June 2 marks the anniversary of the 1975 occupation of Église Saint-Nizier in Lyon by more than a hundred sex workers. Today, June 2 is recognized as the International Day for Sex Workers, in support of the continued fight to ensure that sex workers’ lives, bodies, and work is respected.
The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (GCWA) and its membership stand in solidarity with sex workers in their continued demand for the recognition of fundamental labour, social and economic and human rights.
In the context of HIV, the rights and empowerment of sex workers are integral to the response. Female sex workers are 13.5 times more likely to be living with HIV than other women, and subsequently feel the amplified effects of criminalization, stigma, discrimination, violence and harmful cultural norms that still surround HIV. Such counter-productive attitudes and practices towards sex work are culturally embedded and institutionalized by the continued criminalization of sex work in much of the world.
The GCWA calls on its membership and its allies to incite a collective shift away from the socially entrenched discrimination of sex workers. Continued marginalization of this key population in the context of HIV bars access to treatment and discourages adherence, due to stigma and discrimination, the threat of violence or arrest, fear of disclosure, or legal and policy barriers. The social ostracising of sex workers is not only a violation of their human rights, but also fuels the transmission of HIV. An effective HIV response must include meaningfully involvement and collaboration with sex workers at all levels. In full partnership, HIV responses must align with sex workers rights and implement socially protective harm reduction strategies that focus on the prevention of harm within sex work, while respecting the rights and freedoms of sex workers and acknowledging their increased risk of acquiring HIV.
It is unacceptable that sex workers are prevented and deterred from accessing life-saving care and treatment, in addition to facing violence and prosecution based on their profession. The GCWA calls for transformative laws which protect sex workers, and urges its membership to uphold the basic vocational and human rights of sex workers on June 2, and always. Together, committed to supporting women, girls, transgender people and other key populations—the GCWA and its membership can unite to eliminate the forces that put these communities at risk of HIV and to ensure that all people can be empowered through health and human rights.