News / Africa

Sex Workers Demand Rights at AIDS 2012

Joe DeCapua
Sex workers say stigma, discrimination and antiquated laws make them more vulnerable to HIV infection, exploitation and violence. They spoke out at 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington.

Sex workers, along with men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users are three groups where HIV infection is rising rapidly. At AIDS 2012, a symposium featured members of the international sex workers rights movement.

Sienna Baskin, of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City, said, “In 2011, the U.N. Global Commission on HIV and the Law held regional dialogues around the world. Sex workers participated in every dialogue sharing how laws affect their access to HIV prevention and treatment, testimony about human rights abuses and practical recommendations for change. We thought that the International AIDS Conference needed to hear these same messages.”

Baskin said they had wanted more sex workers to attend the session, but they couldn’t get into the U.S. That’s despite the elimination of the travel ban for HIV infected people.

“Unfortunately, even as we celebrate the lifting of the HIV ban, U.S. immigration laws exclude most sex workers from even attending this conference,” she said.

Kholi Buthelezi is South Africa’s country coordinator for the African Sexworkers Alliance and trains sex workers in achieving better health, human rights and better working conditions. Buthelezi said criminalization of sex work violates human rights. She said sex workers in South Africa have been raped and gang raped, even by members of the police force. She adds harassment takes many forms.

“One of the examples, in Mpumulanga, police go to sex workers where they stay because they know where they live. And then when they get there they destroy condoms. They also force sexworkers to eat condoms that had been used. They also force sex workers to jump over the bridge so that it would look like they committed suicide. In Limpopo, police also ask for bribes from sex workers,” she said.

Joining Buthelezi at the AIDS conference was Sian Maseko, director of Zimbabwe’s Sexual Rights Center.

“Criminal laws are often used as a justification for stigma and discrimination against sex workers from various service providers, institutions and in general the wider community,” she said.

Maseko said the criminalization of sex work makes it impossible to challenge abuses in conventional ways. She describes what she calls “multiple discriminations.”

“Female sexworkers are discriminated against on the basis of being women as well as being sex workers. But it’s also important to note the issues around the sodomy laws, for example, that often violate the rights of male sexworkers. Trans-sex workers often experience humiliation and ridicule at the hands of healthcare service providers. So there are additional factors that violate and infringe the rights of sexworkers,” she said.

She said good health is more than physical. It’s also a sense of well-being, along with personal safety and security.

The panel also criticized a provision in PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as the Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath. It’s more commonly known as the anti-prostitution pledge and is contained in the 2003 United States Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act. It requires groups receiving U.S. funds to fight HIV/AIDS globally to agree to a policy of opposing prostitution and human trafficking.

In 2001, a federal appeals court ruled that the government cannot require U.S. organizations to take such a pledge against prostitution. But international organizations face either taking the pledge or losing funding.

Melissa Ditmore, an independent consultant on sex work and HIV, praised PEPFAR for helping to get millions of HIV positive people on antiretroviral treatment. But she said the pledge or oath creates many problems.

“Despite the fact that sex workers face disproportionate risk for HIV and despite the current U.S. administration’s efforts to base policy upon evidence, we found in our research that the pledge is not grounded in evidence, or is grounded in a very partisan interpretation of evidence. By inadvertently promoting stigma against sex workers in health programs the pledge in all its forms increases sex workers vulnerability to HIV infection.” She said.

The international sex workers rights movement and others have launched a campaign to repeal the pledge, as well as provisions that block immigration based on sex work. They also called for an end to criminalization of sex work. They said it drives commercial sex underground while increasing the risk for violence and isolation from health services.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs