Since my last blog, I welcomed my beautiful son into the world. He was born in September 2013 and has made me smile every day since. I returned to work after a period of maternity leave and was quickly immersed back into advocacy for sex workers’ rights. Some things have remained realities for sex workers around the world. Widespread human rights violations continue to be sanctioned by states under legal frameworks that criminalise and legally oppress sex work. Abolitionist groups continue to portray sex work as a form of violence against women – ignoring the agency of female, male and trans sex workers and pushing these voices to the margins in the name of rescue and rehabilitation. Moreover, HIV positive sex workers, particularly in the Global South, are still being denied access to life-saving treatment. And sex workers continue to face stigma in their interactions with health, justice and other state services and, sometimes more damagingly, in their personal lives.
It worries me that new biomedical technologies continue to be pushed at key populations, including sex workers, as the magic HIV prevention wand! A global consultation carried out by NSWP with over 600 sex workers worldwide highlighted the lack of awareness amongst sex workers of PrEP. It also demonstrated the lack of engagement that has been done with our community about our experiences, values and preferences. Scientific research on PrEP cannot be prioritised over community experiences and the context of criminalisation of sex work, lack of labour power for sex workers and the importance of condom programming by and for sex workers. With the emphasis on PrEP, sex workers worry that the commitment to full access to affordable condoms will be lost.
Scientific research on PrEP cannot be prioritised over community experiences
I had the opportunity to attend the International AIDS Conference 2014. One of the highlights for me was the plenary speech of Daisy Nakoto, WONETHA’s Executive Director. Daisy’s speech was powerful and poetic, drawing on her personal experiences as a former sex worker living with HIV in Uganda – a country context where recent criminalisation of sex work, LGBT, and HIV has been the subject of international media attention due to the overt violations to human rights that these laws create. Daisy stated: ‘Giving sex workers sewing machines to “get off the streets and reduce HIV” is not a solution’.
Another highlight at the conference was being part of a series of memorials and tributes to Andrew Hunter, a leading activist who passed away in 2013. Andrew was one of my personal mentors in the sex worker and treatment access movement. I was proud to be given the opportunity to say a small tribute: ‘When Andrew left this world, he left a following of young activists behind him, who will forever miss his supportive shadow as we carry out his mission. We are Andrew’s footprint and his legacy and we will never stray from our mission to end the violations to our human rights because this would be to stray from our leader, our mentor and our friend.’