Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Posted: February 7, 2012 by Carly Bea in Uncategorized

Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Some may be surprised to learn that sex work is actually legal in quite a few developed nations, including Canada, most of Europe (including Denmark, France, and England), most of South America, Israel, Australia… the list goes on, and laws certainly vary by area. However, sex work remains prohibited in several countries, including the United States. This map illustrates the legal status of sex work by country. Keeping sex work illegal is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it denies adults rights to their own bodies. Making sex work illegal is just another way that those in power (i.e., the government) can deny autonomous adults the right to make choices regarding their own body.  Those who engage in sex work in areas where it is illegal are subject to persecution if they are found out – for an act that harms no one.  Certainly, women who are sex workers are often looked down upon, and are questioned as to why they did not just “get an education” or why they do not “have a real job.”  The stigma surrounding sex work as a whole makes it difficult to address the human rights of sex workers.

History: A Brief Overview

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) is a Nongovernmental Organization that was established in 1990 by a group of sex worker rights activists.  Since then, they have worked with other organizations around the world to promote the inclusion of sex workers in policy and program development.  Despite their lack of recognition, the NWSP has made great strides in influencing policy and building leadership. However, there is still a long way to go with regard to global acceptance of sex workers.

Goals of the Organization

This organization seeks to improve the health and human rights of all sex workers around the globe and reduce social stigmas by encouraging sex workers to “represent their own realities and fully participate in dialogues and decision making about issues that affect them.” The NSWP stresses the importance of sex workers organizing at the local, national, regional, and international levels. Organizing in this manner can help sex workers and their allies identify the problems at hand and then generate ideas as to how they might be solved or lessened. Bringing these issues to the international level creates discussion, debate, and can often spark change.  The NSWP has three main goals, as stated on their “Our Work” page:

  1. To make information “relevant to sex workers rights and health” more accessible by summarizing, translating when necessary, and distributing the information.  Currently, they have prioritized five languages: Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
  2. To train and build skills among organizations and leaders affiliated with the sex industry, by developing and providing tools, spaces, and support.
  3. To establish and maintain accountability and adequate management. This is accomplished through regular management meetings and elections.

What NSWP Does

In the past few years, NSWP has been active in global discussion regarding HIV and AIDS. They were primarily responsible for replacing the term ‘prostitute’ with ‘sex worker.’ This change in language is extremely important in that it has the potential to perhaps make people think about sex work a bit differently. While the word ‘prostitute’ often has negative connotations, ‘sex worker’ implies a labor framework. By choosing to use a new, more politically correct term, it is the NSWP’s hope that sex workers will gain greater recognition as individuals who deserve rights.

NSWP started out as a fairly small organization, but they have made great strides: because of their advocacy, male, female, and transgender sex workers have been able to speak up in support of human rights at various international forums including the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the UNAIDS Programme Co-ordinating Board, and the Global Fund consultations.

Along with their work in global advocacy, the NSWP has made available a 92-page handbook entitled Making Sex Work Safe. This book, originally written by Cheryl Overs and Paulo Longo in 1996, puts forward some of the findings gained from responding to the needs of males, females, and transgender individuals engaged in sex work. It also contains examples and descriptions of successful educational programs.  It offers ideas and recommendations as to how to go about creating sexual health clinics, “minimising crime and violence, and providing effective social and economic support to sex workers.” The 92-page handbook is free to view and download.

Events and Campaigns

The NSWP is involved in a number of events that members work to organize and participate in. These include the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers (December 17), International Sex Workers’ Rights Day (March 3), and International Sex Workers’ Day (June 2).  As mentioned previously, the NSWP is actively involved in discussion surrounding AIDS and the health of individuals living with it. This is achieved by their participation in the International Aids Conference (IAC). By allowing and supporting sex workers’ involvement in the IAC, these individuals are able to make their concerns heard while networking with one another.

Research for Sex Work

Each year, the NSWP puts out a publication directed at sex workers, health workers, researchers, and activists alike. Research for Sex Work explores a different topic in every edition. Themes examined in the past include empowerment, migration/mobility, and ethics in health care and research. Through the distribution of this publication, it is the hope of those who work in NSWP that knowledge can be gained from the many perspectives contained in the work.  This year’s issue focuses on Sex Work and Violence and explores the criminalization of sex work, and what sex workers and their advocates are doing to put an end to this violence.

Why NSWP’s Work is Important


Because NSWP participates in dialogue on a global scale, their members are able to convey their concerns and demands in and increasingly effective manner. Due to these individuals’ advocacy, the world is moving towards positive changes with regards to improving the health and overall well being of sex workers around the world.

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