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Sex Work and HIV: Speech of SWAN representative at a High Level Meeting on AIDS in UN

On 10 June 2008, a two-hours informal interactive civil society hearing, with the theme of Action For Universal Access 2010: Myths and Realities, was run in High-Level Meeting on AIDS (General Assembly, United Nations, New York). One of the civil society rapporteurs was Gulnara Kurmanova of Tais Plus, SWAN member from Kyrgyzstan. Read the speech here.

I will start from the example of institutional repression and violence that explains why sex workers remain at high risk of HIV and are unable to access health services. Recently one South East Asian country passed an anti-trafficking law that has led to massive human rights violations against sex workers. The law erroneously equates sex work with trafficking. Sex workers have been forcibly detained in so-called “rehabilitation centres” where they have been raped and robbed by police and guards. Thousands of women have lost their livelihoods. HIV positive sex workers have great difficulty in accessing ARV’s – both in and outside the detention centers. Additionally, sex workers are arrested if found with condoms, as evidence of sex work, resulting in sex workers being scared to carry condoms and to access STI services. Other countries in Asia and elsewhere are planning to adopt a similar law and this is disastrous to sex worker rights


As sex workers, we call on countries to address the following:


1. Decriminalisation. Sex work is legitimate work and should not be criminalized. It is not a crime. It should not be equated to trafficking or sexual exploitation. Sex work should be considered a legitimate form of labor and sex workers should be protected under labor laws. People should have right to work as a sex workers.


2. Human Rights. The fundamental human rights of sex workers need to be protected. Government policies and AIDS programming continues to undermine these rights. Sex workers’ rights to information, privacy and freedom from violence, are violated through compulsory testing, and obligatory status disclosure, rape, and murder.


3. Stigma and Discrimination. Even in cases where sex work is formally decriminalized, sex workers are persecuted by the police, medical doctors, and local communities. One of the most obvious manifestations of discrimination is allowing outsiders to make decisions about sex workers’ lives, health and work, or to look at sex workers as hopeless victims who need external help and so-called ‘rehabilitation’ to ‘become good girls’.


I ask the rapporteurs to make notes on contributions about sex work and HIV into their reports and to include this topic into Summary.


Moralistic policies and programs are not effective. We need to adopt approaches that actually work. We call on all UN agencies and the international community to develop policies that support sex work as work and that include sex workers in their development and decision-making processes that directly affect them. This would be a good opportunity to empower sex workers and strengthen sex workers groups, unions and networks around the world.


Governments must uphold the human rights of sex workers, prevent all forms of violence, including rape and murder, stop the mandatory testing and denial of ARV’s, other medications and health services in general for sex workers.


We also call on UNAIDS and UNFPA to accept the perspective of sex workers in the Guidance Note on Sex Work and HIV and finally agree on the concept and content of this paper in the interest of sex workers and public health. We need an effective tool to protect our lives.


Sex workers are not part of the AIDS problem; we are part of the solution.


Thank you.
 

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