ICW and NSWP Host Joint Workshop on Sex Workers’ Rights

On Wednesday NSWP was invited by the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) to take part in their monthly ICW Members Advocacy Working Group. Anastacia, NSWP Policy Officer and Daisy Nakato, WONETHA Director, were invited to lead the discussion on sex workers’ rights in the context of HIV. 

The presentation opened with an introduction to NSWP and gave some examples of advocacy areas that are worked on by NSWP members around the world. Examples of advocacy and mobilisation strategies were presented through images, including:

  • strategies to oppose the criminalisation and other legal oppression of sex work and support its recognition as work
  • advocate for universal access to health services for sex workers
  • challenge the conflation of trafficking, sex work, migration, and mobility; challenge stigma and discrimination against female, male and transgender sex workers, their families and partners
  • speak out about violence against sex workers, while debunking the myth that sex work is inherently violence
  • oppose human rights abuses, including coercive programming, mandatory testing, and forced rehabilitation
  • advocate for the economic empowerment and social inclusion of sex workers and their families including their children.

The vast body of evidence on the need to decriminalise sex work was presented, including recent findings from the Medical Journal, The Lancet and key recommendations included in the Sex Worker Implementation Tool (SWIT). The SWIT tool reaffirms that the health of sex workers doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that countries should work towards the decriminalisation of sex work, and the empowerment and self-determination of sex working communities, as a fundamental part of the fight against HIV. The document emphasises that states should take this approach because to work towards decriminalisation, and to invest sex workers with the powers of self-determination, is both right, and effective; and these two aspects are inseparable.

The platform of NSWP+ was then presented, which was formed during the Sex Worker Freedom Festival in 2012, when a group of positive sex workers came together and demanded recognition that ‘sex workers are not the problem, but part of the solution’. As a platform for all those committed to defending the rights of sex workers living with HIV, NSWP+ now also exists to share information and to communicate the demands and needs of sex workers living with HIV.

To provide a snapshot of a country context, the presentation then focused on sex workers experiences in Uganda, where increasing criminalisation around sex work, sexuality and HIV is causing severe harm and human rights violations to sex workers. The need to promote sex worker meaningful engagement and leadership in policy and programming was discussed followed by a reflection on some of the key challenges sex workers still face continue, including criminalisation, stigma and discrimination, rights-violating health programmes and raid and rescue operations in the name of ‘anti-trafficking’.

The presentation was followed by a fruitful discussion with ICW members that was an open and honest dialogue that is hoped to underpin solidarity between our movements in moving forward. We hope to continue this alliance building through the development of a joint policy position paper and future joint conversations. Thank you to ICW for reaching out to NSWP!