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Statement from the Brazilian Network of Prostitutes about censorship and the federal government’s intervention and alteration of the AIDS prevention campaign

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[This statement from The Brazilian Network of Prostitutes is translated from the original Portuguese and a response to yesterday’s re-release of a drastically altered STI and HIV prevention campaign by the Ministry of Health. This is the most recent in a series of events of censorship of materials produced for and by prostitutes in Brazil. Please see our earlier blog post for more background and the original materials produced and responses from specific sex worker NGOs. Click on the language to download PDF versions in English,Portuguese and Espanhol.]

Against the common good and the general happiness of the nation, the government violates the principles of the Constitution and the Unified Health System

June 7, 2013

The prostitute and sanitary reform movements, which brought about the construction of the Unified Health System (SUS – acronym in Portuguese), have common points in their trajectories: processes of dialogue, creation, and action. As health was transformed into an obligation of the state and right for all – orientated by the principles of universality, equality (without prejudice or privileges of any kind), integrality, decentralization and community participation – the prostitute movement is rooted in denouncing inequality, prejudice, discrimination, and affirming the right to work with dignity, respect and citizenship.

With the government’s decision to first veto and then drastically alter the AIDS campaign supposedly constructed in partnership with prostitutes, we see that 30 years later they are using this social group to affirm what they desire, thereby ignoring the achievements of the social movement and violating diverse democratic principles of the SUS.

First, it violates the principle of community participation. The workshop destined to create the campaign, promoted in March by the STD, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Department, resulted in materials that highlighted happiness (“I’m happy being a prostitute”), citizenship (“Our biggest dream is that society sees us as citizens”), the fight against violence (“Not accepting people as they are is a form of violence”) and condoms. What did the government do? It ignored all of these elements that have been proven to contribute to prevention and limited itself to incentivizing condom use, as if it was a gesture that is purely objective and mechanic, disassociated from subjectivities, rights and vulnerabilities. It is the “hygienization” of life.

Second, by selecting only a determinate message from among those constructed in the workshop, it rejects the principle of equality by denying prostitutes the right to express their dreams, ideas of citizenship and affirm their identity and social visibility. In this sense, they are no longer recognized as citizens and users of the SUS.

Prevention and health promotion actions based on citizenship frameworks should highlight, and also be part of, another principle of Health which was violated –  integrality.

Moreover, the government’s actions place them in an arrogant position by only permitting prostitutes to appear as victims or vectors, and as such, subjects without a voice. They only have the right to be saved by the State, which is the provider of the only element (“get your condom at the health center”) that will save them from Aids.

The government’s attitude also reveals an attempt to nurture a moral structure of the family at any cost through their cowardly complicity with a discourse that relegates prostitutes and other “inconvenient” segments to the margins of a certain model of society.

By pronouncing themselves against the text, “I’m happy being a prostitute”, in the beginning, the government also demonstrates arrogance by not believing that a prostitute can be happy and fear that we express desires of happiness that go against this model of society.

And the politicians’ desires? What arrangements are behind these movements? Is there a project for happiness? Why can only they be happy? What is the price to be paid by prostitutes? Our bodies, desires and lives are what are paying the prices of political agreements and party negotiations. This is the cost of the censorship and cutting off dialogue.

Here, we’ll stay, happy with our profession and believing that we shouldn’t live with violence and discrimination, and need to be respected for our choices as citizens. We insist that the government assume, with courage, the construction of policies based on constitutional principles for the entire population, independent of sexual orientation, gender identity or profession.

No shame in sharing the campaign censored by Brazil’s Minister of Health

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Brazil’s government was once internationally recognized as a leader in terms of supporting model HIV prevention programs and defending sexual rights. However, the events of the past week provide yet another example that the situation in this country has drastically changed.

On June 4th, Brazil’s Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha, ordered that a poster reading, “I’m happy being a prostitute,” be removed from the Department of STD/AIDS’s website. The poster was one element of a larger campaign entitled Without Shame to Use Condoms launched on International Prostitutes Day (June 2nd). All of the campaign materials were developed by sex workers during a participatory workshop in March of 2013 that was organized and sponsored by the Ministry of Health.  Minister Padilha alleged that he had not approved the material stating that as long as he is Minister that “this type” of material would not be produced by the government.

After the Minister’s initial decision to remove the poster, “I´m happy being a prostitute”, conservative Evangelical groups in Congress mobilized and questioned the campaign, making discriminatory and stigmatory comments and demanding an explanation from the government.  By the end of the day, the head of Brazil’s Department of STD/AIDS, Dirceu Grecco, had been removed from his position, and the Minister had requested that the ENTIRE campaign be taken offline.  The decision negates the rights of prostitutes to be proud of their work, to speak for themselves and to have access to the kind of health information based on citizenship principles that the Brazilian government itself has championed in the past.

