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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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Some considerations about prostitution, Aids and life

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[Translation of Gabriela’s blog post sharing an email she sent to the directorate of the STD/HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Department of the Ministry of Health]

Today (10/30/2012) I watched the expanded meeting of the AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Department online.  I advised my colleagues from the Brazilian Prostitute’s Network about the importance of participating in the meeting and including some of our questions in the agenda. Maria de Lourdes Barreto (leader from Para) was brilliant in the two comments that she made – they reflect in every way what we think about the current Brazilian response.

I am sad, and the meeting confirmed the sadness that has accompanied me since the AIDS prevention congress, because I feel that there is an immense step backwards to such a point that no one even thinks twice about saying the words, “risk group”. Now, not even those who are politically correct (which I don’t like) saves us: the equation puta=risk group is a fact for the card holding epidemiologists.

But I’ll stop my crying here and of feeling a loss of the modern times that we lived in the 1990s when, in fact, we constructed a Brazilian Response. I want to put three issues about prostitution and aids out there:

 

1)     RDS (Respondent Driven Sample) Study

I accompanied the study from the time it was elaborated to its final presentation. Myself and Roberto Chateubriand worked as a sort of consultants of the prostitute movement. I always said and repeated to Celia Landmann and her team that our sample wasn’t representative because in addition to just covering 10 cities, also only worked with a certain group of prostitutes: the prostitutes in lower level prostitution and many times in confined environments. Listen, the sex industry is a huge complex. Within it, there is high, medium and low level prostitution. Within it, there are brothels, saunas, entire buildings with apartments with various specializations (sadomasochism, various sexual fantasies, etc.).  It is made up of internet sites, and some studies say that the sex industry today is the third largest industry in the internet. The sex industry is big, complex, and differentiated. The problem is the old legend created by the Catholic church and reaffirmed by feminists: prostitutes are women who are poor who for a lack of opportunities and to be able to raise their children “fell into” prostitution. In order to reference this alleged truth, those who work with prostitutes look for prostitutes from lower echelons. While in addition to being a form of prostitution that is easy to access (contrary to what people say), their narratives, responses and economic/social/cultural profiles are exactly those which researchers want to hear.

Very recently, some young anthropologists have been entering into the universe of what I would call a more structured prostitution. Two every interesting works were presented at the last ABA (Brazilian Anthropological Association) Congress. The 4.9% prevalence is with regards to a sub-group of prostitutes. It does not represent the complexity of prostitution and in this sense, I have a question: what viewpoint is this that only sees a certain sub-group of prostitutes?

 

2) Peer Education

The first time that I went to a meeting in the old Aids Program was in 1989. Dr. Lair Guerra de Macedo was the director of the Program and that is when we started to thinking about developing a program with a peer education component. I had read about it, and at the time, sympathized with the methodology. That is where the project Previna came from and we started to work in prostitution areas in the entire country to develop the peer education methodology.

What surprises me is that today, after so many years, we have not had any evaluation about the efficacy or not of this methodology. Studies and studies were realized in other countries. Here, in Brazil, nothing! It could be that for some populations the methodology is efficacious, it could be for others it isn’t. Everything depends on the specific culture, on the existence or not of stigma, social class, etc., etc, In any case, we do not know anything. It appears to me that peer education is a dogma that can never be adjusted.

 

3) National Consultation and Latin-American Consultation about Prostitution

Over these past few years, there have been two wide consultations, both due to the initiative of the Brazilian AIDS Department (at the time STD/AIDS Program). One in Lima, Peru, and the Brazilian one in Brasilia. Both were incredibly representative with the presence of woman prostitutes, travestis that work in prostitution and male prostitutes. In the Brazilian meeting, the Brazilian Network of Prostitutes (which I pertain to), that has an orientation towards worker rights and free sexual expression, and the Federation of Prostituted Women, of an abolitionist orientation, were present. Travestis defended sex work and travestis abhorred sex work. As you can see, there was wide representation and out of it, recommendations (more than 50) that privileged human rights, citizenship, work, professionalization in other areas, were made.   All (on both sides of the arguments) agreed that transversal topics were fundamental for STD/Aids prevention.

The report of the Consultations with the recommendations: probably forgotten about in some drawer or file cabinet of the Department. They are most definitely completely forgotten. Money and time was spent on them. The path of the complexity of prostitution and Aids is long. We, activists, of the Brazilian Prostitutes’ Network and the Aids Movement worked so hard so that today, after so many years, we have became that which we always were for epidemiologists: a risk group. Nothing more!

Given this, I propose a large meeting to structure a plan for an evaluation and action in the field of prostitution. Even though I am treating cancer, I feel strong enough to contribute to this process.

