With Amnesty International set to vote on sex work decriminalization stance, African, Asian groups, UNAIDS voice support

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“Buying and sellng sex has been illegal for over 60 years in most of our countries but has not led to any reduction of sex work or an ‘end to prostitution’ . . . more importantly it has not led to better lives for sex workers or for our families. Criminalization has not led to increased human rights or reduced abuses; it has only led to more stigma and more real crimes . . .”

Aug. 7, 2015 Letter from Empower Foundation, a Thai sex worker rights advocacy organization

Alliances of Asian and African sex worker led organizations, as well as UNAIDS have added their support to a draft proposal to take a stance against the criminalization of sex work that Amnesty International will consider as the international human rights organization meets in Dublin beginning today.

Their voiced support is a response, likely, as much as opposition to the proposal, as to the proposal itself, a draft of which instigated a series of petitions, letters and commentaries in the last week.

While the draft proposal cites interviews with sex workers, as well as research, and consideration of laws against sex work and their impacts on health, rights and safety over the last two years in support of a stance against criminalization, some critics of the proposal sent a letter to Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty last week saying the proposal overlooked abuses and exploitation of sex workers, was swayed by UNAIDS and was based solely on efforts to curb the spread of HIV.

So UNAIDS’ letter to Amnesty this week, commending the organization on the proposal and on noting the link between criminalization and conditions that fuel the spread of HIV among sex workers might come as no surprise to those opponents of the proposal.

The letter from Empower Foundation, a Thai sex worker-led organization, however, adds the authority of lived experience. “Keeping our work criminalized means we cannot be treated as human beings but must be treated as criminals by society, including health workers, police and media. Our workplaces are not expected to be safe and healthy,” the letter, signed by 10 other Asia regional sex worker-led organizations, says. “Changing our status to ‘victim’ is not an improvement.”

In turn, with 60 percent of global criminalization of sex work in Africa, the letter from African Sex Workers Alliance says, sex workers there “face a myriad of challenges in accessing health services, legal redress and sexual and reproductive justice as well as social acceptance. The global human rights movement is now becoming more aware of the unique challenges that sex workers face including those who use and inject drugs as well as those who are living with HIV, and those who are physically challenged.”

Perhaps. Stay tuned as we continue to follow.

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