St. James Infirmary works with UNAIDS in Geneva on sex worker rights

Macklean from Uganda of the UNAIDS Global Working Group on Sex Work & HIV from Naomi Akers on Vimeo.

In October 2009, the St. James Infirmary Executive Director was appointed to a Global Working Group on Sex Work and HIV Policy to UNAIDS. With its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, is an innovative joint venture, bringing together the efforts and resources of ten UN system organizations in the global AIDS response.
Cosponsors include UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency), UNICEF (UN National Children’s Fund), WFP (UN World Food Program), UNDP (UN Development Programme), UNFPA (UN Population Fund), UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime), ILO (International Labor Organization), UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), WHO (World Health Organization) and the World Bank.
In 2007, UNAIDS released a “Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work” that demonstrated a clear departure from human rights-based, evidence-informed approaches to an emphasis on eliminating sex work altogether as an HIV prevention strategy. Shortly afterwards, the Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), held a meeting with UNAIDS to comment on the 2007 version, noting that it departed from principles of human rights-based and evidence-based programming and policy.  In the meeting NSWP demanded that UNAIDS make changes to the Guidance Note that included meaningful participation and input from the global sex worker community. A new version of the Guidance Note has been drafted, with key global recommendations, including, but not limited to the decriminalization of sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men to further the critical agenda of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment.   However several problems still existed with the updated Guidance Note.
In 2009, UNAIDS and NSWP established The Global Working Group on Sex Work and HIV Policy, a coalition convened by NSWP, to make changes to the Guidance Note with specific policy recommendations that addressed HIV interventions and access to HIV treatment for sex workers rather than trying to eliminate the world’s oldest profession.  As a member of the North American Network of Sex Work Project (NA-NSWP), the Executive Director of the St. James Infirmary was elected as the North American representative to the Global Working Group on Sex Work and HIV Prevention .
In November 2009 and June 2010, the ED was flown to Geneva, Switzerland as part of her work with the Global Working Group on Sex Work and HIV Policy to UNAIDS. The Global Working Group identified several issues in the UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work that needed to be addressed:
1.    Addressing criminalization of sex work and repressive law enforcement practices as barriers to universal access.
2.    Reduction of demand for sex work vs. the reduction of demand for unsafe paid sex.
3.    The conflation of human trafficking and sex work and consideration of the harmful effects on sex workers and universal access to HIV services of some anti-trafficking measures
4.    Economic empowerment of sex workers and a critical examination of mandatory programmes aimed at exiting sex work as opposed to programs that provided optional alternatives and/or professional support within the industry with respect to universal access to HIV.
As a result of these four issues in the Guidance Note that needed to be addressed, UNAIDS agreed to postpone publication and distribution of the Guidance Note until the Global Working Group could draft complimentary papers to the Guidance Note that would clarify the position of UNAIDS in regards to the rights of sex workers and the harms of criminalization, end demand policies, anti-trafficking polices and exiting programs to the mission of universal access to HIV prevention for sex workers.
In addition to working on drafting four annex papers to accompany the Guidance Note, the ED will work with the Global Working Group and UNAIDS to:  identify and secure the financial resources required to support sex workers rights regional and global networks; ensure meaningful participation of sex worker organisations in regional and national consultations and trainings; identify five or six countries and the process for following the roll-out of programmes on HIV and sex work, including the possibility of country visits for documenting and sharing good practices. While the efforts of the Global Working Group are primarily aimed at efforts for the global south and developing nations, the Guidance Note is an important policy guide for national and local efforts as well.

Jana from Peru on UNAIDS Global Working Group on Sex Work & HIV from Naomi Akers on Vimeo.

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