The Minister’s decision to bow to political pressure is indicative of a politics of fear that is becoming pervasive in Brazil. The current government is afraid of losing votes from some radical evangelical groups which have gained significant political influence. The most egregious example of this trend is the ascendancy of Pastor Marco Feliciano who was appointed in March 2013 to the Congressional Human Rights Commission. Feliciano led the charge to condemn the Without Shame to Use Condoms campaign, and, shared via Twitter that the Minister had even called him to apologize for the events.

Padilha’s decision to cancel the Without Shame to Use Condoms campaign is the third time that the government has censored vital health information materials. In early 2012, Padilha censored a campaign designed for Carnaval that featured gay youth –one of the groups where HIV/AIDS has most increased in Brazil–and in March of 2013, the government cancelled the distribution of an AIDS prevention kit for adolescents that mentioned homosexuality, drugs, and pregnancy.

Unfortunately international coverage has trivialized what should have been portrayed as an important story about political trends and much reportage has repeated the hype about feared “increases” in prostitution and “sexual exploitation” at the upcoming 2014 World Cup. Rather than focusing on the human rights violations that this censorship represents, and its connection to previous censorship and the conservative turn in Brazilian politics that is silencing the voices of prostitutes, much of the international media has fallen back on tropes based on moral panics about large sports events and “sex tourism” .

In protest of the recent events,  we are sharing the entire campaign here as a way to fight censorship, celebrate International Prostitutes Day and affirm that prostitution is a respectable profession and sexual right in which women have the right to be happy and deserve the full rights as citizens as any other.  The campaign draws on visual elements–such as the anime figure “Maria Sem Vergonha” (Maria Without Shame)–created for an earlier campaign also developed by the Ministry of Health in partnership with the Brazilian Prostitutes Network.  The original Maria Without Shame campaign was also relaunched on June 2nd (the adhesives are below) and is symbolic of the government’s previously celebrated  solidarity and human rights based approach to HIV and STI prevention with sex workers.

See here the responses of The Brazilian Network of Prostitutes here and sex worker NGOs in Brazil here.

Sou feliz sendo prostituta

“I’m happy being a prostitute”

 

“Love, I can’t be without condoms”.

Cidadania Campanha DSTAIDS

“Our biggest dream is that society sees us as citizens”.

Violenca_Campanha DSTAIDS

“Not accepting people the way they are is a form of violence”

Toda dia prevencao_Campanha DSTAIDS

“Everyday we need to do AIDS education and prevention.”

Sem vergonha lutar pelos direitos

“Without shame to fight for your rights”.

 

Sem Vergonha Trabalho

“Without shame to value your work”.

Sem vergonha de ser prostituta

“Without shame to be a prostitute”

Maria Sem Vergonha Camisinha

“Without shame to use condoms”

 

 


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Kisses from Princeton

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A KISS FOR GABRIELA screened at Princeton University last night in an event sponsored by the Comparative Literature and the Spanish and Portuguese Departments.

 

Inspired by the beauty of Princeton’s campus, journalist and Davida co-founder Flavio Lenz, and director Laura Murray took advantage to send a kiss to Gabriela themselves!


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Flavio a true journalist, filmed the “Making of” Laura’s kiss to Gabriela:


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After showing the film, Laura, Flavio, SWOP-NYC member Penelope Saunders and Mariana Assis discussed the importance of Gabriela’s candidacy, the barriers to winning when running for progressive politics in Brazil, the impact of feminist debates on sex worker rights, gender and sex work, the breadth of sex worker organizing in the US and the use of the word “puta.” Thank you friends at Princeton for your hospitality and for sending us a kiss!


 

A KISS FOR GABRIELA FROM THE FILM PREMIERE IN KANSAS CITY

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On April 10, 11th, and 13th, A KISS FOR GABRIELA premiered to at the Kansas City FilmFest. The film was incredibly well received, with many being inspired by Gabriela, her story, and interested in sex worker and women’s issues in Brazil and beyond. Enthusiastic festival goers were even inspired to send a kiss to Gabriela!


Coming up! NYC area screenings, April 15 to 20

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Spring showings of A KISS FOR GABRIELA are planned across the tri-state area culminating in an evening of films highlighting the rights of sex workers at Uniondocs in Brooklyn. Filmmaker Laura Murray and one of the film’s stars,  journalist Flavio Cruz Lenz Cesar, Gabriela’s husband and editor of the newspaper Beijo da Rua (A Kiss from the Street), will be attending most of the April 2013 screenings to discuss sex worker activism, including how film and social media tactics can promote more informed debate.

