January 30, 2012

International AIDS Conference Returns to the US

Causes, Health, News, Sex Work, Vitals No Comments

The Red Umbrella Project at the International AIDS Conference

The International AIDS Conference — a gathering of all those involved in working for the eradication and treatment of HIV, as well as policymakers and activists — is returning to the United States after 22 years this July to assess the scientific progress that has been made and lobby for improvements in policy regarding the populations most affected by HIV and AIDS.

According to their site:

The AIDS 2012 programme will present new scientific knowledge and offer many opportunities for structured dialogue on the major issues facing the global response to HIV. A variety of session types — from abstract-driven presentations to symposia, bridging and plenary sessions — will meet the needs of various participants. Other related activities, including the Global Village, satellite meetings, exhibitions and affiliated independent events, will contribute to an exceptional opportunity for professional development and networking.

Audacia Ray, founder of the Red Umbrella Project, has issued a call to sex worker activists to join forces, noting among various pressing issues that “the U.S. exports terrible policies and strings-attached funding that harms sex workers. For example the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which funds international organizations, include an anti-prostitution clause in contracts with grantees. American sex workers must stand up to our government and denounce PEPFAR and similar policies that harm our brothers and sisters around the world. The IAC is an important forum for us to make our voices heard.”

From PEPFAR Watch:

Current law requires all organizations that receive PEPFAR funding to have a policy that explicitly opposes prostitution and sex trafficking. This policy, known as the anti-prostitution pledge, or the Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath (APLO), has been shown to have a negative impact on prevention efforts because it undermines the most effective approaches to working with sex workers.

Sex workers are among the most marginalized people in any society and often lack access to social and health support systems — while being at increased risk of HIV infection. Their rights to access health care and to be free from violence are frequently violated, making it essential that organizations work with them non-judgmentally. Organizations that build trust with and peer relationships among sex workers have yielded dramatic reductions in HIV infections among these populations. But CHANGE [Editor's note: The Center for Health and Gender Equity] has found that these organizations are unlikely to sign the pledge, making them ineligible for funding. Other groups have been cut off from funds because of over-interpretation of the policy by U.S. officials in the field, made possible because the government has not clearly defined what constitutes a violation of the policy. Moreover, the pledge has led organizations to eliminate, scale back, or censor their prevention efforts with sex workers, undermining best practices in public health.

As a result, the pledge has led to further alienation of already-stigmatized groups, given free rein to police who abuse or extort money from sex workers, and has resulted in further violence, discrimination and human rights violations against women, men and transgender people in prostitution. The policy is driving sex workers underground and away from the non-governmental organizations and health workers best poised to provide them with HIV prevention, health and alternate-livelihood services.

If you can’t join the Red Umbrella Project but feel strongly about these issues, you can still take action by writing a message to the Committee on Foreign Affairs urging for comprehensive, evidence-based HIV prevention in foreign assistance reform efforts that doesn’t marginalize at-risk populations such as sex workers.

Image of Red Umbrella activists by ReikHavoc, via TitsandSass.

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