HIV/AIDS and women in the sex sector: facing challenges and finding solutions
S. Sippel1, A. Jordan2, S. Merchant3, S. Mollet4, G. Leite5, S. Bradford6, Z. Hudson7
1Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), Washington, United States, 2American University , Washington College of Law, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Washington, United States, 3Population Services International (PSI), Mumbai, India, 4Danaya So, Bamako, Mali, 5Davida, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 6Asian Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 7Open Society Institute, Open Society Policy Center (OSPC), Washington, United States
Issues: Sex workers have a right to health, including access to humane HIV prevention and treatment programs. Sex workers have also proven that they can be essential to reducing HIV/AIDS transmission within societies. However, their right to health and their power to decrease HIV transmission are largely overlooked by policy makers.
Description: Sex worker advocates from Brazil, Mali, Cambodia, and India came together in 2009 to discuss the challenges to successful HIV/AIDS programming among sex workers, and the advantages of approaches that actively involve sex workers themselves. As a result of this exchange, these advocates developed policy recommendations and shared effective models of engaging sex workers in HIV prevention.
Lessons learned: Fifteen years ago, Davida, a sex worker advocacy group in Brazil, generated sufficient political power to form the Sex Worker Steering Committee. This committee of sex workers is part of Brazil's National STD and AIDS program and reviews all proposed projects targeting sex workers. In India, sex worker collective Sanghamitra engages brothel owners in condom promotion activities, successfully increasing the use of condoms and keeping the HIV rate among sex workers stagnant. Mali's DANAYA SO, run by sex workers, offers free health checkups several times a month. Members can also get free treatment from health centers.
Each of these organizations is run by sex workers themselves, demonstrating the power of these women to positively affect the lives and health of their fellow sex workers.
However, political challenges threaten such approaches. Cambodia's law conflating sex work with sex trafficking has crippled the country's HIV prevention efforts and policies such as the U.S. anti-prostitution pledge have undermined the most effective approaches to HIV prevention among sex workers.
Next steps: Donor and domestic policies should uphold sex workers' right
to health and engage them in shaping HIV prevention programs.
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