The History of International Whores Day.
As a whore myself, I believe it’s important to remember the history behind why we are celebrating International Whores Day, to commemorate the women before us, who fought for their rights to work as prostitutes and for the women who are still fighting today, to be treated like normal human beings.
San Francisco 1973 – the group COYOTE* is formed by Margo St. James with the aim of educating the public about voluntary prostitution, to achieve decriminalisation and end stigma against prostitution. St James believed sex work was real work like any other job within the USA and that it should be relieved of its criminal status. COYOTE encouraged prostitutes to take pride in their work and events such as Hooker’s Film Festival, Hooker’s Congresses and the Hookers Balls were created and attended en masse.
*Did you know that COYOTE stands for “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics”? Most likely in direct defiance to the popular beliefs that prostitutes were “morally defunct, drug-addicted vectors of disease”.
In San Fran, prostitutes required mandatory gonorrhoea tests, and while awaiting results they would be held in jails for quarantine. COYOTE was successful in eliminating this law arguing that clients never received the same treatment.
Alas, it was not Margo St. James, but another movement that sparked the date for International Whores Day.
Lyon France 1975 – prostitutes who were working on the streets due to the hotels being closed, were constantly being jailed by the police. Maria de Lourdes an 18-year-old prostitute at the time states that “the police would let the dogs loose on us”. Prostitutes were jailed, fined, released back onto the streets and subsequently jailed again. The risk of their children being taken away from them was very real.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and with the support of priest Father Louis Blanc, more than 100 prostitutes took refuge in the Church of St Nizier. The protest was aimed at showing society that they were normal women, not criminals, but simply mothers who have chosen the profession to provide for their families. They sought recognition that sex work was real work and that there was a demand for their services; and why should legislation be written without their input? A banner was hung that read “Our children don’t want their mothers in jail” and a chant was sung. The protest which lasted 8 days, ended when police raided the church on the basis that it was creating public disorder.
The occupation of St Nizier by up to 150 sex workers gathered worldwide attention; it resulted in harassment by police being reduced and the women avoided jail. However it would be decades until the real change for the prostitutes of Lyon surfaced, but the strike was the beginning for many movements to come.
Nul ne peut plus nous faire taire
De toute maniéres,
Nous voulions arracher
Le droit d’être ce que nous sommes,
Femmes, et non pas bêtes de somme
A Saint Nizier
“Nobody can shut us down
We wanted to fight back
For the right to be who we are
Women, and not beasts of burden
At Saint Nizier”
Today there is no memorial, no sign in the church of St Nizier that even hints at the stake out that happened there – but these brave women represent International Whores Day.
To hear their story and learn about their struggles and triumphs please click on the picture below. This video was produced in 2015 and was nominated for The Dark Audio Award. The story is portrayed with strength and humour and easily communicates their will to succeed.
Click this link if you would like Video Transcripts in both French and English
Are you interested in finding out more about how International Whores Day began? Check out the following links,
- An in-depth thesis; Discourse and the Power of Symbols: Representation and Regulation of Prostitution in France 183 1-1975. By Jennifer L. Sweatman
- Article by The Conversation detailing the history of how the movement by the French sex workers led to a world wide labour movement.
- A blog article by Elizabeth Nolan Brown. Has a great selection of extra readings about International Whores Day and provides a brief summary of events.
*. Prostitution: Sex Work, Policy and Politics by Teela Sanders, Maggie O’Neill, Jane Pitcher
**. Discourse and the Power of Symbols: Representation and Regulation of Prostitution in France, 183 1-1975 by Jennifer L. Sweatman
***. LA REVOLTE DES PROSTITUEES Produced by Eurydice Aroney for RTBF (Brussels) and Radio France Culture.