Don't Sell My Body Anymore Because I Can Sell Drugs
By Justine Illiria,
Morava Foundation, Volunteer Centre, Cangonj, Devoll, Albania
Justine Illiria was born in Southern Albania in 1975, in a
village to a poor Muslim family. She was one of eight children
the age of six she would help in the fields with the tobacco
Salamon Foundation is committed to the regeneration of
southern Hungary, and has particular regard for the special
needs of women
and girl-children who participate in sex work.
I was born in Southern Albania in 1975, in a small rural
village to a poor
Muslim family. I was one of eight children and from the age of
six I would
help in the fields with the tobacco harvest. We were loved,
well fed and
At the age of fourteen I was engaged to young man from a
who had regular work in Greece, although he was undocumented.
and I moved with him to Greece, where we worked on a farm and
little house with several other undocumented couples.
husband was severely injured in an accident. Being "illegals"
we had no
insurance or right to medical care. Friends took my husband
Albania. His mother agreed to nurse him.
My wages were important to both our families, so I agreed to
Greece. After a short time, the woman I shared our little
house with asked
me to go out with her to Thessaloniki where she was a hostess
in a bar.
Her job was to get men to buy expensive drinks for her and
she would get a percentage from the sale. Sometimes she would
go back to
hotels with foreign businessmen and have sex with them for
I compared her income and mine, and I decided to try what she
My husband's family was not poor, nor was I in any particular
need. But if
I was going to work I wanted to maximize my income. I started
working as a
hostess at sixteen. I had to get papers to show I was
eighteen. (It seems
sixteen year old people are old enough to marry and go in the
they're not old enough to have sex for money.)
Now I consider sex for money a lot like nursing: it helps
lives are incomplete for all sorts of reasons. It is not like
pleasure or love, it is a different type of sex. It's a bit
like the sex
you have when you would prefer to sleep but your boyfriend
wants sex, or
when you like someone but not enough to have sex, but you feel
them so you let them have sex. Or you want something from
someone and they
want sex so you arrange an unspoken contract for the exchange.
money is more honest and direct. It was hard work, but not as
hard as the
farm work, and it paid much better.
Some women I know find the sex work soul destroying, but they
believed that women were second class people and sex for money
unworthy of being wives. I couldn't understand how eight
minutes of sex,
several times a day, should be the defining element of my
My husband was recovering slowly. I would visit him every
month and bring
money home. I could only give our families such money as I
from farm work because I couldn't tell them I was selling sex.
very frustrating, as I wanted to help both families. In this
accepted that my sex work was stigmatized.
Eventually I resolved this problem by moving in to
"drugs". In those days
a lot of people in Southern Albania grew marijuana and
exported it to
Greece and Italy. Several of my clients used marijuana. They
that as an Albanian I would have a connection for marijuana.
I told my husband and family that I was taking marijuana from
Greece for sale. Within a few weeks I was sending most of my
money home, supposedly as the proceeds from drug sales. This
carried no stigma. Both families were able to buy more land,
my family rebuilt their house. My three younger sisters are
now all in
University and will not be married off in traditional
I continued in the "drug trade" for more than three
years. After that time
my husband died and I lost my motivation for life. I returned
stayed with my parents for about a year.
Seven teenage women met to discuss their life options, and
Morava Foundation. In recent years I have been worked with the
Foundation in Southern Albania, where we offer non-prejudicial
young women working in the sex work "drug trade".
sex-working women become injecting drug users while working
they return to Albania where they are unable to practice safe
We have tried to create services that include such women. Our
include issues of marriage as woman exchange, selling sex in
countries, and the role of education in the liberation of
rural women. Our
initiative has been totally grass roots. We did not learn
things from foreign run workshops or Albanians who wear white
like to be called sir or madam!
Because we are a small agency in a rural area near the Greek
southern Albania, we suffer a great deal of prejudice from the
based in Tirane (the capitol). When we raise issues that
affect our lives
in the rural South, agencies and donors in the Capital deride
unprofessional. In fact we have rejected the pseudo-rofessionalisation
Albanian civic society where elites gather control and power
Donors need to look to the grass roots. The dependency of
donors on an old
Albanian intellectual elite creates a third sector in Albania
as a force for domination rather than a support for a diverse
society. Foreign donors are paying for a travesty, imposing a
template upon Albania in the presumption that truly local
When foreign funding organisations pursue their agenda in my
should not just assess the need for "harm-reduction"
among sex workers and
drug-users, but also assess the impact of their money on the
of truly representative civic society in Albania. There is no
harm to small local agencies when centralised elites overwhelm
Sex and drugs were the best things that ever happened for me.
trust the initiatives that foreigners are funding to
"help" me and others.
Foreigners are pimping the new elite organisations, who are
whatever issues their pimps demand. The sex and drug trade is
and straightforward. I would rather prostitute myself in a
bar than in a pseudo-NGO in Tirane anytime.
Source: Summer 2001 Edition of Harm Reduction Communication