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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


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 small rural
village to a poor Muslim family. She was one of eight children and from
the age of six she would help in the fields with the tobacco harvest. The
Salamon Foundation is committed to the regeneration of community in
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
reasonably clothed.

At the age of fourteen I was engaged to young man from a nearby village
who had regular work in Greece, although he was undocumented. We married
and I moved with him to Greece, where we worked on a farm and shared a
little house with several other undocumented couples. Unfortunately my
husband was severely injured in an accident. Being "illegals" we had no
insurance or right to medical care. Friends took my husband back to
Albania. His mother agreed to nurse him.


My wages were important to both our families, so I agreed to stay in
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 themselves, 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 money.

I compared her income and mine, and I decided to try what she was doing.
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 army, but
they're not old enough to have sex for money.)

Now I consider sex for money a lot like nursing: it helps people whose
lives are incomplete for all sorts of reasons. It is not like sex for
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 sorry for
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. Sex for
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 also
believed that women were second class people and sex for money made them
unworthy of being wives. I couldn't understand how eight minutes of sex,
several times a day, should be the defining element of my spiritual

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 could justify
from farm work because I couldn't tell them I was selling sex. This was
very frustrating, as I wanted to help both families. In this way I
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 would assume
that as an Albanian I would have a connection for marijuana.


I told my husband and family that I was taking marijuana from Albania to
Greece for sale. Within a few weeks I was sending most of my sex work
money home, supposedly as the proceeds from drug sales. This activity
carried no stigma. Both families were able to buy more land, tractors, and
my family rebuilt their house. My three younger sisters are now all in
University and will not be married off in traditional marriages.

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 home and
stayed with my parents for about a year.

Seven teenage women met to discuss their life options, and formed the
Morava Foundation. In recent years I have been worked with the Morava
Foundation in Southern Albania, where we offer non-prejudicial advice to
young women working in the sex work "drug trade". Unfortunately some
sex-working women become injecting drug users while working abroad. When
they return to Albania where they are unable to practice safe injecting.
We have tried to create services that include such women. Our discussions
include issues of marriage as woman exchange, selling sex in foreign
countries, and the role of education in the liberation of rural women. Our
initiative has been totally grass roots. We did not learn about these
things from foreign run workshops or Albanians who wear white coats and
like to be called sir or madam!

Because we are a small agency in a rural area near the Greek border in
southern Albania, we suffer a great deal of prejudice from the big NGOs
based in Tirane (the capitol). When we raise issues that affect our lives
in the rural South, agencies and donors in the Capital deride us as
unprofessional. In fact we have rejected the pseudo-rofessionalisation of
Albanian civic society where elites gather control and power within
unrepresentative organisations.

Donors need to look to the grass roots. The dependency of donors on an old
Albanian intellectual elite creates a third sector in Albania that serves
as a force for domination rather than a support for a diverse civic
society. Foreign donors are paying for a travesty, imposing a third sector
template upon Albania in the presumption that truly local initiatives are

When foreign funding organisations pursue their agenda in my country, they
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 development
of truly representative civic society in Albania. There is no reducing of
harm to small local agencies when centralised elites overwhelm us or
exclude us.

Sex and drugs were the best things that ever happened for me. I don't
trust the initiatives that foreigners are funding to "help" me and others.
Foreigners are pimping the new elite organisations, who are whoring
whatever issues their pimps demand. The sex and drug trade is more ethical
and straightforward. I would rather prostitute myself in a Thessaloniki
bar than in a pseudo-NGO in Tirane anytime.

Source: Summer 2001 Edition of Harm Reduction Communication