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3rd SWAN network meeting a great success in Ohrid

The meeting brought together 32 participants from 16 countries with the aim to exchange experience, share problems and find solutions, renew and strengthen the partnership ties and get to know new network members better.

The aim of the meeting was to bring together sex worker activists and NGOs working on sex work issues in the SWAN region and in neighboring countries to discuss further strategies of the Network and its cooperation with other organizations to share their experience. Special focus was placed on developing a set of ways to address stigmatization and violence against sex workers and to develop a plan to document and report human rights abuse in the context of sex work in Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia (ECE/CA).

The event lasted 7 days of intensive training and discussion. The program was shaped according to the members' suggestions and some parts of the training and discussion sessions were facilitated by SWAN members themselves.

The first two days were dedicated to the discussion of how SWAN members see the Network in the future. It should be noted that SWAN is a young network and has not had an official vision, mission and statement and based its actions on agreed basic principles of the Network. SWAN members believed it is time to make a step to put a clearer description of SWAN priorities. The Strategic discussion session was intended to provide time and space for developing a strategy to facilitate smoother functioning of the SWAN network and set membership conditions. The training was facilitated by the NESsT trainers (Nonprofit Enterprise and Self-sustainability Team - www.nesst.org ) who had put a lot of effort to make these two days engaging, informative and fun. SWAN will be cooperating with NESsT in future.

The following days the participants had time and space to discuss human rights issues, December 17 campaign preparations and the participation in international conferences. The members, trainers and consultants brainstormed possible advocacy actions on national and regional levels. During these days HOPS presented their film You Must Know About Me prepared with the help and support of WITNESS (www.witness.org ) that featured interviews with sex workers who had been arrested in the raid in Skopje in Macedonia and were forced to undergo HIV and Hepatitis testing while their clients were released (check WITNESS website for the stream video in English and Russian http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXhyzUya9BE).

In addition, SWAN presented the results of the two-year research on violence against sex workers titled Arrest the Violence which lead to further discussion on how to address violence and hold perpetrators accountable. In small groups the participants also worked with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Sexual Health and Human Rights Resource Guide and studies examples of advocacy efforts to address specific issues in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Macedonia.

The last part of the September meeting was dedicated to skill building in media sensitization and to the development of human rights abuse documentation strategy in some SWAN member-countries. Developing a healthy and steady relationship with local media is one of SWAN’s priorities. In the framework of this project SWAN members hold sensitization seminars for local journalists in order to provide them more credible information and to overcome myths and stigma around sex work. As some SWAN members shared their experience in cooperating/ educating/ fighting media, the media experts and consultants gave advice and tips on making this relationship more productive.

HRADP is an abbreviation of Human Rights Abuse Documentation Project, which SWAN is determined to start soon in some countries of the region. This project will aim at documenting and studying cases of human rights abuse in the context of sex work, and use the data to reveal human rights abuse for a global audience, mobilizing civil society groups and sex workers’ communities to urge states to address the issue.

Though the 7-day meeting was very intense and full of heated discussions, it was great to see so many inspired faces and hear people finding a common language even if they came from completely different countries.