Hang in there, India

By Craig Young – 1st July 2009

After the heartbreak occassioned by the brutality of Iran’s Ahmajenidad regime against student and other youthful protestors, India may be about to embrace homosexual law reform at long last.

Zoltan Parag: Mr. Gay India 2008

India’s Congress Party-led federal coalition government will hold talks on repealing the country’s colonial era antigay laws. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was passed in 1860 under the tenure of the British Raj, and was meant to mirrorthe anti-sodomy laws that prevailed in Great Britain during that period. Continue reading

Cambodia: Sex workers, 100% condom use and human rights

Juliana Rincón Parra
From: Global Voices Online

Cambodian sex workers have taken to the internet to make their plight and fight for human rights better known. In Cambodia, a 100% condom use law which states that sexual exchanges with clients have to take place with condoms on sounds like a good idea, but it has been turned against those it is supposed to protect, by being used as a means to imprison sex workers, using the fact that they carry condoms with them as evidence for them doing sex work.

Sex workers arrested are sent to “rehabilitation” centers that are basically prisons, where women are held in communal cells with no bathrooms or running water, hardly receive food or water, some are beaten and raped, and are denied Anti-retroviral drug treatment for HIV positive women.

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers has a series of studies of the perceived results and effects of the 100% Condom Use Program according to sex workers in different countries, such as Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. You can also see the video the have uploaded on their Blip.tv channel Sex Workers Present, where a comprehensive video with explanations of the implications of the 100% condom use program, interviews with women who have been arrested or sent to “rehabilitation” facilities where no type of education or training is received, and how these programs that connect condom use exclusively with sex workers are not going to be able to impact HIV and STI propagation among the rest of the population. The Asia pacific Network of Sex Workers recently won the 2008 international Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights at the International AIDS conference in Mexico City the first week of August. The organization was founded in 1994 and has been working with sex workers on health and human rights along with other organizations and groups such as Empower Thailand, Sweetly Japan, Pink Triangle Malaysia, the Scarlet Alliance Australia and Sonagachi.


African MSM & Sex Workers Voice Concerns and Hopes at AIDS 2008

The AIDS 2008 conference (IAC) in Mexico City drew to a close on August, 8th, 2008. The theme of the conference was “universal action now” and judging by the heavy international attendance, the focus on marginalized communities and the daily newsletter aptly called “Global Voice”, it delivered on the promise. Here we review testimonies from African participants at the conference, their perspectives on the 6 days-long summit and issues they wished were addressed further.

Dr. Nabulo Mabaso, Deputy Medical Director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation‘s Ithembalabantu “People’s Hope” Clinic in Durban expresses his satisfaction that support for marginalized communities (sex workers, men who have sex with men, and indigeneous people) was emphasized by conference organizers. However, he explains that this focus should extend to other marginalized communities and even currently isolated nations:

“There is still limited access to treatment. For example, my neighboring country, Zimbabwe, it might be politically unstable, but there are people on the ground who are suffering and because of sanctions that are being imposed funders are not going to Zimbabwe. At the end of the day, it’s the lives of individuals and I hope the theme of universal access is really put into practice”.

George Kanuma lives in Bujumbura and is an activist for the France-based association Africa Gay and is a member of ANSS (National Association for HIV-Positive and AIDS patients in Burundi). He is content with the renewed emphasis on MSM (Men having Sex with Men) and sex workers at the conference (fr):

However, in some French-speaking African countries, discrimination is still very strong, he explains (fr):

“Il y a certain pays comme le Cameroun ou le Sénégal qui criminalise encore l’homosexualité [..] Il y a des cas aussi comme au Ruanda, la présidente de l’association gay et lesbienne au Ruanda ne peut toujours pas quitté son pays, parce que la police de l’immigration a pris son passeport.”

A few countries, like Cameroon or Senegal, still criminalize homosexuality. [..] There are also cases like the one in Rwanda, where the president of the LGBT association cannot exit her country because the immigration police is still holding her passport.

The Fimizore project in Madagascar was one of the recipient of the 2008 UNAIDS Red Ribbon Award. Balou, a trans-gendered sexual worker and her colleague Jeannie, are members of the project and they both weighed in on their hope and concerns for the conference. Like Kanuma, they both emphasized the need to end marginalization of sexual workers if we want to effectively fight HIV/AIDS (mg):

“Ny fanilikilhina indrindra no manankana ny MSM sy ny TDS hikarakara ny fahasalamany […] Io moa dia eo ihany ny fomba-drazana antsika malagasy, raha ohatra hoe msm dia tsy tafiditra am-pasan-drazana. Raha amin’ny autorites dia mahafa-po fa raha amin’ny societe civile, mbola mila fivoarana.”

