Where we came from
Twenty years ago, a group of volunteers began a pilot project doing HIV outreach to migrant and immigrant women working in massage businesses in the Lower Mainland.
As trust built and relationships grew, simple deliveries of harm reduction supplies evolved into conversations about immigration processes, family issues, language barriers to accessing medical, legal, and social services, and much more. Sexual health, while important to the women working in these businesses, was far from the only thing on their minds.
Two factors caused these women the most anxiety: the immigration prohibition on sex work, and the social stigma attached to it.
Twenty years later, despite an overall cultural shift towards a less morals-based view of sex work, being “outed” as a migrant or immigrant sex worker can lead to detention and deportation. The women SWAN serves experience marginalization in interconnected ways: as racialized women, as people with precarious immigration status, as individuals with varying degrees of fluency in English, as well as with their choice of employment.
Now a registered charity with a staff of 9 and more than a dozen committed volunteers, SWAN continues to offer outreach services to migrant and immigrant self-identified women working in massage businesses and micro brothels, as well as those who work independently.
Through our Netreach program, we assist women with legal and medical appointments, make referrals to low-barrier social services, and support migrant women in detention. Our Peer program, which offers safe opportunities for women to connect with one another, is thriving, with well-attended English classes and social events such as yoga classes, karaoke, and seasonal events.
We continue to challenge dominant narratives that erroneously position the women we serve as helpless victims who have been tricked or forced into sex work.
Our Media Project aims to shift the ways in which journalists talk and write about im/migrant sex workers by highlighting the dangers of anti-trafficking rhetoric, while our ‘You Choose’ interactive tool invites the audience to walk alongside an im/migrant sex worker who has experienced a violent attack–and to witness the further violence and harms that come when she reports to police. We are in active partnership with several other agencies that support sex workers at local, provincial, and national levels, as well as with grassroots organizations that focus on migrant rights.
Alongside the women we serve, we are engaging in advocacy for systemic policy changes that will lead to legal and lived equality for im/migrant women who do sex work.
Our new brand
We’ve come a long way in twenty years.
Recognizing that we are seen as a leader in this field, we began to consider how we present ourselves in the digital world. What messages might be embedded in our logo, our colour schemes, even the fonts we choose? What stereotypes might we be unintentionally perpetuating? How do we ensure that our digital identity is consistent with our core values, that it reflects the ways in which we do this work and our commitment to the women we serve?
In all aspects of our vision, work, and decision making, SWAN continues to centre the health, safety, and rights of im/migrant self-identified women who engage in indoor sex work.
Through deep reflections on our core values, our mission and vision statements, our program work, and our advocacy, we developed a brand that honours our past while positioning ourselves for the future. Our new brand colours were influenced by the Chocolate or Chicken Bones? Photovoice Project.
We decided to keep a swan in our logo to remain connected to our past, and we believe the new swan design authentically reflects who we serve, who we are, and where we’ve come from as we continue to grow.
As an organization, we want to be seen as safe, supportive, and inclusive, yet also convey our tenacity and determination to fight for the rights of the women we serve.
Our work is nuanced and complex, but we want to be approachable to those who want to learn more. While remaining true to our grassroots beginnings, we are ready to confidently step into new and exciting things.
We invite you to explore our new website, subscribe to our newsletter, and follow our social media channels for updates on our work and how you can get (or stay) involved.
Thank you, Jamie Leigh, for your outstanding talent and guidance through this process!