Advocates Voices: Sex Workers’ Perceptions of the Melbourne Declaration
In just a few days, Melbourne will host the International AIDS Society’s (IAS) 20th International AIDS Conference (IAC), also known as “AIDS 2014.” The conference’s declaration theme is “Nobody Left Behind,” responding in part to the widespread exclusion of sex workers and drug users who risked being denied entrance at the U.S. border to attend IAC 2012 held in Washington, D.C. The previous host-country still reserves the right to deny entrance to sex workers or drug users.
Like the U.S., there remain significant barriers to these communities attending the AIDS conference in Australia due to restrictive immigration policies.
Issued by IAS last May, the Melbourne Declaration: “Nobody Left Behind,” focuses on inclusion and non-discrimination as “fundamental to an evidence-based response to HIV and effective public health programmes.” It demands (among other things) that governments “repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatizing practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.”
IAC declarations have been issued for each conference since 2000. While this current one includes unprecedented language regarding sex workers and drug users’ rights, many advocates feel that it doesn’t go far enough.
Janelle Fawkes, CEO of Scarlet Alliance, Australia’s national sex workers’ association, said:
The Melbourne Declaration is strong in some aspects but fails to specifically call for the decriminalisation of sex work, our workplaces and our clients. The time for talking in code is long gone and sex workers are very clear what the enabling legal environment we need is. The UN Political Declaration commits signatory countries to ‘intensify[ing] national efforts to create enabling legal, social and policy frameworks.’ It is more important than ever that this aspect of a HIV response is not left unaddressed.
The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) had this comment:
While we applaud the IAC for calling for the non-criminalisation of the LGBT community and for recognising that the human rights of marginalised people should be upheld, we are disappointed that the IAC was not more explicit in their language with regards the demands from the sex worker community. The Melbourne Declaration would have been more substantively meaningful for the other criminalised communities had the IAC been more explicit in upholding the demands of both the sex worker and drug using communities by calling for the full decriminalisation of sex work and drug use. The application of criminal sanctions to both communities leads to systemic abrogations of their human rights and is the principal driver of HIV transmission amongst them.
U.S. sex worker rights organizations, including SWOP-USA, the Desiree Alliance and the Best Practices Policy Project, are working together to seek resources from the grassroots for their representatives to attend the conference. Collectively they noted:
The Melbourne Declaration is welcomed but it should have contained much stronger statements about the rights of sex workers and drug users in order for our groups to be able to use it to hold the U.S. government accountable for policies that violate the health rights of our communities within our country and globally.
To make sure these advocacy concerns are addressed at the upcoming AIDS 2014, Scarlet Alliance will be hosting a number of events and activities at the conference to provide the opportunity for sex workers and allies to come together and move the conversation forward.
- Sex workers are invited to attend a two-day sex worker pre-conference on Friday, July 18, to Saturday, July19 to start the process by reviewing critical issues and developing strategy to ensure a vibrant sex worker presence throughout the conference, in the media it generates, and at future opportunities beyond the conference. The pre-conference is free but advance registration is required and it is not open to the general public. Allies are invited to join the pre-conference on Friday, July 19, for a session from 3pm to 6pm to prepare for the main conference, network and discuss sessions that impact sex workers.
- As a follow-up to the pre-conference, there will be satellite session on Sunday, July 20, called Stepping Up To Advance Issues Globally for Sex Workers and HIV, to present pre-conference outcomes to the public.
- All week during the conference, the Sex Worker Networking Zone in the Global Village co-hosted by NSWP, Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) and Scarlet Alliance, will be the hub of everything sex work at AIDS 2014. All IAC participants and community members are welcome to the Global Village and no registration is required for entry.The zone will host a full program of events including performance, workshops and panels. Sex workers from around the world will showcase the crucial involvement of sex workers self-determined approaches to successful and sustained responses to HIV prevention, treatment and support. Find the schedule of events at the Sex Worker Networking Zone posted here.
Anna Forbes, a Washington, DC–based writer, organizer, and women’s health activist, has worked in HIV/AIDS continuously since 1985. Now an independent consultant with an international client base, her work centers around women, HIV, health, and rights, with particular focus on the importance of including sex workers’ expertise in HIV prevention efforts.
Jules Kim, a frequent and authoritative voice for sex workers rights in media and public policy settings, A Korean born, Australian sex worker Jules is the Migration Project Manager at Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers association. She has written and presented on migrant sex worker issues both in Australia and abroad and provided testimony and submissions at government hearings in relation to human trafficking, law reform and sex work. More recently she has been involved as the local coordinator of sex worker activities for AIDS 2014.