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ID: 1134

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Practice

Topics: Innovative Harm Reduction Programmes; Sex Work and Harm Reduction

Presenting author: Aisha Mohammed

Presenting author biography:

Aisha Mohammed, MFT, practices individual, couple and family therapy at a community mental health agency from a harm reduction approach. She is also a member of Project SAFE and has been advocating for the rights of sex workers and substance users for 10 years.

Building a sex worker collective: A transnational collaboration to implement the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee model in the U.S.

Aisha Mohammed

This presentation will discuss efforts in Philadelphia to form a sex worker collective that is modeled on and developed in collaboration with Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee [DMSC], a thriving Indian sex worker collective in Kolkata, India. Members of the growing Philadelphia collective are working with the DMSC via bimonthly video conferencing to learn organizing and movement building skills, and adapt strategies to address local needs as identified by Philadelphia sex workers who are in various stages of substance use. The major needs identified to-date include financial stability & security, and access to housing. The aims of this collective are three-fold: 1) to develop anti-violence strategies for street-based and indoor work with women who are trading sex and/or using drugs; 2) to develop a collective identity around sex workers’ and drug users’ rights; and 3) to establish a cooperative savings and loan program.

The focus on financial health stems from the recognition that if we had methods to better organize and allocate monies, we would no longer need to consider compromising our principles to secure funding, and could actively implement the equitable redistribution of resources we seek. We operate from a harm reduction stance, which is relevant to sex workers’ finances in that our services and educational programs would be shaped by needs identified by sex workers (i.e., late night banking hours, low or no-collateral loans, etc.). The program also includes hiring sex workers to serve as peer advisors to discuss financial habits and solutions to problems such as applying for housing without paystubs, in addition to saving for the slow season. The presenters will discuss the various strategies and methods that they are using to engage participants, develop leadership, promote group cohesion and build a south-north international collaboration with a focus on how harm reduction principles are informing these efforts.