Monday April 15 the Global Studies Program at the New School for Social Research will host a screening and discussion beginning at 6.30 pm the at Hirshon Suite, 55 W. 13th St., on the 2nd floor. The Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Queens College will sponsor a lunch time screening at noon on April 16. The International Law Society and IWHR Clinic at CUNY will host a screening and discussion with Laura Murray and Flavio Lenz from 4-5.30 pm on April 16. Wednesday, April 17th the Comparative Literature Department at Princeton University is sponsoring a 7 pm film showing at the Princeton Art Museum.  

The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality will present a screening and panel discussion Thursday April 18 at 6-7.30 pm (at 504 Diana Center, Barnard College). This event will be co-sponsored by the Columbia University’s Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights University Seminar; The Department of Sociomedical Sciences’ Pre-doctoral Training Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Health; and the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

Saturday evening April 20, A KISS FOR GABRIELA will be part of an evening of films  highlighting recent advances in the fight for rights in NY and around the globe at Uniondocs in Brooklyn.  This program–hosted by NYC sex worker rights organizations SWOP-NYC and SWANK–will leave the audience with the knowledge that supporting sex worker rights is pleasurable, fundamental and as simple as blowing a kiss. Other films featured in this action-packed event include SCARLET ROAD, ADVOCATING IN ALBANY and WHORE LOGIC. We anticipate a visitation by the Incredible, Edible, Akynos and the presence of a member of the RedUp team to share about 2013 actions to pressure Albany for the rights of sex workers.

Stay tuned for more details of the screenings!

BIG FESTIVAL NEWS FOR A KISS FOR GABRIELA!

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On International Women’s Day, we have some good news to celebrate! In the last week, we received news that A KISS FOR GABRIELA has been selected for three international events! The film will premiere in the United States next month simultaneously at two festivals – The Arizona International Film Festival and the Kansas City FilmFest!  In May, it will have it’s premiere in Latin America (outside of Brazil where it premiered at FEMINA last year), at Mujeres en Foco in Buenos Aires – an international festival of women’s films. Gabriela’s inspiring story was also selected for the Women Deliver Cinema Corner  and will be exhibited at the Women Deliver conference  in Malaysia at the end of May. Stay tuned for more details on days and times of screenings!

The World’s Oldest Debate: Gabriela talks with lawyers, lawmakers and activists about legislative proposals to change prostitution related laws in Brazil

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“Everyone has a right to be a protagonist…I’ve been talking about prostitution for 30 years, and then I arrive here and have to hear these things, it’s screwed up, isn’t?  I listen to Alana say that politicized prostitutes “are something else”.  We can’t even be politicized! Poor politicized whores cannot exist. I talked, and I felt like I was invisible.” – Gabriela Leite

“Prostitution is not a crime, but it is not free.” – Maira Fernandes

These quotes are from an event on November 7th, in which Gabriela participated in a debate at the Brazilian Lawyer’s Organization (OAB in Portuguese) regarding the current proposal before Brazil’s senate to take out all criminal laws referent to adult prostitution. The proposal forms part of a larger reform of Brazil’s penal code proposed by a group of congressionally appointed attorneys to Brazil’s senate in August of 2012.

Sex work is a recognized profession in the Ministry of Labor’s “Brazilian Occupational Categories” (CBO) and the sale of sex for money is not illegal, however prostitution businesses and making money off prostitution (i.e. pimping) is illegal, making it incredibly difficult for sex workers to organize for labor rights, work in cooperatives with others, access to necessary health and legal information/supplies and impossible to regulate and guarantee decent working conditions.

The debate included Federal Deputy, Jean Wyllys (PSOL), who recently presented a law named in honor of Gabriela to clarify the legal distinction between “sexual exploitation” and “prostitution” and legalize prostitution businesses as a way to protect and promote sex workers’ labor rights and reduce the sexual exploitation of women and minors. Jean Wyllys is also known for defending LGBT rights and the decriminalization of abortion and marijuana. When he presented, emphasized that his “fight for the rights of homossexuals is completely aligned with fights for individual rights and broader human rights”. He continued that this is, “part of why I am for this issue, and also because when Gabriela and I were candidates (in 2010), I ran into Gabriela in a debate,and said, “If I wasn’t a candidate, I would vote for you.” And I told her that if I was elected, I would assume this battle, this fight.”

