friends Frangipani members at the IAC, Melbourne.

As of October 2014, Friends Frangipani have refined and expanded their advocacy strategies and are often called on as experts in sex work issues by the National AIDS Commission, local NGOs, academics, progressive Church groups and Members of Parliament. The organisation has also opened 2 new offices in regional areas of the country, bringing the organisation’s number of provincial drop-in centres to 3. Friends Frangipani now receives independent funding from AUSAID’s in-country Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading (DFAT) and is responsible for determining its own project management and financial affairs.