Pon Pon, Japanese sex worker/activist, performing at the Red Light, Red Carpet party at the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival
in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. © Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Click here to watch an excerpt of Pon Pon’s performance (watch all performances or skip to 2:35). Pon Pon is a member of SWASH (Sex Work and Sexual Health), a group founded in 1999 aiming to improve the health and safety of sex workers. SWASH consists of women working in the sex industry and their supporters. Click here for the English content on their website and follow them via Facebook or Twitter.
Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival
The Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, held in Kolkata from July 21st to 27th, 2012, was the Official Hub of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.. This alternative conference became necessary as U.S. travel restrictions barred foreign sex workers and drug users from entering the United States, thus shutting out those most affected by the global epidemic from discussions over policies directly affecting them. (Bear in mind that it was only in 2010 that people living with HIV were allowed to enter the United States again. See Travel Restrictions)
Sex workers and their allies refused to be excluded, however, and staged the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, bringing together over 500 sex workers from more than 40 countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Uganda, China and Indonesia, discussing access to ARV drugs, promoting safe sex, and loopholes in HIV/AIDS policies, as well as interacting with participants at the Washington conference by video link. They also used their protest against the U.S. travel ban to highlight the wider issue of the discrimination sex workers face and to demand the decriminalisation of sex work.
In a message from Washington, Michele Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said he was ‘extremely inspired’ by the Freedom Festival as “It is a wonderful example of people who face stigma and discrimination speaking out and taking control of their own destinies.”
The festival ended with the publication of the Kolkata Platform for Action, which outlined three core values – the acceptance of sex work, opposition to the criminalisation of sex work, and support for the self-organisation and self-determination of sex workers. Click here to download the Kolkata Platform for Action [PDF file].
SWFF in the press
Two of my photos and a video were featured in the article Where Were The Sex Workers At The International AIDs Conference? [Photos on Page 2] by Tracy Quan, author of the Nancy Chan trilogy, incl. “Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl” (which features an AIDS conference theme) and a member of PONY (Prostitutes of New York).
For a press round-up and other news about the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, please visit Research Project Korea / SWFF.