My name is Inna, I am 30 years old and I live in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. I am a leader at the organisation Dignity and a member of the sex workers network Shah-Ajym. In the evenings, I sometimes work as a sex worker. It is difficult for me to be in a community where people are not sex workers. Many people disapprove of me. Some sympathise with me, but ask stupid questions, and then I desperately want to run away. But even within my own community, sometimes I am confronted with discrimination – because I am living with HIV. Some girls inform my clients about my status, and then I earn less.
In Tajikistan life is quite challenging for sex workers, particularly for those living with HIV. I get HIV treatment and feel healthy. But many do not have of a passport or any official registration and, therefore, have no access to treatment. And some do not have a good place to stay and experience malnutrition, while you need good food when on ART (antiretroviral therapy). Another challenge is the administrative prosecution. We are often forced to pay money to the militia, and if we refuse, we have to sit in their premises for hours. They humiliate and beat us, constantly saying that we are prostitutes and nobody will help us.
In the drop-in center, we feel open and free, and we can learn from each other
I am very happy with my job at Dignity, because I want to support people like myself. This work really gives me the feeling that I am needed. Sex workers, women and men, and LGBT people are welcome in Dignity’s drop-in centre. We offer temporary, safe accommodation, hot food, and a shower. And it is a place to share troubles and find solutions together. We also talk about our rights. Here, we feel open and free, and we can learn from each other. Another service is pre-test counselling, but we never force anybody to have an HIV test. One time we escorted a girl to the doctor. She had HIV and tuberculosis and experienced itching in the area of the genital organs, a side-effect of the medicines. She was afraid to tell the doctor, because he was a man, and just stopped using the prescribed drugs. After several heated discussions, we convinced her to go to the doctor, who was already informed by one of our workers about the side-effects. Now she feels okay and works again.
When my parents found out I had HIV, they simply threw me out on the street. I am not angry with them. They did not have enough information about it; actually, they even did not want to know anything about HIV. In my country, a person living with HIV is ‘harom’, which means condemned and filthy. However, because I am living with HIV, I better understand the value of life and know who my real friends are. And I even got a job at Dignity. I converted my status into something positive.