Namibia: HIV, Human Rights and Sex WorkPublished on Wednesday, 02 December 2015 11:00
OPINION Although the AIDS response in the region has achieved numerous gains over the past decade, the epidemic is characterised by inequalities in access to services and the response is not matching up to the demand for HIV prevention services and commodities, particularly for key populations at higher risk of HIV such as sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
In 2014, the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (Arasa) launched the most recent update of its biannual report on the status of HIV and Human Rights in East and Southern Africa.
The report examines the legal and regulatory framework for responding to HIV-AIDS and AIDS in countries in southern and East Africa, in order to determine whether laws, regulations and policies protect and promote the rights of all people, including key populations in the context of HIV and AIDS; and whether populations are aware of their rights, are able to access justice and are able to enforce their rights in the context of HIV-AIDS.
The report also identifies key emerging and persistent human rights issues, such as stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and those most at risk of HIV such as sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners and LGBTI people. The report reinforces the findings of the HIV and the Law Commission, a group of experts from across the world who engaged in a comprehensive global research supported by UNAIDS and UNDP on how laws impact on the HIV response.
The report found that sex workers, along with LGBTI people as well as injecting drug users, have disproportionately high rates of HIV. Globally, female sex workers are 13,5 times more likely to be living with HIV than other women. While there is a lack of data on how HIV affects sex workers in southern and East Africa, median HIV prevalence rates amongst sex workers are estimated at 22% in southern and east Africa. Transgender women who engage in sex work are more likely than other sex workers to be living with HIV.
In our region, only Madagascar does not criminalise some aspect of sex work and most countries including Namibia, do not criminalise sex work itself, rather acts that enable sex work such as soliciting.
Sex workers in Namibia and across the region report high rates of harassment, violence, rape and extortion at the hands of law enforcement agents and clients, which renders them more vulnerable to HIV infection. Greater and more consistent service coverage and increased spending on HIV prevention programmes that target sex workers are needed.
Although sex workers are included in the National Strategic Framework as a key population for HIV programming, there is no data on HIV prevalence and HIV prevention coverage for sex workers in Namibia, which makes it difficult to adequately programme for HIV prevention in sex workers.
In Namibia, as in most countries in the region, there is an inadequate implementation of protective laws and policies, contributing to the lack of access to justice when the rights of sex workers are violated. Sex workers also have a lack of knowledge about laws and how to go about enforcing rights and seek redress. Sex workers and other criminalised populations frequently experience human rights violations at the hands of law enforcement officials such as the police. Further, there is also a lack of legal aid or affordable legal assistance while court processes are slow and expensive and are not accessible to the majority of people.
Arasa and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law recommend that laws related to sex work be reformed in an effort to decriminalise the selling and buying of sex by consenting adults. Governments should also improve access to justice for sex workers through the provision of legal services and holding perpetrators (including law enforcement officials) accountable for abuse.
Healthcare providers should be trained and sensitised to increase the accessibility, availability and acceptability of HIV-related services to sex workers, based on the principles of avoidance of stigma, non-discrimination and the right to health. Further, sex workers’ groups and organisations should be partners and leaders in designing, planning, implementing and evaluating health services.
Law enforcement officials, and social care providers need to be trained to recognise and uphold the human rights of sex workers and should be accountable if they violate the rights of sex workers, including the perpetration of violence. The author is the deputy director of Arasa. Source: All Africa