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“My body – my rights!” International Sex Workers Pride Day street action in Kyiv

20 Oct 2020 18:10:11
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During the International Sex Workers Pride Day on September 14, 2020, in the center of Kyiv, activists of the CO “Legalife-Ukraine” held a theatrical street human rights action “My body – my rights!”

Human rights slogans “My body – my rights!” and “Stigma Kills” were canvased, among many others, on the T-shirts of sex worker activists, which were displayed during street performance on one of central streets of the capital of Ukraine.  

Here is the story of this action from the point of view of Viktor Ruban, choreographer, researcher, director, performer and coach.

What was the concept of action «My body – my rights»?

In general, this action was planned as a symbolic one rather than some kind of show. Message is very simple. There are many stigmas and layers of clichés connected with sex work in nowadays Ukraine. The symbolism of the action was that we were freeing ourselves from the messages that we had prepared, and we were inviting others to express themselves, writing their attitude, their opinion. We need to get rid of layers, various labels, to return to the basis: “my body – my rights.”Also,this place, where Sagaidachny Street is today, was previously strongly associated in Kyiv with sex work. Back in the XVIII century this was a port part of the city, and this place was like a street of “red lights”. What’s more, in those times sex work was fitted harmoniously into the city’s historical landscape. We decided to return to this historical fact in order to carry out our symbolic action. Of course, one can turn a blind eye to the fact that sex work exists, but we can also accept this as a fact and start a dialogue.

Viktor Ruban

How important is the dialogue on sex work in Ukraine today?

The dialogue about sex work is important not only because this is a part of our life (even if «officially» we pretend it doesn’t exist). We have more than 100,000 citizens who, due to the lack of dialogue with the state, are forced to work in the shadows, sometimes forced to risk their lives and health – because they are not protected by the state when situations arise for which the state and officials should be responsible. Through illegality and therefore impunity, sex workers may be threatened, abused, manipulated. The rule of law must take care of the rights of all its citizens, and especially the most vulnerable.

How important is the protection of vulnerable groups in Ukraine today?

We have problems with the rights of vulnerable groups in general. Today there is a lot of impunity, because the judicial and law enforcement systems are still weak in our country. Moreover, the news about crimes and violence committed by the law enforcement officers themselves has returned again. What is causing this? The reason for this is that we nominally declared decommunization, but we continue to live in the system of the Ukrainian SSR, in the system of power and control, and not in the system of management, development, sustainability and protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens. This is nonsense. But this is a long story. I just note that you can say a lot about a family when you see how they treat the younger and older, that is, the less protected. Also, the attitude of the state can always be seen by the actual protection of the rights and freedoms of the least protected groups of the population. Draw your own conclusions.