WISH Talks – International Women’s Day
On March 11th, we held our first-ever WISH Talks virtual event in honour of International Women’s Day. WISH Talks is intended to be an ongoing series through which we hope to collaboratively create impact through conversations.
In the upcoming months and years, we hope to explore the themes and issues that affect the women WISH supports. Through the series, we will strive to center the voices, experiences and realities of street-based sex workers. We want to have the challenging, and sometimes difficult, conversations needed to create impactful and meaningful change.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was “Choose to Challenge.” On March 11th, we hosted a panel discussion where current and former street-based sex workers challenged perspectives on violence, reconciliation, trans inclusivity, family separation and stigma.
All panelists chose what they wanted to bring forward during the discussion, as well as what questions they wanted to be asked. Four of the five panelists decided to remain anonymous and use a pseudonym.
The event was meant to provide an open space for the critical, honest sharing of experiences; many of which are painful and difficult experiences. Some language used may be viewed as offensive and/or traumatizing. You may also hear some words or phrases that sex workers readily use amongst themselves but are not an option for non-sex workers to use. The discussion also contains profanity and explicit content relating to gender-based violence, sexual abuse and childhood trauma. We recognize that the conversation may be triggering for some. Please prioritize yourself and seek support if necessary.
Meet our panelists
Avery Grey, (pseudonym), is a team leader at an organization that supports women in Vancouver’s DTES. After only two years in Vancouver, she is very proud to have become a trailblazer in motivating women to achieve their employment goals and very much enjoys seeing them succeed. Friends and co-workers would describe her as a loving mother, kind and forgiving soul, and is not shy to back away from a fight. Avery is choosing to challenge family separation and the believe that substance use automatically makes someone an unfit parent.
Mikayla Cadger is a 47-year-old proud, Transgender woman. She is a lifelong artist, writer, poet and dreamer. As a former street-based sex worker and a survivor of Trans violence, her journey has been difficult. However, today those scars are symbols of her strength, not reminders of her pain. Those experiences have shaped the woman she has become and are the inspiration for her Trans rights advocacy and activism efforts.
T, (pseudonym), is a proud First Nations mother, grandmother and community ally. She works in Vancouver’s DTES supporting, teaching and empowering women across various feminist organizations. Others would describe T as a gentle, patient soul with an edge. She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights, justice and above all, truth telling.
Liz, (pseudonym), has lived in Vancouver for more than 20 years with many of those dedicating her time (paid/unpaid) advocating for the rights of women, drug users, and sex-workers. Friends would describe her as a woman with an endless and abundant amount of lived experience. Liz became involved in street-based sex work when she was 13 years old. Liz’s soft spots are her canine fur babies that she loves and adores. Her lifetime of challenging norms, stereotypes and stigma is what sparks her activism. Liz is choosing to challenge stigma and the ongoing violence faced by women, in particular street-based sex workers.
Jasmine, (pseudonym), is 30 years old and has been living in Vancouver since 2008. Currently, she is a street-based sex worker navigating countless barriers while trying to move her job indoors. She supplements her sex-work income by working at a feminist organization in Vancouver’s DTES and since the pandemic, she has thrown herself into creating safer and more accessible/inclusive spaces for women to access the services they need to not just survive but thrive. Friends would describe her as a natural team leader and activist. On this International Women’s Day, Jasmine will be challenging criminalization, privilege and violence against sex workers.
Watch the full panel discussion:
Emerging themes from the panel discussion:
LACK OF CHOICE/PRIVILEGE
- “It’s very dangerous due to the lack of time you have to screen and make a decision [as to] whether you’re going to get into the car or not. You have to make up your mind right away whereas indoor [sex] workers have time to go back and forth on the phone and text the guy and ask for a deposit, ask for his photo ID. On the street, you don’t have that luxury. You have to decide right away – are you going to get in [the car] or not?” – Jasmine (pseudonym)
- Sex work is often the only work that is available to us because… they don’t want to give the tranny a leg up – the system itself is designed to break you down, not to help you, not to lift you up. The few of us that beat that system… why is it that we all end up struggling? We all just survive, we don’t thrive.” – Mikayla
- “[Street-based sex work] is more dangerous and women who work on the streets aren’t given much of a choice. They must make their decisions in the moment for the needs they have right at that moment. They often have to have a lack of choice; they’re rarely given a moment or any time to think which puts them way more at risk.” – Liz (pseudonym)
- “Choices have to do with privilege and privilege is on a spectrum. Some people on the street have more privilege than others on the street for a multitude of factors. For example, if you’re going to work in a state of withdrawal – you’re probably going to feel like you have less of a choice to turn down unsafe work because you just want to feel better and get your night started… It’s often the choice of taking an unsafe date or going home with no money and having to worry about all the things you can’t afford.” – Jasmine (pseudonym)
- “We just want to live our lives. We just want to raise our children, we just want to be happy, healthy, productive people but how do you do that?”- Mikayla (pseudonym)
- “In my experience dealing with children services, the title ‘sex worker’ would just not come up because that was just another check against me… So when you have an addiction, you have experience in sex work, you have abuse – any of that, those are just setting you up for failure because they’ve already decided that no matter what you do, your lived experience is what determines it.” – Avery (pseudonym)
- “It doesn’t matter what area you look in, whether it be the justice system, the health system – there’s just so much negative attitude and negative actions, discrimination. It just goes on and on. It’s just a vicious cycle for women and as far as I’m concerned, our women need to stand together.” – T (pseudonym)
- “[Sex workers] are always judged. People are always looking at them as lower class. For some reason, they deserve the bad things that happen to them – which they don’t.” – Liz (pseudonym)
- “I don’t feel there was any empathy. As for stigma and judgement, they see a drug addict, they see a sex trade worker… I see someone that has extreme strength and willingness to get my child fed no matter the obstacles. I see somebody that uses a substance to give me enough energy in the day to be that perfect mum for my child. I don’t see anything that they say because I’m not that person.” – Avery (pseudonym)
- “We see time and time again, especially First Nations children being taken and apprehended from families and this is history repeating itself time and time again. It’s just a broken system. Residential schools, Indian day schools, sixties scoop – it’s all the same. It’s the same history of abuse that First Nations families go through.” – T (pseudonym)
- “There’s absolutely nothing government can do in regard to reconciliation unless they look at the unjust and the wrongdoing they have done to our women – all our women, especially sex workers.” – T (pseudonym)
- “Why do we have to take this abuse? Why are we not seen the same as other women? We are the ones the serial killers and the abusive men take their anger out on. That’s not right, that’s not okay.” – Jasmine (pseudonym)
- “Nothing seems to get done to the people who abuse these women [sex workers]. People tend to think they’re [sex workers] are deserving so nothing gets done. ‘It’s okay for dangerous people, sex offenders to be released down here around us. We deserve it, we can take it, right? Better us than somebody else.’ That’s the way they look at it.” – Liz (pseudonym)
Trans activist and panelist Mikayla Cadger wrote an essay and a poem for the event. You can read both in full below:
- On the Outside Looking In: A Transwoman Challenging Stigma – An essay by Mikayla Cadger
- I Challenge You – A poem by Mikayla Cadger