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A Voice of Tajikistan Sex-workers at The Sex Worker Freedom Festival in India

By Dignity team

Due to financial support of the NSWP and organizational support of initiative group "Dignity" was able to take part in the Sex Worker Freedom Festival, which took place in Kolkata, India, on June 21-27 2012.

Everybody is aware that the Festival was an official conference hub of the International Aids Conference that was taking place at the same time in Washington. Travel restrictions imposed by the USA government on sex-workers meant that few were able to attend the AIDS conference held this year in Washington. The Freedom Festival for sex-workers and their allies that was held in Kolkatta, became an alternative event for sex-workers, which attracted more than 500 participants from all over the world. The Festival was jointly organized by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects and the All-Indian Network of Sex-Workers.

Initiative group "Dignity" was formed in December 2011 and is governed by the representatives of the sex-worker and transgender communities and their allies.

Initiative group "Dignity" spent several weeks preparing for the Sex Worker Freedom Festival during which we discussed community's problems with sex workers themselves as well as with those who work in sex-workers targeted projects. The latter became possible at the CARHAP organized seminar held on July 16-20 in Dushanbe under the title "Best practices and holistic approach to HIV-prevention programs among sex workers". During one of the days seminar participants have prepared posters that portrayed sex workers lifes, paying special attention to sex worker rights and efforts to mobilize Tajikistan sex workers. We took those posters to Kolkatta so that conference participants could visualize the realities of lifes and problems faced by Tajikistan sex workers. A poster depicting sex workers rights was the most picturesque. Apart from the seminar we have organized several meeting of sex workers in the "Spin Plus" drop-in center, where we discussed problems and issues that should be raised during the festival.

There are few NGOs in Tajikistan that are created by the communities affected by the epidemics. For the majority of the people the very idea of organizing sounds unusual. We believe that at the present moment we should promote the necessity of self-organizing, which was also mentioned multiple times during the Festival.

Our initiative group is going through the registration process at the moment. Since the creation of the initiative group several organizations have enormously helped us, including Tais Plus (Kyrgyzstan), the CARHAP project in Tajikistan; AFEW offered some small financial support to develop the Statute of the organization; the NGO "Aiperon" from Tajikistan was assisting us in gathering papers for official registration.

Due to the participation in the Festivel we became sure that we are doing something that is useful, something that the community needs and that we can count on support of similar community organizations.

It is, probably, a bit too early for us to promote the slogan that sex work is work, therefore we started with promoting the idea that nothing should be done for us without our participation. For example, recently we have learned that HIV-positive women who gave birth to children, do not have access to breast milk substitutes. We would like to solve this problem. This issues, together with several others, was discussed at the panel for HIV-positive sex workers, that was chaired by Andrew Hunter and Julian Hopes.

We would like to conclude by saying that such events provide inspiration for doing things that seem useless and unpromising in our situation. We will go on with understanding that apart from ourselves nobody will be able to do the thing that we need.