I end this letter thanking the National Institute of Cancer and its professionals who take care of me and so many others and show in every way that the excellent functioning of the SUS is possible, as long as there is political will and efficient management. I feel proud and like a complete citizen each time I go to this Center of Excellence.

 

Gabriela Leite

Election night in the United States

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A group of prison abolitionists and sex worker rights advocates gathered to watch a preview of A Kiss for Gabriela after polls closed in Phoenix, Arizona. We watched as Gabi cried at the polls in Brazil in 2010 and we pondered the power of claiming the identities of “wife, mother, grandmother and sex worker” in the electoral process. 9.30 pm: we heard someone shouting what we thought was “Arpaio, Arpaio” loudly in the street nearby. Had Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who has abused the rights of many in Phoenix and incarcerated thousands in a “tent city” jail in the blazing sun) finally been voted out? We rushed to the television and received the news that Barack Obama had been re-elected but sadly Arpaio also maintained his position. So much more work to be done to defend the rights of communities of sex workers, immigrants, incarcerated people and the homeless in the United States.


Gabriela Leite wins WISE Award 2012

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In October, Gabriela Leite was awarded the prestigious WISE Award 2012  – Women in Social Enterprise. Nicole Etchart from Chile, the Co-Founder and co-CEO of NESsTpresented the award to Gabriela. Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Direcor of UN Women, sent a video dedicating the award to Gabriela and thanking her for her fight in against the discrimination of prostitutes.  Congratulations to Gabriela and thank you to Friederike Strack for the photo and report from the event!

Photo: Friederike Strack, 2012.

Civil Society denounces the misuse of money earmarked to HIV and AIDS

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[Reposting an incredibly important letter written by Brazilian AIDS activists. See original post on Brazilian NGO, Gestos, site in Portuguese and in English on UNGASS AIDS Forum]

The Ministry of Health of Brazil is about to publish an ordinance that allows states and municipalities to use, for “general health purposes”, those funds that had been originally transferred by the Union for the exclusive use of AIDS programs but were not used until december 2011, because of either inefficiency or lack of commitment.

For two years now, AIDS activist have denounced that specific HIV/AIDS funds had been kept for months or even years – without clear justification – in the coffers of states and municipalities across the country. We have tirelessly demanded the creation of a mechanism to compel States and Municipalities to spend these AIDS federal funds as required. In August 2012, the amount of these funds accumulated at decentralized levels was around 135 million Reais (US$70 million.)

Instead of positively responding to civil society claims, the recent decision by the Ministry of Health is but another indicator of the continuous dismantling of the Brazilian AIDS response, which we cannot accept. To worsen matters, the Brazilian government has also issued a new decree determining that, in 2013, the so called “incentives’ policy ” that earmarks amounts of the general health budget to specific programs will be terminated. This new rule, if approved, will mean the final blow to the Brazilian AIDS policy as we have known it.

Unilateral decisions are being taken by the executive branch without any discussion with civil society organizations, what will decidedly have detrimental effects on the lives of affected and infected populations. There are 700.000 AIDS cases recorded in Brazil, country with a long history of high social exclusion that, despite poverty-reduction, have not been fully resolved. If the funds transferred via the incentive policy were not properly used even when they were earmarked, it is difficult to believe that local public health managers will prioritize AIDS programs. Furthermore the new policy frames make it increasingly difficult for civil society to monitor and track the use of public health resources.

The experience tells that the majority of public health decision-makers at local level simply do not care and are not interested in people infected and affected by HIV. Many of them consider transvestites, whores, fags, junkies, and the homeless people that could be literally excluded from society. They cannot understand why these marginal populations have “dared” to try influencing social policies to get benefits. Or, why and how NGOs and academia have “dared ” to dialogue and work with these groups and defend their rights and self-determination.

Gone is the time when the Brazilian AIDS policies were built in partnership with civil society. We are now living in an era when public policies are dominated by private companies, when epidemiological analysis and the mapping of needs of PLWA has been eroded or is exclusively directed by economic interests. The Brazilian Public Health System is being increasingly privatized. And, very clearly, in what regards HIV and AIDS, specifically what is prevailing is a climate of cleansing. Recent states’ policies suggest that what is at stake is silencing and hiding of those “people” who may maculate the image of a successful new global player, the country that will host the World Cup and the Olympics. This is combined with the systematic and insidious influenced of dogmatic religious forces on public policy formation in all areas, in particular those sectors, such as HIV/AIDS, where issues of gender and sexuality are prominent.

The new MoH decision comes at a time when NGOs and academia have been systematically denouncing the serious setbacks observed in the Brazilian AIDS response that, as all know, had been considered one of the best in the world.

