On the narrow stone streets in Barcelona’s Raval district, sex worker activists tell us the stories of their neighbourhood. Of gentrification that has squeezed many out, of police harassment and being fined simply for being in public, of the city’s municipal services sent in to literally ‘clean up’ the streets with water hoses. But also of organising and solidarity and fighting back.
The sense of solidarity and community is palpable. As 20 participants in the EDGE Funders’ Alliance conference, ‘Re/organising Power’, walk the streets, the activists are greeted and hugged by people who see us passing by. ‘Hola, mi amor!’; it could not be clearer that this neighbourhood is their home.
We were invited to visit an apartment where some of the women live and work. I felt reluctant – it seemed intrusive, voyeuristic. “No,” my colleague Dennis from the sex-worker led Red Umbrella Fund assured me. ‘It was their decision, they want to share this with us.’ Up several flights of stairs, a group of five funders step hesitantly over the threshold. What now? ‘Well, come on in!’, the women say, laughing.
‘It’s just an apartment. Look, here’s a kitchen!’, one of the women laughs beckoning us further. ‘And look, here, it’s just a bed!’ she laughs again and sits down on the bed and pats it playfully. ‘We cook and eat here. We have sex and sleep, just like you. We are normal people.’
Later, a bar owner opens his place to us for drinks, snacks and Q&A. The beer is cold and the platters of meats, cheeses and Spanish tortilla just keep coming from his small kitchen. The women who have shared their neighbourhood and their lives with us defy every stereotype of lack of agency.
‘Where in the world is the situation for sex workers good?’, asks one of the funders. ‘Nowhere!’ answers Sonya*, without missing a beat. ‘Because there’s nowhere in the world where sex workers have been consulted about what we want and need, what would work for us.’
One of the workshop sessions at the conference that caught my eye in the programme is called ‘Who Talks, Who Listens?’.
Time for funders to listen.
Susan Jessop is Senior Officer for Content Development for Mama Cash.
*The names of those present are not shared to preserve people’s rights to privacy.
You can read more from the 2017 EDGE Funders annual conference here.