News / Africa

Sex Workers Demand Rights at AIDS 2012

AIDS2012AIDS2012
x
AIDS2012
AIDS2012
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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs