By Teresa Eggers

As advances in technology democratize the media field, its makers are becoming more and more diverse, presenting a prime opportunity for traditional advocates to become facilitators and traditional “victims” to become actors in advocacy scenarios.

This video advocacy example highlights two issues – first, the rights of sex workers and the negative effects of criminalization, and second, the ways in which digital storytelling can be used to strengthen advocacy campaigns and include new voices in the debate.

Video Facts:

  • Title: “Being A Refugee Is Hard”
  • Date Created/Posted: July 2010
  • Length: 2:52 minutes
  • Who Made It: Muchaneta, a former sex worker and current rights activist with a South African NGO. This video was created as part of a 4-day workshop facilitated by Women’s Net and organized by Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).
  • Location: South Africa
  • Human Rights Issues: The rights of sex workers. “Sex workers rights” is a broad field encompassing many different degrees of advocacy, but generally focuses on peoples’ rights to engage in sex work, while retaining rights to health services and protections from abuse.

Goal: To contextualize sex work in a way that both empowers its workers and contrasts negative narratives that often cast sex workers as “deviants” as well as informing sex workers of their rights and encouraging them to organize. This video also exemplifies for activists the notion that with training “victims” can be empowered to be actors and create effective advocacy media on their own behalf.

Primary Audience: Sex workers in South Africa, but also relevant to sex workers and rights activists in many countries.

Secondary Audience: Activists, policy-makers, health workers, law enforcement officials.

Content/Style/Voices: The video is done in a traditional digital storytelling style – it is a short first-person narrative, combining still and moving images with voice-over from its creator. Digital storytelling often involves creators with little to no prior media experience and can include facilitators. This method is a great way to strengthen broad campaigns with individual voices and to include a wider range of knowledge. It has the added benefit of being easily distributed online.

The video begins with the narrator’s personal story of migrating to South Africa in search of work. Eventually she is forced to rely on sex work in order to provide for herself and her children. It is interesting to note that, as the title suggests, the narrator identifies herself as a “refugee” in South Africa. This highlights an interesting current debate about the narrow scope of U.N. refugee definitions, which does not currently include people who flee their home countries because they are unable to find work.

About halfway through the video the tone changes, making an appeal to its secondary audience viewers to appreciate the dangers of stigmatizing and criminalizing sex workers, calling on government to recognize the rights of sex workers, and asking people to unite against rights infringements.

Did You Know? Findings by South Africa’s Modes of Transmission Study found that one in five new HIV infections in South Africa is sex work related. Drafters of South Africa’s National Strategic Plan 2007 – 2011 (NSP), cited increased vulnerability of sex workers to HIV and recommended that sex work be decriminalized in order to decrease barriers for HIV prevention and treatment, however these provisions were not implemented and commitment to decriminalization was later reversed.

Suggested Resources: The SWEAT site has a regularly updated news section on this topic and also a blog where sex workers are encouraged to voice their own stories. The Sex Workers Project (New York City) is another great resource with connections to local and international sex work advocacy and community groups from all over the world, as well as great resources on rights, health services, and abuse reporting information.

In 2009, WITNESS began a partnership with a sex workers rights group in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia called, Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS), in order to develop video advocacy workshops and help produce a video campaign. This collaboration had very positive effects, such as reduction in police violence against sex workers and an increased rate of sex workers reporting violent incidents, as well as initiating court cases. Outcomes such as these prove that video advocacy efforts, like the workshops organized by SWEAT and Women’s Net, can be very effective tools for educating the public, reaching out to affected populations, and encouraging further advocacy.

Join the Conversation: This video is trying to unite sex workers in order to encourage them to organize for their rights – could this video be more inclusive? Does it effectively educate government and law enforcement officials on why decriminalization of sex work is a good policy decision?

Teresa Eggers is a writer and filmmaker. She has studied Technocultural Studies at the University of California (Davis) and Global Studies at The New School (NYC).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *