AIDS 2008: speech from an ally

I met Nickie at the conference and she said “I’m giving a speech about Sex Workers”, and I said I’d love to post it for sex workers to read and comment. She is an Intern at ADVOCATESFORYOUTH.ORG, a non-profit from Washington, DC. Click below for the full speech.

Statement by Nickie Imanguli,

Advocates for Youth

International Leadership Council

XVII International AIDS Conference

Mexico City, Mexico

August 7, 2008

Before I start today, I want you to take a good look at me. I may be HIV positive, I may be a sex worker, I may be an injecting drug user, I may be a young mother, I may be here, as a young woman, representing all of these realities. But I know that I expect and deserve unconditional respect from everyone, a right to access the resources I need, while making the policy makers recognize my realities and ensure that I, as a young woman, am not marginalized and discriminated against in my community.

Stigma and discrimination of marginalized groups remains one of the most serious obstacles to prevention, care, and treatment for HIV and AIDS. Young people are particularly vulnerable —not only do they face stigma and discrimination if they are HIV positive, involved in same sex relationships, injecting drugs, or engaged in commercial sex work, but also because they are young. Meanwhile, the pandemic persists—Eastern Europe and Central Asia have over one third of a million HIV-infected youth, most of whom were infected through injection drug use. The Russian Federation is experiencing the biggest epidemic in the region—with 66 percent of new infections occurring there. The stigmatization of IDU populations leads to shortage of needle exchange programs, which are vital in prevention of spread of HIV.

Stigma and discrimination is not only experienced by young injection drug users—more than fifty per cent of people with AIDS experiences at least one form of stigma or discrimination. Furthermore, studies show that women tend to endure more HIV/AIDS related stigma than men. Some women reported receiving threats of physical violence as a result of people knowing about their HIV or AIDS status. When there is a threat of violence, people are less likely to disclose a positive test result to others, which in turn can make them less willingness to seek care and treatment.

Young sex workers are yet another vulnerable and marginalized population subjected to violence and high risk of contracting HIV. The Prostitution Pledge—that further stigmatizes sex workers—was passed by the US Congress in 2003. It requires that both foreign and domestic non- government organizations seeking HIV and AIDS funds must pledge that they do not support the legalization or the practice of prostitution. Given that the United States is one of the largest International HIV and AIDS prevention funders, foreign non-governmental organizations are often in need of US- based funds. Refusing them is not really an option. The Prostitution Pledge not only reinforces the stigma and discrimination that sex workers face, but also increases barriers to providing commercial sex workers with life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services.

So, we are here, yet again—calling on policy makers to respect the realities of marginalized youth, to remember that the realities of young people’s lives must be taken into account when it comes to program and policy development. Policies that will be developed, re-visited, and revised, need to be appropriate and relevant to the experiences of young people living with or at high risk for HIV/AIDS–young men who have sex with men, young injection drug users, and young sex workers. Let’s remember that all young people have rights to information, education, services, and support. These rights should be inalienable, independent of young people’s HIV status, their sexual orientation or identity, or other

realities in their lives.

2 Responses

  1. i work with safehaven international in lagos nigeria with sex workers. i am coordinator of Africa Sex Worker Alliance(ASWA) Nigeria.
    let sex workers stop stigmatising themselves, let them come out and speak for themselves by sharing their stories and be proud of their profession and this will make the society put pressure on government to take action.
    a sex worker is first a child, a woman, a human being and has potentials.
    a sex worker can be somebody great if empowered-
    come on- we will surely get there…
    Kudos to all sex workers.

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