In 2007, through their participation in a research project undertaken by social researcher and anthropologist, Professor Carol Jenkins, Fijian sex workers (many of whom have subsequently become some of the nation’s most visible activists) were exposed to the concept of building a sex worker rights advocacy organisation.
The same year, sex workers associated with Ms. Jenkins’ research project acted as community liaisons during a visit from Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) staff to Fiji.
Subsequently, a transgender sex worker representative, Rani Ravundi, attended a 2008 APNSW meeting in Phnom Phen, Cambodia. At this meeting Rani met with Elena Jefferies, then President of Scarlet Alliance, to discuss the possibility of Scarlet Alliance working with Fijian sex workers to support their community to form a national sex worker advocacy network.
In 2008, Scarlet Alliance, working with funding from the HIV Consortium on Partnerships in Asia and the Pacific (the Consortium), collaborated with Suva-based sex workers to undertake a series of regional meetings with sex workers. The purpose of these meetings was to identify issues related to the legal environment in which sex workers operated, and to explore the practicalities of sex workers establishing a national peer-led advocacy network to address these issues.
After identifying that the criminalisation of sex work was the primary issue impacting on sex workers’ work environments and ascertaining that sex workers from across the country supported the creation of a national sex worker network, a national meeting was held in Suva.
Two sex worker representatives (one female and one trans*) from 6 regions of the nation were nominated by their local communities to attend the forum. The 12 representatives subsequently identified issues of significance the network would focus its advocacy work upon and negotiated a name for the network – Survival Advocacy Network (SAN).
In 2009, a SAN office space was established within the rooms of a Suva-based NGO, Women’s Action for Change (WAC); and two peer coordinators, one female and one trans*, were recruited to support the network’s development. Throughout 2009, Scarlet Alliance held several capacity development workshops in Fiji. The workshops explored strategies for strengthening the network’s governance structure, and what community-led advocacy initiatives SAN’s staff and membership could safely undertake in a highly criminalised environment subject to martial law.
In early 2010, SAN successfully applied for funding from Mama Cash, and the network decided to focus its energy on service provision, rather than advocacy. The organisation worked with the Fijian School of Medicine to undertake sensitivity training with student doctors and nurses regarding their attitudes towards sex work and sex workers. SAN also facilitated a number of community building workshops and implemented an outreach program across 6 regions of Fiji.
In 2014, SAN relocated to a new office space, shared with Rainbow Women’s Network, (RWN), a community based organisation that have provided technical and logistical support to SAN throughout the organisation’s history. SAN have subsequently re-focused on an advocacy agenda and are recognised within the Pacific region as a respected sex worker network.