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samedi 14 mai 2005
From the funds for the fight against AIDS
270 000 $ granted to Stella for a four days event on sex work
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The Public Health Agency of Canada granted a 270 000 dollars subsidy to Stella for a four days Forum, to be held from May 18 to May 22, in Montreal, on the occasion of the group’s 10th anniversary’s celebration. "To celebrate a decade of action. To shape our future. A gathering of sex workers and employees", as seen on Forum XXX’s Web site. Stella, a group from Montreal defending sex workers’ rights promoting prostitution as a profession, was granted, according to a well informed source, a sum superior to its initial demand. The file’s evaluators estimated that the demanded subsidy would not be enough to pay for the group’s expenses and the costs connected to Forum XXX’s organization.
The subsidy’s major part, 230 000$, comes from the Public Health Agency in Ottawa’s national office, and the rest, 40 000$, from their Montreal regional office. Due to this Canadian government’s generous help, Forum’s registration is free for the 250 expected participants. They will also be offered free breakfasts and lunches on Forum’s site, at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). Their lodging as well as part of their travelling costs will be taken care of. The subsidy also allowed the creation of a Web site to promote the event and inform the participants.
Forum XXX’s program also includes "a super party for Stella’s 10th anniversary and an eccentric show", on May 21 : " For those who have never been to a soirée Stellienne, you are in for a treat ! We have a fantastic party planned for you all, our 250 participants, and our closest friends and family. The party is a chance for us all to celebrate a decade of action together, and to show you a little bit of Montréal’s nightlife !"
A deserving group
During our phone conversations, Mr. Jean-Mathieu Dion, the spokeperson with the media for the Public Health Agency of Canada, confirmed that this subsidy resulted from the Federal Initiative Program to fight against AIDS and that it concerned only this specific topic (1). He also pointed out that it is very different from the other subsidies which the same group had received from this program for other projects. "This group does great work to eradicate HIV/AIDS, asserted Mr Dion, an important field work which helps us a lot and allows us to dedicate more energy to other tasks". Stella’s role in the prevention of HIV/AIDS is not in cause here. It seems however justifiable to question the subsidy’s substantial amount of 270 000$ assigned by a governmental organism to fight against AIDS for an event lasting only four days, in which only three of the ten objectives of the request for funds are concerned, according to Mr Dion. Is it excessive to think that part of this money could be used for other purposes than the "fight against AIDS " ?
Obviously, the cause of "sex work" mobilizes more Canadian and Quebecois institutions than the sexual exploitation of children, the violence against women or the traffic of women for prostitution. Besides the Public Health Agency of Canada’s major support, Forum XXX’s organizers benefit from the help, in various forms, of many sources. The group Stella seems to maintain tight bounds with the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). Forum XXX benefited from the "logistics" support, especially concerning the request for funds from this University’s Services to communities, an organism of support to community groups according to criteria of social advancement. Furthermore, the UQAM lends premises for the time of the event. UQAM’s researchers are members of Stella’s board of directors. A School of social work’s researcher, also member of the Institute of Research in Feminist Studies (IREF) and co-referee for Forum XXX project, is also a member of UQAM Institute of Health and Society, which sponsors the forum’s opening conference.
This conference is the only activity opened to the public : "By presentations and performances, activists from sex workers groups will make the portrait of their situation in their respective country. The public is urged to share triumphs and adversities with these brave sex workers coming from the four corners of the world". Among the other organism which brought their financial or other support for this internationale of the "sex workers and employees", there is the clinic L’Actuelle of Montreal, dedicated to people suffrering from HIV/AIDS.
A social and political event
The French group Cabiria and the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC or the social Committee of irresistible women), a group defending the sex workers and employees’ rights, based in Kolkata, India, who also celebrate a decade of activities, collaborate in Forum XXX’s organization and animation.
Approximatively "250 men, women, travestite, transsexual, and transgendered sex workers, sex workers working for organizations that provide services to sex workers, and allies", are expected for this event to discuss "strategies and priorities within the sex workers’ rights movement". To participate, it is necessary however to meet certain criteria : "Understand the diverse reality of sex work, recognize sex work as a form of work, be involved or would like to be involved in the fight for and recognition of sex workers’ rights and be involved or would like to be involved in the fight for the decriminalization of sex work".
Forum XXX’s program presents this meeting more as a militant, political and social activity than an event related to the fight against AIDS. A brief mention in the objectives of the forum concerns the development of "our capacities around the HIV epidemic in Canada and around the world". They often mention strategies to counter the "dominant speech", to improve the social attitudes in favour of prostitution’s decriminalization and to fight "repressive laws". Does it justify the Federal Initiative program to fight against AIDS’substancial subsidy ?
To the argument that Forum XXX’s program has nothing to do with a HIV/AIDS sensitization or prevention’s activity, Mr. Jean-Mathieu Dion said he did not have to consider this "opinion". He stated that the subsidy was granted to Stella for Forum XXX because the group’s demand "met all the program’s criteria". Mr Dion, the spokeperson with the media and not responsible for programs, was unable to clarify these criteria. There are "fixed" criteria and the other criteria depend "on the file’s analysis". Criteria in function of the applicant group ? "Criteria in function of the files’s analysis", Mr Dion repeated.
