Please find a complete set of PJ’s photos from the We Can End AIDS Mobilization in Washington DC during the 2012 International AIDS Conference by clicking this photo! This photo was taken as we exited the Global Village chanting “sex worker rights are human rights” on our way up to the street level.
Save us from Saviours, a short film by award-winning director Kat Mansoor, gives more of a glimpse into the lives and work of three members of the Vamp collective
"If I’d been married, I would have been HIV positive by now," says one of Vamp’s stalwarts, Shabana, reflecting that married women are far more vulnerable than she is as a sex worker, unable to insist on condoms with their husbands as she does with her clients. And her face breaks into a smile as she describes the life she leads: the freedoms she enjoys, her choice of clients, and the autonomy and empowerment she has. "I’m as free as a bird," she says.—
Sex workers can end AIDS! resolved 600 sex workers at the International AIDS Conference UNI Some 60 sex workers from 46 countries today vowed to take forward the “fight against exclusion” and “discriminatory practices against sex workers and other most at risk communities”. Releasing the Kolkata Platform of Action on the fifth and penultimate day of the International AIDS Conference Hub here jointly by Bharati Dey, president of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) and Andrew Hunter, president, Asia Pacific Network of Sex Worker (APNSW) said the sex workers can fight AIDS better than any other section of society. Mr Hunter said, ” The sex workers organisations around the world are affirming their faith in three core values. ” ” De-criminalise sex work, accept sex work as work and their right to self organization and self determination. ” ” Eight freedoms encompassing right to form associations, choose work, move and migrate, be protected by law, be free of violence, abuse and discrimination, access quality healthcare and financial security are necessary pre-conditions to an effective HIV response spearheaded by sex workers worldwide, ” asserted Dr. Smarajit Jana, Chair, Global Hub. ” These freedoms allow us to meaningfully participate in the fight to end AIDS, ” re-emphasized Ms. Bhagyalakshmi, President, All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW). This was the first-ever kind of meeting with sex workers from so many countries coming together. ” We also saw different movements coming together and our own networks getting strengthened, ” Baba Adav, noted social campaigner of unorganised labour and Nikhil Dey, a well known RTI activist. The US policy on sex work and HIV, banning the entry of sex workers and using the anti-prostitution pledge to justify punitive action against sex workers, was encouraging many governments to use anti-trafficking laws to criminalise sex work stated leading social activists Meena Seshu and Anna Pickering and New Zealand. ” We urge policy makers to ensure that sex workers have the freedom to equal protection under the law, which includes working without criminal laws and penalties, ” they affirmed jointly. ” In several countries judiciary has taken a lead to re-look at the repressive policies against sex workers and India too should take their example to decriminalise sex work, ” added Meena Seshu. Representatives from Ministry of Health, NACO, Ministry of Women and Child Development and many funding organisations like UNAIDS, HIVOS AIDS Fond and others participated and supported the conference which concludes tomorrow. Speaking on behalf of Positive Sex workers and People living with HIV about the ongoing negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and European Union, Mr John Mathenge and Ms Pherister Wamboi from Kenya expressed concern that this agreement has Intellectual Property Enforcement provision that have been deliberately designed to delay the entry of affordable generic medicines which will adversely affect all people living with HIV as the “medicines will get blocked at the European ports and not reach the patients in Africa and the rest of the world”. Taking this forward, Jai Prakash, Delhi Network of Positive People stated that, “with India, being the world’s biggest exporters of generic medicines, often referred to as the pharmacy of the developing world, the agreement aims at stamping out our access to generic medicines”. ” Without worker solidarity we cannot put an end to exploitation and abuse, not only in the sex industry but in every workplace, ” stated Ms IrinaMoslova, Mr Luca Stevenson and Dr Smarajit Jana representing sex worker collectives from Russia, France and India respectively and Ms. Ruth Morgan Thomas, Global Coordinator of NSWP. They called upon organizations representing women, labour and trade unions, harm reduction and HIV prevention programmes to “listen to the voice of sex workers and build alliances with us so we can achieve the recognition of sex work as work”. UNI
The fight against HIV in India has “opened the doors” to much wider social reforms in the country, said the UN secretary general’s new special envoy for Aids in the Asia-Pacific region, who has credited India’s sex workers with pioneering some of the most successful HIV prevention programmes.
