Written by: Natalia Chairez
The celebration of women has come a long way globally towards their endeavors and adversity. In today’s society, even the most taboo parts of many women’s lives are brought to light instead of being hidden away like they used to. Feminist-driven passion projects and voices have only increased over the years as cities’ communities grow more diverse and open to change.
The Red Van, a non-profit NGO based in Copenhagen since 2016, is no stranger to being a vessel of protection and advocacy for underprivileged women.
The organization is a volunteer-run group that works towards harm reduction for sex workers on the streets of Vesterbro. Their goals are to provide a safe space for women in the sex industry through more secure working conditions and actively advocate for the rights of women. Initially founded with the use of an ambulance truck, the vehicle was later replaced with a red van with their logo. The van is used by the sex workers to take their clients inside to do their work. It provides a clean built-in bed with products for them to use like condoms, tampons, and lube that are free of charge, as well as tea and coffee.
On Wednesday, March 8, the group celebrated International Women’s Day with an open-van event in front of Peech, a sex toy shop in the Nørrebro area. The iconic van was parked in front of the shop, open to the public, showing visitors inside the van to bring in new volunteers and talk about the organization’s goals and system.
In an interview with Charlotte, a volunteer and board member of The Red Van since 2019, she talks about the purpose of the event.
“We’ve morphed this into an open-van event where we can bring in new volunteers and give them more information about the van,” Charlotte said. “We get a lot of volunteer inquiries from these events.”
The event served as more than just showing people the van, but also educating people on the mission behind the work of the Red Van and its initial foundational values.
“It reduces the risk that comes with having sex with people on the street and taking them behind or into your car”, Charlotte said. “We provide this comfort that if something does happen, we are there to help them and serve as a witness.”
Charlotte then talks about the night shifts that the volunteers do as part of the big mission for the sex workers and how it’s come a long way from the beginning to now where it’s a much more comfortable space for the women.
“When we first went out [on night shifts], the women didn’t know who we were […] so they were a bit skeptical,” she said. “When they first started TRV, they went out and asked them how we can help them.”
Charlotte reflected on the last couple of years of the initial launch of TRV and how it’s come a long way from where it started.
“I think now when I look at the last 3-4 years, it has done what our main goal is, which is providing a safe space for the women,” she said. “They feel comfortable, are familiar with us, and know us.”
Aphinya, the chairwoman of TRV was also present at the event and spoke about her initiation to the organization and its impact on Copenhagen sex workers.
“[TRV] It was founded in 2016 and I joined four months after that,” Apinya said. “I come from a very activist background where there is a lot of sitting around in circles and I was getting tired of it because it was becoming a bit self-centered.”
One of the biggest things she says she’s gained from being a chairwoman and being at the event was that she’s able to prove the worth of the space the van provides and taking up the challenge of making a big impact on these women by just being there as a vessel of support, rather than taking up space for them.
The people at Peech provided the guests at the event with Red Van merchandise ready to purchase as well as free teas and cake.