The table was presided over by Margarida Pressburger, an attorney and President of the OAB’s Human Rights Comission  and moderated by Sonia Correa, a member of the OAB and Co-Coordinator of Sexuality Policy Watch, Maira Fernandes, the President of the Penitentiary Council of the State of Rio de Janeiro, and Rubens Casara, a judge and Vice-president of the Permanent Forum on Human Rights from the EMERJ.  Earlier this year, Judge Casara made the news when he defended prostitutes’ rights to chose their profession and legally work when he absolved two owners of prostitution businesses being accused of sexual exploitation stating that the Public Ministries’ decision was part of a larger, repressive political effort against prostitution as part of preparation for the World Cup and Olympic games. On the other end of the spectrum, was Alana Moraes, an anthropologist from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro representing the feminist organization, Marcha Mundial das Mulheres

The majority of the panel was in favor of the changes proposed to completely decriminalize prostitution, except for the representative from the Marcha Mundial das Mulheres.  Judge Casara also made an important distinction between his support for the complete decriminalization of prostitution and his views regarding the proposal as a whole. He believes that the reforms of the penal code in their entirety will “irrationally expand” the number of people arrested and jailed in Brazil. He argued that more progressive issues like those related to prostitution and abortion deviate attention away from authoritarian measures that use incarceration to address social problems, resulting in what he termed as, the “criminalization of poverty”.

Alana Moraes from the Marcha Mundial das Mulheres, on the other hand, argued that prostitution is a social problem that should not be completely decriminalized or regulated. The Marcha condemns prostitution as male domination of the female body, and conceptualizes sex work as a product of poverty and inequality, creating a situation in which choice, autonomy and agency are not possible. The viewpoint expressed is one in which female pleasure and desire is largely absent and male power is omnipresent. While the State is seen as ineffective, data from the police and mass media were cited as reliable sources of information and “proof” of exploitation. The voices of sex workers themselves, however, and the sex worker movement in Brazil specifically, was discredited and ignored.

Gabriela’s quote at the beginning of this post is a reaction to this erasure.  As Jean Wyllys defended, Gabriela is a “proletariat prostitute”, who worked in prostitution areas frequented by the working class.  The prostitute movement in Brazil was founded by, and continues to be made up of, women who represent sex workers who work on the streets and establishments for popular classes, yet their voices continue to be ignored by the abolitionist movement in Brazil. The anti-prostitution debate in Brazil has echoes of those around the world in which sex workers voices are silenced, and years of political activism are discounted under the guise of a defense of women’s rights and autonomy – that simultaneously rejects the right of a woman to use her body for pleasure. As Maira Fernandes noted, in response to the argument that prostitution is exploitation of the female body, the Marcha das Mulheres discounts that in the capitalist system, all use their body to earn wages. She cited Marta Nussbaum’s famous article that discusses the ways in which all people use their bodies for work, and how the stigma related to prostitution may be more related to class prejudice and stereotypes than anything else.

Carole Vance noted amidst the “sex wars” in the 1980s in the  United States that, “the most important sexual organ is between the ears”. In this case, we all sell, rent, and exploit our most important sexual organ daily. Returning to think about what sex is, where sexual fantasies are created, how sexual desire is constructed, and what truly is sold in prostitution is critical to re- routing the debates from moral issues and dichotomous ways of thinking (men vs. women; autonomous vs. enslaved; proletariat vs. bourgeois; savior vs. victims, etc.).

We all perhaps need to use our most important sexual organs a little bit more.

The illegality of prostitution businesses and pimping (which is broadly interpreted as anyone making money off prostitution) have maintained prostitution in a marginal and criminal space in Brazil. The human rights lawyers and judge on the panel conferred that this makes defending sex workers’ human rights extremely difficult.  Jean Wyllys, for example explained that he decided to take up the cause of sex workers’ rights because as a gay man, he has felt the effects of stigma, and knows what it is like to be discriminated against. The negative effects of criminalization in terms of sex workers human rights, and health has been documented in various studies and international documents, including UNAIDS Guidance on Sex Work and the international commission HIV & the Law, and numerous papers published by the Network on Sex Work Projects. Yet as Sonia Correa noted, many of these international documents have not been translated into Portuguese, and therefore, are not cited or referenced by government policy makers.

The question thus remains – if sex worker movements around the world, internationally appointed committees of people considered legal and health experts, and feminist scholars agree that decriminalization is necessary to guarantee and promote sex worker rights, why do some feminist organizations continue to be against full decriminalization?  What does it mean that abolitionists place more trust in the legal system and police – one of the most patriarchal and hierarchical social systems – than movements led by female sex workers?

In closing, Sonia Correa continued in the Marxist spirit of the debate and cited Friedrich Engels’ in the classic text, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” in which he states that the only thing that explains the condemnation of prostitution are bourgeois values and religious morality. In this case, abolitionists might consider that in addition to the police, they are also aligning themselves with the bourgeois and religious institutions (as also noted by Columbia Sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein).

Gabriela followed,  citing Lenin while defending her use of a Prada hat bought for her by a close friend in a Sao Paulo from a second hand store stating, “From the bourgeois we should take only their elegance and good taste”.

For everything else, we should look to those who are truly the experts of their own lives and experiences – in this case, sex workers themselves.

 

Gabriela in the event:


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