On International Women’s Day, we explore this year’s themes of Embracing Equity and Every Woman Counts. Both themes are a reminder and call to action that all people, regardless of their gender, have the right to belong, to be seen, and to thrive in our communities.
A group that has historically experienced being excluded from these conversations are sex workers. We spoke to co-founders of ANSWERS (Advocacy Normalizing Sex Work through Education and Resources Society), Sophie Hallée and Mona, who share what International Women’s Day means to them and their community.
“If a woman herself wants to take charge of that and empower herself to make some money…why is that so wrong?” – Sophie
ANSWERS is the first incorporated grassroots organization led by and for sex workers in Alberta and is also one of the few organizations supporting sex workers in Edmonton with the essential services they need. Since their incorporation in November 2020, ANSWERS has been able to grow their operations and provide essential services, including counselling, tax filing support, rent relief, and gift cards for basic needs, to almost 600 sex workers across Alberta.
Sophie, the Executive Director and co-founder of ANSWERS and Board President Mona have been involved in supporting and advocating on behalf of sex workers for decades.
At the start of the pandemic, they noticed the significant challenges members of their community were facing, including an inability to work due to health and safety concerns, lack of access to governmental support (including CERB) intended to help those who suddenly found themselves out of work, and soon realized that incorporating was the best way to gain access to funding and supports to assist their community in a more meaningful way.
When asked about what International Women’s Day means to her, Sophie shared that “women have persevered through extensive struggles to secure their bodily autonomy… [this] concept revolves around power, agency, and most importantly, choice… bodily autonomy serves as the bedrock for achieving gender equality. Opting to work as a consenting sex worker or erotic labourer in the sex industry is an act of claiming this autonomy, which has empowered countless individuals to earn a living in a manner that suits their needs.”
On a daily basis, Sophie and Mona fight against the widespread stigma and discrimination that the sex work community faces. As Mona states “Sex work is work and should not be conflated with … human trafficking because they are absolutely different.”
One of the key focuses of ANSWERS is providing their advocacy training course, Sex Work is Work. The training focuses on bias prevent, and information about the sex work industry, including the stigmas that comes along with it. The course is available online and in-person and is open to all adult Edmontonians.
ECVO has supported ANSWERS to develop a community-led model that ensures that the community they work with has an active voice and leadership role in their organization. ANSWERS has mandated a minimum proportion of their board must come from members who have lived-experience. This model of ‘nothing about us, without us’ ensures their work is guided by those with lived experience and creates an organization of safety.
To learn more about ANSWERS, check out their website or register to attend one of their training sessions. ANSWERS is actively recruiting practitioners in a wide range of fields for their ally directory. To submit information for consideration in the directory, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.