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SUSO: Empowering sex workers around the world

Sex workers are highly susceptible to exploitation, violence, STIs and HIV, especially in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America, where sex work is criminalized and stigmatized. In order to empower sex workers in developing countries, Aids Fonds and ICCO Cooperation developed the three-year project Stepping Up, Stepping Out. By providing them with alternative sources of income and strengthening their confidence to protect their health and safety, SUSO enables sex workers worldwide to step up within, or - if they desire – to step out of the sex industry. And the first year already shows some promising results.

Stigma, HIV and violence

Worldwide, AIDS is still the number one cause of death among young women. And sex work is considered a high risk factor of getting infected: clients demanding or willing to pay more for unprotected sex often forces sex workers in developing countries to give in. The stigma sex work is surrounded by makes these women feel unworthy of a better life; even doctors tend to treat sex workers disrespectfully, and sometimes refuse to treat them at all. Evidence also shows that women and minors in developing countries are at large risk to be a victim of human trafficking and sexual exploitation - violent acts that of course should be prevented at all time.


'Sex workers are 13,5 times more likely to get infected with HIV'
UNAIDS WAD report 2012

'When women have additional sources of income, complimentary to sex work, they have more leverage to say 'no' in dangerous situations, for example to violent clients or clients that demand unprotected sex.' Marieke Ridder, Program manager SUSO

Supporting sex workers and preventing sexual exploitation

The SUSO project steps in to support and protect sex workers in the countries affected most. We support local organizations to implement economic empowerment strategies, such as vocational and life skill training. We aim to give sex workers the opportunity to stand up for themselves and access alternative sources of income, either to complement their income from sex work, or as a way to leave the sex industry. All interventions are developed based on sex workers' own priorities and needs.
Other interventions include proper health services and health training for sex workers, and shelter and psychological support for victims of sexual violence. The SUSO project also aims to decrease the stigma sex work rests upon, by training police officers and health center staff members. By lobbying with the local governments, we encourage them to treat sex workers with respect and to not use condoms as evidence in an arrest for prostitution. Finally, SUSO stands up for sexually exploited minors and victims of human trafficking by offering them protection and shelter, and by reporting these violent acts to the police and local governments in order to prevent such acts in the future.

'When I used to work in bars and hotels, Nikat explained to me how to protect myself, how to take care of myself, and about HIV and STI's and proper condom usage. After that, with the loan that Nikat gave us we were able to open our restaurant. Now I have managed to keep my health safe and live my life the way I want to.' Mitta, beneficiary of Nikat charitable organization in Ethiopia.

A Collection of Best Practices

The SUSO project would not have been such a resounding success if we had not engaged in many forms of linking and learning. We believe it is important to 
share our best practices and work together to strengthen the global movement for sex workers' rights and empowerment.

This booklet presents a selection of the many successful initiatives that were developed in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as part of the SUSO project. Through these best practices and impact stories we want to inspire others to make economic empowerment part of comprehensive programming for sex workers.

We designed this booklet as a showcase of inspiring initiatives responding to the complex challenges sex workers face, offering practical tips and lessons that have been learnt along the way. We strongly encourage you to get in touch with the project leader through the contact details provided with each practice.

SUSO Achievements 2012-2016:

This publication presents an overview of the main achievements and results of the programme, which reached more than 37,500 sex workers around the globe. Together with our SUSO Best Practise Collection, we hope to inspire others to join us in empowering sex workers across the world and strengthen the global movement for sex workers’ rights.

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