Sesenieli Naitala (Bui) Recognised for Sex Workers' Rights Activism in Fiji

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Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

San Fiji’s Sesenieli Naitala (Bui) has been recognised for her significant achievements and commitment to fighting for the rights of sex workers and other communities facing discrimination. She received a community activist award on International Human Rights Day in December 2016. As Shirley Tagi, the 'DIVA for Equality' Coordinator explained, "Sesenieli Naitala, also known by many as Bui, has been a human rights activist for LGBTI and sex worker rights in Fiji for decades. DIVA for Equality want to publicly recognise Sesenieli's long and tough journey of human rights activism, commitment and community support, that continues to today.”

Sex workers in Fiji face harsh criminal laws and stigma, which violate their human rights and create barriers to accessing healthcare. Despite this environment, sex workers have continued to be leaders in their communities, making significant contributions towards helping educate individuals and organisations around HIV/AIDS prevention. Survival Advocacy Network (SAN) Fiji play a key role in this.

SAN Fiji have more than 200 members, with their membership made up of current and former sex workers. Bui from SAN Fiji explained to Fiji Times in September that their members were also taking time to educate their clients on the importance of using contraceptives. "One of the challenges faced by our members is that most of the clients would try and force them not to use contraceptives, so our members are also educating the clients on why they should use contraceptives, and our members are very knowledgeable in that area," said Bui.

San Fiji conduct regular outreach in Nadi, Lautoka and between the Suva and Nausori corridor to ensure members are able to carry condoms at all times.

Although sex work is heavily criminalised in Fiji, sex work has not stopped. Instead sex work is forced underground and sex workers are denied rights. San Fiji therefore works to ensure that sex workers are supported via peer education and also through advocacy aiming to reduce stigma and discrimination, especially in health care, and to support more enabling legal environment through decriminalisation of sex work.

The need for such work in Fiji was highlighted in 2014 research conducted in Fiji which surveyed several hundred sex workers on their working conditions, access to healthcare and made recommendations including reforming laws to cease criminalising sex workers for carrying condoms and to decriminalise the industry, as well as supporting sex worker peer education and advocacy to ensure better access and reduced barriers to healthcare. SAN Fiji were instrumental in the research project, informing the development of an appropriate research methodology and the successful collection and interpretation of research data.

On one hand, Fiji has been regarded as a leader as the first country in the Pacific region to  decriminalise colonial sodomy laws, it still needs to take action to reform colonial laws regarding sex work.