Maggie McLeod, Liam Buckley, and Victor Tapia Poma

Chapter Five analyzes Aprosba’s operation mechanisms as well as its state, regional and transnational networks. Dr. Williams gives a detailed explanation on how Aprosba operates under the eyes of the Brazilian Government. Additionally, she also critiques existing feminist literature on prostitution, for example how the word “prostitute” only refers to female sex workers when in reality the sex worker can include children, males, and transgenders. Or how words such as “puta” have a derogatory connotation when referring to prostitutes. Williams argues that this ingrained attitude has contributed to prostitutes in Brazil being as second class citizens and their rights have not been recognized.

Dr. Williams also provides the readers an overview of the history of the Association of Prostitutes of Bahia (Aprosba) and their accomplishments. The organization was founded in 1997 in El Salvador by a group of prostitutes who felt the need to combat the violence they faced in their day to day work lives. As Williams argued, their main goal was “to show that prostitutes are also dignified people who exercise a profession like any other” (Williams). The organization sought to raise awareness about safer sex practices in their community, fight for the recognition citizenship for prostitutes, and provide sex workers with more educational resources. Soon after its founding in El Salvador, Aprosba opened their operation in Brazil.

Through grassroots mobilization efforts, Aprosba had successfully been able to reduce violence, reduce unwanted pregnancies and rise sanitary standards for prostitutes. In 2007, “The Without Shame Project” was launched, giving sex workers “training in skills that would enhance [their]leadership skills and activism in their home cities,” as well as a safe community to share experiences (Williams). Aprosba passed out a booklet that contained topics such as HIV/AIDS, breast-self exams, and sexual violence aimed to educate sex workers. Efforts such as “The Without Shame Project” have been successful in combating health issues faced by many local sex workers.

Chapter Five also includes descriptions the Aprosba meetings Erika Williams attended. Ironically, although sessions were designed to be safe spaces where the workers could feel comfortable sharing their stories, Williams revealed a few of the stories to the readers – for example, how many Brazilian sex workers encountered abuse police officers. Williams also discussed how each woman who attended the meetings received between fifteen to thirty free condoms, a great strategy to limit the spread of disease. iIn addition, these meetings often times featured educational speakers who spoke on taught range of issues, from dental health to STIs and contraception. Due to the educational and cathartic aspects of the meetings, the response to the sessions were held with great regard. In fact, Aprosba became so successful that many siex working survivors measured their time in relation to “pre Aprosba” and “post-Aprosba.”

 

After our thorough reading of chapter five, our group identified three central questions we felt we wanted to ask Dr. Williams in our meeting.

1)As Aprosba fights for sex worker rights, they have had an issue of attracting workers to the weekly meetings – a large reason for this is that the Aprobsba office lies in el Centro while many of the workers live outside of the city. Many sex workers do not have time or the money to attend these meeting. What are some ways Aprosba is combatting this issue?

2) I was stunned by the fact that low income, marginalized sex workers in Brazil can be excluded from full citizenship despite the fact that full prostitution is legal. Have any local or international organizations tried to expose this flaw in the legal system in hopes of changing it?

3)Throughout the book, Williams talks a lot about Fabiana who is a leader and co-founder of Aprosba. What was the first encounter with her like?

In the meeting, we were able to ask our questions; however, the responses given did not feel touch on the heart of our questions. As a group, we felt that Dr. Williams while she was extremely knowledgeable about the subject, her failure to stay up to date with how her research applied to contemporary made our questions difficult to answer.

Response to question 1:

In chapter five of her book, Williams discussed some of the issues that Aprosba faced. While the organization was very popular among workers, because of the location of the organization’s office, few workers could participate in the weekly meetings. Moreover, the main office was located in el Centro, a destination far away from many of the worker’s homes and work places – for example, those that lived in Barra would have to travel by bus or car to get to the city. As a result, the effort and money spent traveling to the meetings proved far too great for many of the women. During the meeting with Dr. Williams, we asked about some of the ways in which Aprobsba addressed this issue. She discussed that while members of Aprosba could get involved through calling, filling, and their website, the issue of weekly attendance was never solved – a few years after the publication of the book, the organization closed due to a lack of funding. Today, Brazil has shifted towards a more conservative outlook on prostitution, and the establishment of a similar organization like Aprosba will prove difficult.

Unfortunately, while Dr. Williams response answered the question, she failed to go into greater detail about the larger issue at hand – merely stating that the organization has been shut down, and therefore my question is “irrelevant” was not a satisfying answer.  I would have liked to know the strategies in which other sex worker’s rights organizations combated similar issues to which Aprsoba faced. For example, in an era of modern technology, would an organization choose to have meetings over skype? Could they even set up a group chat to spark a constructive discussion? Dr. Williams expressed that while many of the women do not have mobile phones, they do have access to the internet – whether through at their home or in internet cafes. Thus, incorporating technology into the fight for sex worker’s rights could have been a great solution.

 

Response to question 2:

 In hindsight, question two was perhaps a little two broad. However, despite this fact, Williams provided little insight on the question. She claimed she had not kept up as much with the contemporary political situation in Brazil since her last visit. While it is understandable, she is unable to know everything regarding Brazil, her answer in some ways alluded that her knowledge of prostitution in Brazil was limited to her own experience during a finite window of time. As an audience member, this response almost makes one question the legitimacy of such an anthropological study if it can not be applied over time.

Response to question 3:

Williams mentioned “Fabiana was neither charming at the beginning nor rude.”  She had a lot of questions about what Dr. Williams was doing there. However, over time she became very helpful for Dr. Williams research and contributed to clarify the main purpose of the association and what she was doing for her colleagues in Brazil. Dr. Williams described her as a courageous and confident woman in her early forties who had a clear mission “fight for the rights of prostitutas”. It is important to mention that she was the only white prostituta within the association. Fabiana worked very close with Zulema in conducting safer sex workshops in rural towns. Dr. Williams mentioned that she did not feel ashamed of her and never saw herself as a victim. As she told Dr. williams “I hate it when journalists think that we’re poor things who come from horrible families My whole family is very religious educated and they are not poor” (109).

 

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