Please write to the Health Minister, Mr. Alexandre Padilha, alexandre.padilha@saude.gov.br, and ask him not to sign this new ordinance. He must fulfill his mandate, which is to work towards ending AIDS in Brazil, not killing the Brazilian National AIDS response.

Thoughts from Gabriela how to be political

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I am sitting here in front of the computer thinking about sex tourism and my intense anger. Why so much anger if I already know the ins and outs of the topic and where it is going? Why do the issues of sex tourism, trafficking and sexual exploitation leave me feeling so sad?

Here at home alone, I’ve thought a lot. I have some small responses and I’m sure that I’ll find others.

Ever since I started my political militancy, I’ve always perceived that there appear to be agendas from the outside in. Even though I don’t want to participate in these agendas, even if we don’t believe in visions that come from the outside, we get behind them. We leave what we were doing to the side and go and follow agendas that we aren’t into.

Human trafficking, sexual exploitation, sex tourism – these are all the types of agendas that are fabricated. In order for them to become truths, they are wrapped in social lies.

Many times I put aside what I was doing to assume these other tasks, often times required by funders or others similar. I always thought about how to innovate politics. I have always though about a lighthearted militancy, with irony. Denouncing, but with irony. The results of these thoughts transpired in national informal meetings, meetings in bars, and cultural events, among many other inventions of my colleagues and mine.

Finally, we get to Daspu, which was the largest invention of this type of politics. It was always very difficult, however, to advance these sorts of happy ideas because the majority of people, politically trained within a rhetoric and idea that politics can only be done through demonstrations, meetings with defined issues, discourses in defense of democracy but with attitudes that are not always democratic, etc. etc. always thought it was strange and did not understand that what we were doing was and is politics.

Here at home thinking, I arrived at the conclusion that all of my sadness and depression at the last Davida assembly meeting in 2010 was, at the end of the day, an enormous exhaustion and undefined perception of what for me is very clear today. In the most recent Davida assembly meeting, I was happy. I was happy because I made the decision to do what I want and I want to continue with my militancy. I am happy because I decided to revive Daspu and start to work to organize all of our documentation, in addition to writing in this blog about sexual rights, soap operas, prostitution, food, sexuality, cities, etc. And in addition to this, continue knitting crochet.

Looking back, I also perceive that we got to where we are with the movement thanks to this other way of doing politics and that there is always a regression when we do politics in a traditional way.

That’s it! I wanted to share my anger and statements of happiness with you.

[Translated from Papos de Gabi – Gabriela’s blog in Portuguese].

News from the District of Columbia, a kiss for Gabriela

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US sex worker rights advocates have made connections with government officials, including representatives of the State Department, since successfully campaigning in 2010/2011 for the US government to accept UPR Recommendation 86. September 18, 2012 representatives of two organizations (BPPP and Desiree Alliance) met with the TIP office to share the concerns of a wider network of organizations about the US government’s approaches to trafficking. Darby Hickey and Sharmus Outlaw sent a kiss to Gabriela Leite, a Brazilian sex worker, who has so inspired activists globally to pressure to be heard and acknowledged by their governments.


 

Papos da Gabi

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[Translation of Gabriela’s first post on the Portuguese blog].

Papos da Gabi (Chatting with Gabi), seeks to be a committed/non-committed space to talk about issues and day to day topics without any sort of political correctness. The objects of my chats will be everything from President Dilma’s most recent hairstyle to Carminha’s meltdowns on the 9 o’clock telenovela, to –  of course –  prostitution in Brazil and the world.

Wait for me starting on September 1st!

Kisses for everyone!

The first time

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It is exciting to write this first blog post on the English, “A Kiss for Gabriela” site. The blog, like the film itself, will be driven by passion, and an idea that supporting sex worker rights is pleasurable, fundamental and can be as simple as sending a kiss.  The issues raised by Gabriela in the film – sex worker rights, legal and safe abortion, LGBT rights, women’s rights, and HIV/AIDS will be the primary focus of posts. Yet general social commentaries – like why female candidates have absolutely no fashion sense as Gabriela points out in the documentary – will also be subjects for discussion. Updates on film screenings along with photos will keep things interesting and attractive. Linked to amazing groups of sex worker activists around the world, the blog will feature ways to support sex worker rights and get inspired by the cause. And, most importantly, the blog in Portuguese is written by Gabriela, and her posts will also be translated and posted here. So please – read, share, like, post, and of course – kiss! Everything is permitted and encouraged in this space, as long as it comes from a spirit of pleasure and liberdade.

KISSES!

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Coming Soon!!!

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