A safe space for sex workers in Armenia

Source (institute/publication)
New Generation, UNAIDS

New Generation Humanitarian NGO, an NSWP member organisation based in Armenia, have been providing temporary shelter, food packages, and legal support for sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Generation provides social assistance to vulnerable groups – including sex workers, LGBTI people, men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, and people living with HIV – who have been subjected to stigma, discrimination, violence, and torture, and have found themselves in difficult situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New Generation has received 416 applications for social support during the COVID-19 pandemic as of 29 June, from all regions of Armenia. Of the 416 applications, 284 were satisfied.

The organisation opened Safe Space in June 2020 in the centre of Yerevan. The three-storey building gives members of key populations a safe refuge and it is proving to be a vital place of support during the pandemic. Sergey Gabrielian, New Generation’s President, spoke to UNAIDS about their work during the current crisis and the role Safe Space plays in keeping people safe.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we started receiving calls from people who, because of their belonging to key populations or because they were HIV-positive, were discriminated against, found themselves without work, without support, sometimes without a home. It is widely believed in our society that it is these groups that spread not only HIV but also COVID-19, which is why they are expelled from work or from society. These people have nowhere to get help from—they are not on any lists of recipients of government social assistance programmes.”

New Generation provide space to stay in the shelter and access to support from their lawyer and psychologist. Referrals are made to the shelter by HIV services and human rights organisations across the country. Administrators, lawyers, psychologists and volunteers are on duty 24 hours a day and the average stay in the shelter is 15 days, with the maximum being a month.

Mr Gabrielian said that when it became obvious that the fight against COVID-19 could hit the HIV epidemic hard, the New Generation’s employees decided to switch to a new way of providing HIV services—online consultations, the provision of tests and prevention materials by mail and the use of outreach workers.

“We insisted that programmes for key populations should not be stopped because of the coronavirus, otherwise, with the end of one pandemic, we will see an outbreak of the AIDS pandemic,” he said.