It is getting all a bit overwhelming.
The third day, Wednesday, the theme for me must have been physical and emotional exhaustion. I wasn’t the only one. Just by looking at people I could tell that many of conference participants were experiencing an energy low. It takes a lot to absorb all the enormous amount of information, ideas and emotions which are here.
In spite of this I managed to facilitate 2 sessions at the Women Networking Zone, one on women and networks and another a panel discussing the effects of laws criminalizing women’s sexuality.
I sat along women from Venezuela, Germany, South Africa, Malaysia and the US. We shared our different experiences of mobilizing and politicizing women in order to challenge laws that criminalize homosexuality, criminal prosecution of HIV transmission, and sex work.
At the end of the debate a sex worker from Malaysia took the microphone and said: “ I have been a sex worker for 15 years, suffered a lot of abuse from the police, and this is the first time I speak up. It has taken me 15 years. But I will continue when I go back to my country. Having met all of you has given me the strength to speak up’.
One of the overwhelming aspects of this conference is the amount incredible personal transformations that take place in front of your very eyes. It is like watching an accelerated films of a field of flowers blossoming.
I had some huge lessons from the sex workers movement at this conference. Today’s plenary ( Thursday) included an amazing multimedia presentation by Meena Saraswati Seshu of Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM), who are promoting a rights centred programme in Western India.
SANGRAM works with sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), rural women living in poverty and young people. Sex workers have become involved as HIV educators. They go in the streets to teach truck drivers and the wider community about HIV, STDs and how to use condoms. Stepping up as educators has helped them to go from social pariah to leaders in the response to HIV.
Here is the SANGRAM Bill of Rights presented at the plenary:
- I have the right to be approached with humility and respect.
- People have a right to say yes or no to things that concern them.
- People have a right to reject harmful social norms.
- People have the right to stand up and change the balance of power.
- People have the right not to be rescued by outsiders who neither understand them nor respect them.
- People have the right to exist how they want to exist.
Save us from saviors!