A way out for women

Concert & auction at Woodstock’s Colony Café this Friday to benefit Kenya’s sex trade victims

by Ann Hutton
December 02, 2010 12:25 PM | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Of all the charitable causes vying for media attention and financial support, an organization like Solidarity with Women in Distress (SOLWODI) must be one of the least sexy (attractive, popular, appealing, desirable), because, let’s face it: Helping prostitutes to rise above their circumstances and live better lives does not pull at our heart- and pursestrings like feeding hungry children or rescuing abused animals. We consider children and animals and victims of natural disasters to be innocent, undeserving of the strife that befalls them. But no one wants to enter a conversation about the plights of commercial sex workers, because we assume that their problems are a direct result of their lack of innocence.

Not so, according to Jacquelyn Arsenuk, one-time political radio host, writer, teacher and avid feminist. Committed to social justice, she has taken herself out of the “comfy” zone of talking about it and has stepped onto the track of direct action. Arsenuk will put her double Master’s degrees – one in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and one in Women’s Studies – to the ultimate test when she volunteers in Kenya next year with SOLWODI, a non-governmental organization that provides support to commercial sex workers and girls at risk in the Kenyan coastal towns of Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Malindi. Through the Foundation for Sustainable Development, she has been accepted to six months of project work that will address the economic and cultural causes of this particularly unsavory form of abuse of women and girls.

On her blog, Arsenuk catalogues the conditions that drive women into the commercial sex “industry” – one in which 60 percent of the clientele is comprised of tourists to Kenya: a growing economic crisis, poverty, gender discrimination, dysfunctional families and patriarchal practices like early marriages and wife inheritance. She writes, “Commercial sex exposes women and girls to untold risks such as physical abuse, psychological torture and exploitation by clients and other males. In addition, they face a loss of self- and social esteem, harassment, imprisonment and sexually transmitted infections, including the deadly HIV/AIDS virus. Due to the constant exposure involved in their trade and as traditional health care providers, women are doubly at risk of becoming victims of the HIV virus.”

Joining SOLWODI to identify and rehabilitate women involved in commercial sex work and to educate communities about the dangers of the trade, Arsenuk will further the organization’s 25-year-long commitment to lobby for support from government and the hotel industry, with the aim of implementing laws against child sex abuse. The organization works to empower marginalized women, agitating for and demanding their human rights.

Arsenuk hopes to defray some of the costs of volunteering internationally – the training, placement, family home-stay, host organization grant, field support, airfare, visas, vaccinations, in-country transportation and insurance for six months amounting to $9,000 – with fundraising efforts. This Friday, December 3 from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m., the Colony Café in Woodstock will host a benefit concert to support Arsenuk’s upcoming trip to Kenya. For a suggested $15 donation, come hear Fre Atlast and Birds of a Feather Community Drum Ensemble, the Erin Hobson Compact, the Gred Douglas Band and Butter. A silent auction will offer gift certificates for Swedish and shiatsu massages, facials, a reiki session, a psychic reading, local yummy restaurants and local stores, plus signed All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League memorabilia, gift baskets from River Rock Spa and Red Flower, handmade gemstone jewelry from Palomita Jewelry, clothing from the Walkabout, vegan Bluestocking Bonbons, gift certificates for African dance lessons and much more.

Another fundraiser will take place on Friday, December 17 at Café Mezzaluna in Saugerties, and one is in the works for the Rosendale Café. Tax-deductible contributions can also be made directly to Chip in and put her on the plane! Learn more about SOLWODI at

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