International Sex Workers Day is celebrated to honour and recognize the exploited working conditions of sex workers.
On 2nd June, 1975, 100 sex workers approximately gathered at the Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France to express their anger regarding their criminalised and exploitative living conditions.
They demanded several things including an end to police harassment, re-opening of the hotels where they worked, and a proper investigation in series of sex workers murders. Sex workers across the country joined the action by participating in an eight-day long strike.
To make their grievances precise, they launched a media campaign and hanged a banner from the Steeple which reads ‘our children don’t want their mothers to go to jail’.
This action by the sex workers made headlines nationally and internationally. Followed by sex workers strike all over France, the protest created a legacy of activism and it’s observed annually.
Despite the national impact of the protest, the police did not adhere to the grievances of the protestors’ and threatened severe punishments. After the eight-day strike, the police eventually cleared the church and the occupation. Even though the strike did not result in any law reforms, the sex workers considered it as a spark that ignited their right movement in Europe and the UK.
Therefore, on 2nd June, every year, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) focuses on the theme of ‘Access to Justice’ when commemorating International Sex Workers Day.
The NSWP also advised that International Sex Workers Day should be used as a platform to amplify the voices of the global sex worker movement, and demand equal access to justice
Sex workers around the world continue to face a wide range of barriers to accessing justice. Since sex work is criminalise, most sex works are denied access to the benefits and rights afforded to other workers under labour laws and face risk of criminalisation, detention, deportation and legal sanction.
The theme for this year’s International Sex Workers Day is ‘Fight For Survival Amid COVID-19’.
As the day is dedicated to fighting exploitation and stigma sex workers encounter, activists and groups supporting sex workers address myths, misconceptions and discrimination that marginalise the community (the urban poor). In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, sex workers are becoming more vulnerable and facing estrangement.