Marginalization is what prevents MSM (men having sex with men) and TDS ( sexual workers) from taking care of their health [..] There are also the walls of traditional Malagasy culture. For instance, if you are a MSM, you will not be allowed to enter the familial cemetery (when you pass away). The official authorities have made great strides but the civil society has still a long way to go (in ending marginalization).

Finally, marginalized communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS are not only products of cultural intolerance or political agendas. They are also the result of economic hardships or plain geographical locations. In this video, on The Hub, Dr. Phillip Njemanze, in Imo State, Nigeria, explains the struggle for HIV positive people in rural areas to monitor their immune system:

“In rural areas in Imo State, CD4 testing is non-existent. This means for 3.5 million people you have only two centers that can measure CD4 count in the whole state [..] The most important thing would be, to be able to move around with the test and go where the patients are.”

Sex Workers And Human Rights


by Juliana Rincon Parra
Tue, 08/12/2008 – 12:24am

Prejudice and ignorance can go a really long way towards sustaining injustice, and that is why I believe that sessions like the one on sex workers rights at the Human Rights Networking Zone was completely necessary.

The presence of sex workers at the AIDS conference was eye opening for me. Being able to hear them speak out about their work in HIV prevention and their struggles in getting their human rights recognized left its mark. During the Sex Work, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS panel in the Networking zone, Melissa Gira from the US moderated Anna-Louise Crago and Dan Allman from Canada, Meena Seshu from India and Ly Pisey from Cambodia in discussing the impacts of the UNAIDS Guidance Note on Sex Work and HIV and the negative way this document portrays sex work, equating it with trafficking and slavery. This is not new, as a matter of fact, I myself have in the past thought of why any woman would want to be a sex worker, that it must be due to lack of other choices and a way out: during the conference I was able to meet dozens of women who set me straight in their perspective. For them, sex work is work, and as Ly Pisey explained, the one complaint sex workers have in general usually has to do with stigma and discrimination for what they do, not with the work itself. Meena Seshu also points that this idea that women should be “freed” from sex work hinders the processes they have set in place to be able to locate those women who are really being exploited trafficked: after all, it is the sex workers who are in contact with new “girls” in the community and who can speak to them about their rights. 

Anna-Louise Crago’s publication for the Open Society Institute’s Sexual Health and Rights project, “Our Lives Matter” (you can download it here) brings this message home by case studies from sex worker organizations from all over the world who have come together to discuss these and other subjects: trafficking, stigma, discrimination, health, rights, HIV and STD prevention as well as campaigning for decriminalization. 

Ly Pisey also points out that campaigns to liberate women from sex work attempt to send them into work at factories and sweat shops. As she sees it, she would give up her right to chose when and how to work, how much to charge and when to rest to stand in a factory for a starving wage, being told when to use the restroom, having to stand sexual harassment and not being able to talk to her coworkers: the problem is not with sex work in itself, but in the fact that it is illegal. She shows videos of the impact this criminalization has had: sex workers being sent to jail and harassed, prostitutes afraid to carry condoms out on the street for fear of being tagged as sex workers and getting imprisoned, women being sent to prison for as much as 3 months in terrible conditions: no food, no privacy, no hygiene, abuses and medication deprivation. 

Speaking to women who deeply care about their work and the rights of their fellow workers was inspiring, and I believe that if policy makers could just sit with these women in the same room and talk about their needs, results in HIV prevention would skyrocket thanks to their input. 
Juliana Rincón Parra lives in Colombia where she writes for Global Voices Online, she’s at the AIDS conference blogging on behalf of the Open Society Institute.

World AIDS Conference under way in Mexico City

Charlie Butts – OneNewsNow – 8/6/2008 12:00:00 PM

The World AIDS Conference in Mexico City is under way, and a couple of Christians — one a ministry leader and the other a journalist — are offering their perspective of the conference.

According to their reports, the conference does more to promote the homosexual lifestyle than it does to deal effectively with the worldwide aids situation. Bruce Sonnenberg of He Intends Victory ministry says many at the conference are in need of Jesus.

“…I mean there’s booths here that promote homosexuality and [there are] booths that promote condoms, a booth that promotes sex workers or prostitutes. There’s cross dressers and [there are] just a lot of people who need to hear that Jesus loves them,” he maintains.

Dan Wooding of Assist News Service describes the conference as having a “circus atmosphere.”