The subsidized group’s opinions and ideologies, the fact that it has been promoting the sex industry and prostitution’s total decriminalization for 10 years, are not taken into account by the subsidizing organism. "The Agency is not responsible for the fact that the group works to promote prostitution’s legalization or decriminalization, says Mr Dion. The important thing is that this group achieves results in AIDS prevention ". Could a group working against prostitution’s decriminalization, and clever enough to include a section on HIV/AIDS’ prevention in its project, obtain subsidies from the Public Health Agency of Canada ? "We have no program on prostitution", Mr Dion said, before adding that it would be necessary to verify if this group meets the criteria.
The fight against AIDS, a Trojan horse ?
The fact of using, all or part of the subsidies intended for the fight against AIDS to promote prostitution’s legalization or decriminalization is not new nor concerns Canada only. Subsidizing organisms are generally aware of this. In her "Report on the consequences of the sex industry in the European Union"(April 15, 2004), Marianne Eriksson, then delegate at the European Parliament, asserted that NGO and other sectors frequently use this financing strategy : "After speaking with the commission’s civil servants, it seems, for instance, that the nature and politics of the organizations are not controlled during the expert groups’constitution. What is very surprising is that there is no represented organizations’control. When we think of the way organized crime manifests itself, it is possible that the Commission, which takes the common legislation’s initiative is advised by criminal organizations’ representatives ".
Jenny Wennberg, in association with Marianne Eriksson, presented to the European Parliament a report "on the European Union financial support of projects and organizations promoting prostitution’s legalization and reglementation" (2002). This report indicates that the European Union, is calling upon the argument, nowhere demonstrated, that prostitution’s total decriminalization or reglementation is a better means than fighting against prostitution itself to help the prostituted persons. EU granted dozens of million euros to groups which openly support the sex industry, or which are dedicated to other causes, such as the fight against AIDS, while promoting prostitution as a women’s right. Studies also reveal that complicities are woven internationally at all levels to facilitate the allocation of subsidies to groups connected to the sex industry.
Social and political choices
For a government organism dedicated to AIDS, is it adopting a "neutral" position to subsidize an activity obviously of a political and social nature, although the group responsible for the activity can carry out or has carried out, at other moments of the year, a real and excellent work of HIV/AIDS’ prevention with its members and prostituting customers ? Is it a "neutral" position to close one’s eyes to some of the main objectives, that have nothing to do with the fight against AIDS, manifested openly by this group which, on one hand, seeks a Federal Initiative Program to fight against AIDS’ subsidy, and also requires in its event registration’s conditions the participants’ commitment to support prostitution’s decriminalization and its recognition as a legitimate profession ? Are the groups advocating prostitution’s recognition of legalization or total decriminalization in a position to negotiate their contribution to AIDS’ prevention in return for the subsidizing organism’s "neutrality" concerning their other activities ?
If the Public Health Agency of Canada finds normal to attribute to the group Stella a 270 000$ subsidy for a four days event, whose main objective has little to do with AIDS, what can be the importance of this agency’s financial support when the same group is actually dedicated to AIDS prevention’s activities ? Stella is not an activist group against HIV/AIDS, it is a group defending a minority of prostituted women’s rights, which claims to speak in the name of the majority and which trivializes women’s sexual oppression by propagating the lie that prostitution is, for the majority, "a freely chosen" profession. This ideology hides the gender power relations at the heart of the prostitutionnal institution and ignores all the women and the girls, younger and younger, wanting to quit prostitution (2).
Besides legitimizing this group’s ideological and political orientation, is not the Public Health Agency of Canada, by this considerable subsidy attributed for an event promoting "sex work", contributing to support indirectly the sex industry (in a small or large-scale, we can speak about the sex industry when we have to deal with groups which consider prostitution as a profession) ? Until proven otherwise, the government of Canada cannot refer to a consensus favorable to prostitution’s total decriminalization, and the Canadian taxpayers should not have to support activities which pursue this objective.
Other groups have been working for a long time, very successfully, with and for the prostituted people, and contributing to HIV/AIDS’ prevention without making prostitution’s promotion. Have these groups access to such generous subsidies ? If it was not "neutral", how much could the Public Health Agency of Canada dedicate, for instance, to preventing prostitution activities, a "profession" which puts in danger numerous people, young girls or women’s health ?
How many research projects, in average or long term, in the health field or in other fields, benefit from such financial support ? In comparison, Status of Women Canada attributed to UQAM researchers, for a research - action on sexual traffic of women in Quebec for a period of 18 months, including a public conference, less than half the sum which the Public Health Agency of Canada granted to the group Stella for a four days Forum on "sex work".
It seems that money is not a problem for the Canadian government and that the fight against AIDS constitutes a royal way to get it. Maybe the activist groups would increase their chances to get their part of the abundance if they added to their projects a section "of HIV/AIDS’ sensitization and prevention". It does not seem to matter what is their political and ideological orientation. Should not a subsidizing organism be "neutral" ?
Translation : Élaine Audet
On Sisyphe, May 14, 2005.
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