Asia Pacific voices at Durban 2016 – Interview with Sakina Sayed

Sakina Sayed, is Treasurer of NNSW (India) and also Treasurer on the APNSW Management Committee. Sakina travelled to Durban, South Africa for the 2016 International Aids Conference, and within a few hours of touching down back in India gave this interview to APNSW.

How does it feel to be back home?

“It is nice to be relaxed and eat some Indian food again!”

What where the highlights of the week?

“The highlight of the week for me was the South African team of sex workers and their spirit. I felt very inspired by them. Their situation is very tough; they can be arrested just for having a condom.”

Sex workers: Your Frontline in the Battle Against HIV
African sex workers protest outside the conference venue (IAS Photo)

“In South Africa they are fighting discrimination at multiple levels: racial, gender, and also for sex workers. But they have conceptualised their struggle very well, and made clear the rights of sex workers are human rights – including the need for decriminalisation of sex work. I also really liked the way they put all messages into slogans that were meaningful. When there was a protest against decriminalisation, they were able to mobilise and respond very fast.”

Sex work is work
Sex workers hold a counter-protest

“Actually, this was not just the South African team, but all the teams from around the world. I liked very much the APNSW delegation and its presentations. Everybody was in harmony with what everybody else said. Even though we are coming from different belief systems, cultures and countries, our voice was “one.” Other people noticed this too and commented on it. We also appreciated very much NSWP’s presence and role.”

Sex work in Asia and the Pacific
APNSW Management Committee members present in the networking zone

“Participation in the Sex Worker Networking Zone was very strong. It was a place where we could be ourselves and feel part of a global community.”

Red umbrellas ready to go
Sex workers prepare to march

“Also, we could all come out into the street and face the media. There was a strong sense of solidarity and unity that this is our community, and these are our rights. Sex workers of the whole world could come together and it felt very united.

“I was very happy with the two media interviews I did. This was the first time I shared personal stories about the difficulties I have faced and overcome as a sex worker; and also that I am content financially and emotionally in my profession.”

Sex workers and sex work advocates take direct action at #AIDS2016

 

“The second event I felt was a highlight was the session where we interrupted and held a protest. In this session, the Deputy Health Minister from South Africa and somebody from the USA were arguing against decriminalisation of sex work. They said it would increase the numbers of people in sex work, create a pathway to HIV, and increase violence against sex workers. So at that point the whole sex work group joined in and sang a song and did a skit. The whole audience opened their umbrellas as a protest and interrupted the session.”

“This was also a highlight for me: the fact that as a group we could be there and make our presence felt in that context.”

Were there any low points?

“One thing I was very aware of during the conference was the lack of dedicated space for transgender sex workers to express their views. In various forums where transgender sex worker voices were relevant, the voices of male sex workers and MSM tended to dominate.

“Secondly, although there was great solidarity within the sex worker community, the conversations outside the sex worker space focussed on ‘prevention’ – rather than decriminalisation and rights. Despite occasional individual voices, there was not yet any overall or official endorsement at IAC 2016 of the need for decriminalisation of sex work.”

sex workers join Judge Cameron on main stage
One of the rare moments when sex workers were on the main stage.

 

What are the most important issues or outcomes from IAC 2016 for sex workers in Asia Pacific?

“A big lesson for me was realising how much work still needs done to advocate strongly for our right to do sex work. We need to argue confidently our right to practice, and our right to do what we have chosen to do. Violence is not pervasive. When we say that we are not facing violence, how can people from outside insist that we are?

“This realisation came for me in one evening session when a report was shared by Sweden. On almost every page of report there were derogatory pictures that portrayed sex workers in a demeaning way – only as victims of violence. This report was old and pre-dates the “sex buyer’s law” in Sweden, but it was being used as if it was current and as if it was representative. Actually the report was based on evidence from trafficked people, not sex workers.

“So there is still a lot of advocacy work still needing to be done – everywhere! Even though people are now discussing sex work in many places, we need to promote widely that sex work is not violence. The idea of sex work as work is still not widely understood or accepted around the world.”

Sex work is work
Sex work is work!