By Shanna- Kay Gillespie
Sex work is the exchange of sexual services, production and material consumption. Forms of sex work include pornography, exotic dancing, webcam performer, escorting, telephone performer, sugar baby, street-based worker etc.
Sex work, in a nutshell, is ridiculed and is highly outlawed which in essence, leaves sex workers at risk to hostile working conditions and few legal representations. Sex work is noted as the longest known profession, however, sex workers around the world have been fighting for their rights and to an extension, their humanity for centuries now.
As with most stigmas, sex work stigma is a result of patriarchal societal norms surrounding gender and sexuality. These norms are dated and often require people of all genders to accede to the belief that sexual and labour should be given for free. Not only do sex workers provide sexual services, but they also provide emotional labour as well for a cost. Sex workers are subjected to gender inequality, they are prone to racial and class inequality as well.
The Caribbean and Latin America have a long history of sex worker organizations that have grappled for safer working conditions that remove orthodox cruelty and oppression. These organizations are consistently demanding recognition, similarly to their counterparts in the late nineteenth century.
Instead of a corrupt colonial administration, they now face an equally powerful neocolonial and neoliberal context that undermines their livelihoods and rights. According to UNAIDS, in Haiti, for example, 36.6% of female sex workers report physical violence and 27.1% report sexual violence. In Grenada, an individual can get up to 10 years in prison for sex work. It is extremely important to note that throughout the Caribbean and the world, it is illegal to live off the funds provided through sex work. Meaning partners of sex workers could be committing an offence because they were being supported through money provided by sex work.
Consistent concerns surrounding the Latin and Caribbean sex worker movement include access to labour rights, the decriminalization of the sex trade, orthodox intolerance, state violence, and social disgrace. These challenges impact the international sex trade as well and will continue to enable conversations exchange between the different territories. However, sex workers in Latin America have a history of organising that is distinct from the genealogy of sex worker organising in the Global North; the former is ignored, and the latter is usually inaccurately assumed to explain sex worker organising in Latin America and the Caribbean. Resistance, political advocacy and commitment to social justice are present throughout their framework, however, there is room for visibility.
Sex work, migration and human trafficking are often conflated by those seeking to abolish sex work and prevent migration for sex work.
The covid 19’ pandemic resulted in numerous of people losing their jobs, the sex work industry was affected tremendously. With no support from the government, no health insurance, debt-ridden, travel restrictions, migrant workers suffered enormously. Caribbean migrant workers are often sold the dream that relocating to a new country will provide them with new opportunities and safety. Safety is important to migrant workers,but they are never granted that much dignity. The Caribbean ought to be mindful of its dependency on migratory labour and sexual labour, and on its zonal implementation through migration including for sex and entertainment industries, and to step up to take care of its most pregnable and overlooked women.
It is important to note that when we speak about decriminalizing sex work, we’re not asking for the removal of laws that criminalize exploitation, human trafficking or violence against sex workers. These laws could use some strengthening. However, when we speak about decriminalizing sex work, we’re asking for the elimination of laws and politics prohibiting or chastising sex work.
Angelique Nixon, is a Caribbean scholar and activist. Her exploration of sex work is very interesting and relevant, she views sex work as powerful and opens the door for sex work being something that can be viewed as positive and not a dirty little secret, she defines sex work as a tool to resist to neocolonialism. There can be no gender equality if sex workers’ human rights are not fully recognized and protected. For the Caribbean feminism movement to make strides, sexual minority works, and inclusion needs to be at the forefront.
“The future of Caribbean feminist and sexual minority work relies upon our ability to prioritize decolonization that is centered upon sexual freedom and the rights of sex workers, sexual outlaws, women, domestic workers, migrants, and sexual minorities to determine livelihood and live freely with the rights and protections deserved by all people.”
A L Cabezas, ‘Latin American and Caribbean Sex Workers: Gains and challenges in the movement’, Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 12, 2019, pp. 37-56, www.antitraffickingreview.org. Web. 01. Sept. 2021.
Kempadoo, Kamala. On Migration, Sex Work and the Pandemic in the Caribbean | CLACS. 28 Apr. 2020. Web. 04 Sept. 2021.
Nixon, Angelique V. "Sex/trade/work in the Caribbean-Challenging Discourses of Human Trafficking." Social and Economic Inquiry 65:4. 2016. Web. 04 Sept. 2021.
NSWP. "Policy Brief Sex Work and Gender Equality." Web. 31 Aug. 2021.
Shanna-kay Gillespie is a Jamaican textile artist. Her works are combinations of various cultures, popular topics and personal experiences. She has a passion for activism and is a Writer at Feminitt Caribbean.