A new report released by the Centers for Disease Control shows that HIV infections among homosexual men have risen 75 percent over the last decade and a half (see related video report). Sonnenberg and Wooding say that means the education approach has not worked, and they believe what is needed is a lifestyle change.


Sex Workers Group Wins HIV and Rights Award


Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers Honored at AIDS Conference

Mexico Conference

(Mexico City, August 6, 2008) – The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) is the recipient of the 2008 international Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch announced today. The award, which recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that protect the rights and dignity of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, was presented in Mexico City on August 6, 2008, at the XVII International AIDS Conference.

“Sex workers routinely face human rights abuses, including the discriminatory denial of health services, arbitrary detention by police, harassment, and sexual and physical violence,” said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “This award recognizes the extraordinary contribution of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in the struggle for sex workers’ rights.”

Since 1994, APNSW has represented sex workers in various policy and educational forums, promoting the participation of sex workers in HIV/AIDS programs and supporting dialogue between nongovernmental organizations, governments, and activists. The group has challenged the increasing criminalization of all forms of sex work and unethical drug trials with sex workers as subjects.

APNSW has shaped policy at the global and regional levels, and built the capacity of local grassroots sex worker organizations, including by creating a network of transgender activists. Throughout Asia, the network has been challenging gender-based violence, promoting access to health care for sex workers, and advocating for the decriminalization of sex work.

“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers,” said Andrew Hunter, the network’s policy director. “International recognition of sex workers’ human rights is vital to curb the HIV pandemic. Governments and UN agencies need to promote sustainable, comprehensive HIV prevention and care initiatives for sex workers that are community-led and protect their human rights.”

The stigmatization, social exclusion, and legal marginalization of sex workers contribute to human rights violations, and can exacerbate their risk of HIV infection. Increasingly, according to APNSW, anti-trafficking efforts and laws criminalizing transactional sex have resulted in violence and human rights abuses against sex workers at the hands of police. The organization pointed to new anti-trafficking legislation in Cambodia, where sex workers have been sent to “rehabilitation” centers and subjected to sexual violence and beatings, and had little access to health care or food.

“Being a part of APNSW – working in solidarity with tens of thousands of sex workers in the region – has allowed us to challenge the way the authorities have applied this law in Cambodia, and to gain strength to bring this issue to international attention,” said Kao Tha of the Women’s Network for Unity, a sex worker rights organization in Cambodia.

“The International AIDS Conference presents a forum to focus worldwide attention on the epidemic and our global response,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately, too often that response has been tainted by prejudice and misinformation. Only by ensuring the health and human rights of sex workers will governments, UN agencies, donors and nongovernmental groups be effective at reducing the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV infection. The Asia Pacific Network’s work epitomizes this.”

The Awards for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights were established in 2002 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch. An award is presented annually to one Canadian and one international recipient. This year’s Canadian recipient was Peter Collins, a prisoner and health activist in Ontario, Canada.


Sex Work, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: From Criminalization to Protection

Kelly Castagnaro on August 8, 2008 – 11:08am
Kelly Castagnaro's picture

Thursday, at a panel session on sex work and human rights, advocates called for the implementation of effective HIV program and policy interventions based on the respect for the human rights of sex workers.

“We are not part of the problem; we are the solution,” said Alejandra Gil of Mexico. “Don’t close your eyes; we are here: we are youth, men who have sex with men and women living with HIV.  We are not going away.”

Across cultures, sex workers have been historically cast as social deviants and victims.  They have been further stigmatized and discriminated against as disease vectors in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  As a result, governments have enacted policies that criminalize and violate the health and human rights of sex workers.

While criminalization may have political appeal, there is no evidence that this is an effective strategy for protecting sex workers from violence and abuse. In fact, there is growing evidence from numerous countries, including Sweden, that criminalizing the sex worker or her/his client is likely to contribute to the abuse and marginalization of sex workers. Criminalization gives latitude to the police to abuse sex workers, and leads to other human rights violations.

Enacting bad policies is not going to improve the state of HIV/AIDS in the sex worker community.  Changing the course of the epidemic requires measures that empower sex workers against HIV/AIDS.  Policymakers and implementers need to end the conflation of trafficking, sex work and violence by recognizing that sex work is work, and that men, women and transgenders have the right to earn a living with dignity and respect. Sex workers need to be meaningfully involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of policies and research on sex work so that programs addressing the gender equality, violence and economic disparities among this population can be effectively implemented.

These changes are crucial to move the discussion beyond vice and victim hood and create concrete policy solutions that respect the rights of sex workers and provide HIV/AIDS services free of stigma and discrimination.