Universal Access For Sex Workers Critical

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(L-R) Programme Manager??at CVC, Ivan Cruickshank,??sex workers,??Claudette Johnson and??Kaye Forde??and President of the Caribbean Sex Work Coalition and sex worker, Miriam Edwards, who were in Barbados for the recently held Sex Work and HIV Technical Working Group, at the Crane Hotel.

The high rate of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) in the sex worker (SW) community has demanded that regional health care providers offer this vulnerable community, well-trained and professional staff to supply universal access to comprehensive HIV services.????????

To this end, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sub-regional Office for the Caribbean, in conjunction with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) Coalition convened the first meeting of the Sex Work and HIV Technical Working Group (SWTWG) on October 19 -20, at the Crane in St. Philip. The theme was Universal Access for Sex Workers.

Health Minister, Donville Inniss, who addressed participants at the workshop’s closing ceremony held last night, gave his Ministry’s full support to the provision of universal access for sex workers, as high rates of HIV have been found amongst individuals who sell sex. ??

"It is not for me to deliberate on the morality or illegality of sex work in the Caribbean, but rather it is for us to face reality.?? We will not certainly at the policy level move ahead if we start by operating with any stigma attached to the issue of sex workers, or if we start to bring our own prejudices to the table and bury our heads in the sand and pretend that such a thing does not exist," he said.

Minister Inniss told the participants that locally and regionally, concerted efforts had been made to address the issues of SWs, through the training of key personnel, facilitated by UNIFEM and the Bureau of Gender Affairs and funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.????

The workshop not only involved regional experts in programmatic, policy and legislative levels but representatives from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition and the Caribbean Sex Work Coalition.

According to President of the Caribbean Sex Work Coalition, Miriam Edwards, a SW from Guyana, stigma, discrimination and violence against them were key issues that could hinder their access to services worldwide.

"Most sex workers say that once somebody in the medical field knows that you do sex work, the stigma is there as soon as you walk through the door.?? But sometimes the client for the sex worker is the same policeman and the nurses," she said.?? ??

The Coalition has been in existence since 2007 and conducts peer education work with SWs.?? The organisation works closely with the CVC, whose mandate is to work with, and on, behalf of, populations vulnerable to HIV and the stigma and discrimination associated with it.

Programme Manager at CVC, Ivan Cruickshank, was pleased to see that the discussion now also included the SW’s but agitated for an amendment of the legal framework that criminalised sex work and as a result "forced SW’s underground".?? He also called for a change in how persons treated SWs when they did come forward for care.??

"The evidence on the ground is that because it is a criminal behaviour then the SWs are harassed by police and health care workers. This forces them away from treatment and care and that is a big issue.?? So, it is about recognising the rights of the individual as a human being first… Then, even when you go forward there is the type of treatment and engagement you get. ??… In fact we have extreme cases where people just don’t provide a service and say we are not supposed to deal with you," Mr. Cruickshank remarked.

According to Assistant Representative of the UNFPA Barbados, Isiuwa Iyahen, the SWTWG has as its objectives: the scaling up of access to prevention, treatment, care and support for SWs and their clients; the building of supportive environments and strengthening partnerships; and the expansion of choices for sex workers through economic empowerment.???? The group also discussed the underlying drivers of sex work.?? lbayley@barbados.gov.bb

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