Twelve foreign prostitutes paid a visit to Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Ben Knapen on Wednesday, as his ministry has been financing an aid programme for sex workers abroad. The programme focuses on health and safety issues, as well as finding a career outside prostitution.
As a token of thanks, Ben Knapen received a red stiletto shoe from twelve prostitutes from Brazil, Macedonia, Uganda and Vietnam. Daisy from Uganda said there is still a long way to go for prostitutes in developing countries. “But we know the Dutch people are at our side.”
Sex workers in seven countries receive funding from the Dutch government through Stepping Up, Stepping Out. The projects were set up by the expertise centre STD AIDS Netherlands and the inter-church organisation for development cooperation ICCO.
The training courses, microcredit or a new profession don’t always make it possible for women to step out of the sex industry immediately, but it is easier to say “no” and they have more options. The Netherlands will be giving another two million euros towards the aid programme for prostitutes.
During their stay in the Netherlands, the prostitutes visited the Dutch Red Light District. And although the situation in the Netherlands is far from ideal, according to Daisy it is “a paradise compared to Uganda”.
“I wish I’d been born in the Netherlands. It looks clean and healthy. Sex worker seems to be a respected job here. Because of that you can feel safe. What’s more: even the police take care of the safety of prostitutes.”
As prostitution is illegal in Uganda, you don’t really have any rights as a prostitute, Daisy says. Consequently, she has had encountered all kinds of violence: she has been threatened, a gun has been put to her head and she has been sent into the woods naked.
“What I have noticed, is that here sex workers are very confident. They seem to enjoy their work.”
Breaking through taboos
Stepping Up, Stepping Out is a relatively new Dutch development programme. According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, it contributes to the improvement of the position and health of sex workers. Mr Knapen says the Netherlands is “one of the few countries in the world where sexuality and prostitution can be openly discussed. This openness should be used to break through taboos in other countries.”
Mr Knapen is aware that prostitutes are not the easiest group to target with development projects. In most countries prostitution is illegal and sex workers can’t rely on help from medical doctors, police or lawyers.
“That is exactly why we would like more projects like this in the future.”
Mr Knapen says MOVE Forward in Vietnam is a good example of such a project. Prostitutes are encouraged to set up their own ‘shelters’ where they can meet, exchange experiences and sometimes even follow training courses. They can also get microcredit – small loans that enable them to set up their own businesses.
“Some have set up little tea shops. They can’t live off this, but it gives them more security. Thanks to this extra income, they can say “no” to aggressive customers or customers who refuse to use a condom.”
STD AIDS Netherlands says sex workers are of great importance in the prevention of aids as a relatively large proportion of the prostitutes in development countries are HIV positive. The risk of them getting STDs, HIV and AIDS is ten to 20 times as high as for the rest of the population.
The money provided by Stepping Up, Stepping Out does not encourage prostitution in development countries, according to STD AIDS Netherlands:
“Prostitution will always exist with or without the funding of these projects.”