Prasada Rao, who took up his post this month, said the HIV epidemic forced the Indian government to start talking to communities that have been marginalised for decades.
"Before HIV nobody ever thought about these groups - sex workers, MSM [men who have sex with men], transgender populations," said Mr. Rao, who made his first trip to a brothel in Mumbai as head of India’s National Aids Control Organisation in the late 1990s. "And they never had this self-confidence you see today. HIV, in an indirect way, has brought an empowering aspect."
This week, hundreds of sex workers from around the world have gathered in Kolkata, for an alternative summit to the International Aids Conference being held in Washington DC, and a week-long protest against the US visa restrictions they say have blocked them from attending the main event.
More than 40 countries are represented at the alternative summit, dubbed the “sex workers’ freedom festival”, which has been organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee - a forum of 65,000 female, male and transgender sex workers in West Bengal - and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.
The summit has been made an official International Aids Conference “hub” but has its own agenda - placing a premium on seven “key freedoms” including the freedom to move and migrate, access quality healthcare, and live free from stigma and discrimination. “The discourse here is much larger than HIV,” said Mr. Rao, who was in Kolkata on Sunday before heading to the Washington DC event.
Mr. Rao said he credits Kolkata’s sex workers with developing some of the most successful HIV prevention programmes. He highlighted the Sonagachi project, where sex workers in Kolkata’s largest red-light district mobilised to promote condom use in their community, which he said served as a model for the Indian government’s national HIV strategy.
The Sonagachi project, which began 20 years ago, has “all the elements of an effective intervention”, said Mr. Rao, combining condom promotion and distribution with strong project management, targeted information campaigns, and efforts to improve the conditions of sex workers and tackle violence in the area.
Aid donors have been attracted by the public health statistics coming out of the Sonagachi project - including significant drops in HIV rates over the past 10 years - yet Mr. Rao said the project “has come to signify the fight of sex workers, not just on HIV, but also on healthcare and right to work”.
Mr. Rao insisted that the empowerment and active engagement of vulnerable communities is the only way to achieve an “HIV-free generation” in the Asia-Pacific region. In his new role, he will be looking for countries to adopt national roadmaps to improving the legal environment for marginalised groups.
He criticised governments who apply aggressive anti-trafficking laws that fail to distinguish between trafficking and voluntary adult sex work.
These laws drive vulnerable groups underground, away from key services, he said. “The line between trafficking and sex work can seem very thin,” said Mr. Rao. “But if two consenting adults have sex, and one sells sex to the other, that is not trafficking - that is very clear.”
Meena Seshu, director of Sangram, a grassroots community-based organisation in Maharashtra, said the Indian government must do more to address the structural factors that make sex workers more vulnerable to HIV. This includes reforming the 1986 Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, which she said fails to distinguish clearly between adult sex work and trafficking, and encourages “moral policing”, leaving sex workers vulnerable to abuse and arrest.
She praised female sex workers for raising their voice in protest, saying: “Female sex workers in this country have existed of course forever but the voice they have been able to mobilise is incredible.” “This is something that has transformed individuals’ lives,” she added, particularly as class and caste play large roles in structuring Indian society. “We’re looking at large numbers of women, many from Dalit communities, demanding political space and a voice - this is huge.”
In May, a study published in the Lancet medical journal found female sex workers to be almost 14 times more vulnerable to HIV infection than other women in low and middle-income countries.
© Guardian News & Media 2012
“The red umbrellas have become symbolic of the movement for sex worker rights. While the umbrellas can protect us from the skies, they can also protect us from human beings. They can hide us at times when we need it and can also ward people off in times that we face violence,” said Ruth Morgon Thomas, global coordinator of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.
Sex workers and activists from India and abroad participate in a rally demanding rights of work and to create AIDS awareness in Kolkata, India, Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Sex workers and social activists from 42 countries are in the city to participate in a week long International AIDS Conference organized to protest against the US government’s travel restrictions on sex workers wanting to attend an international AIDS conference in Washington.
Photo by AP
Indian sex workers perform a drama to create awareness of condom use and protection againstHIV/AIDS during the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Kolkata on July 22, 2012. Sex workers and social activists from 42 countries are congregrating in this city to participate in the week long festival organised to protest against the US government’s travel restrictions on sex workers wanting to attend an international AIDS conference in Washington.