My name is Diana and I live in Uganda . Although my country has made remarkable progress in reducing its HIV infection rates, HIV and AIDS are still a major challenge, also among sex workers . In Uganda, many sex workers do not know their rights, including their health rights, which is why these are often violated. Some years ago, while I worked as a sex worker, I met a woman called Daisy. She invited me to work with her and mobilise sex workers to fight for their rights. Consequently, I was recruited to serve as a peer educator for WONETHA (Women’s Organisation Network for Human Rights Advocacy). The organisation is a sex worker led organisation which strongly believes in empowerment of sex workers by actively involving them in problem identification, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all programme activities.
When WONETHA advertised the position of Advocacy and Communications Officer, I applied, despite the fact that I did not have the academic skills. But I did have experience as a peer educator and sex worker. So I got the job! I was delegated to attend several meetings. First the Programme Manager and Executive Director guided me, later I went alone to meetings about sex worker rights representing WONETHA. Moreover, I participated in interviews of national and foreign media, such as the Canadian PBS. Also the students of journalism of Makerere University interviewed me for their thesis. This has helped me to develop communications skills to mobilise sex workers to join WONETHA and to refer them to health centres. Attending meetings has given me more confidence about my presentation skills and speaking in front of large and strange audiences.
Exposure creates change
I am also able now to approach a police officer in cases of police raids and arrests of sex workers. The Police Community Liaison Officer is always ready to listen to me and then release arrested sex workers. On several occasions, he attended sensitisation meetings about security management and human rights. I approached the Inspector General of the Police who heads the microfinance support for the most at risk populations. He advised us to form groups. We did this and are now awaiting financial support for sex worker groups to have supplementary and alternative businesses.
I am happy to engage in sex worker rights promotion and protection together with professionals like doctors, counsellors, national and international journalist, majors, police officers, and lawyers. Despite all the work I have done, at first I did not know that exposure creates change. I realised the importance of exposure after I was appointed Board Member, representing sex workers, of the Makindye Division HIV Committee of Kampala Capital City Authority, which is supported by AMICAALL (Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders on HIV/AIDS in Africa). As a result, WONETHA has a steady partnership with the Loa government and AMICAALL. They have set up an income generating project for sex workers, that is a fully stocked community restaurant with a start-up capital. These are great experiences and achievements.