Sex workers self-organise to ensure meaningful participation in IAC 2014

Despite expressing concerns about a lack of meaningful community representation, sex workers from around the globe are preparing to participate in the 2014 International AIDS Conference (IAC), slated to take place between 21-25 July in Melbourne, Australia. The conference, which is held every two years in a different country, has drawn criticism from both the sex worker and drug user movements who feel that the conference organisers, the International AIDS Society (IAS), have not been proactive in supporting the meaningful representation and participation of communities who are highly stigmatised, marginalised and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. A significant number of community activists report having their abstracts rejected or having only been offered poster, rather than oral, presentations. Similarly, a number of activists have been denied scholarships, or granted only partial scholarships, and must fundraise or self-fund to attend the conference. Upon the release of the conference programme, many sex worker activists were disappointed that only one sex worker representative, Daisy from WONETHA (Uganda), will address a conference plenary session. Daisy will speak on Sex Work, Human Rights and Access to HIV Testing and Treatment.

Given both the expense of attending the conference (registration costs up to USD $1150), and the lack of sex worker representation within the conference programme, sex worker activists are currently directing their energies toward the pre-conference sex worker meeting and the IAC Global Village Sex Worker Networking Zone with the aim of creating a visible sex worker presence and to ensure that sex work issues are included in the IAC.

The Global Network of Sex Worker Projects (NSWP), the Asia and Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) and Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, will coordinate a two day meeting prior to the conference (18- 19 July) in addition to facilitating the Sex Worker Networking Zone. The pre-conference meeting will involve two full days of discussions about global sex worker issues and will provide a space for sex workers to develop advocacy strategies and messages to present to the conference. The meeting will include orientation of sex workers to the conference programme, including the themes and goals of the conference, with the aim of facilitating greater sex work input to conference sessions. Sex workers will discuss and develop a sex worker community analysis on core issues that can be progressed through advocacy within a number of forums surrounding IAC, including the conference space, Sex Worker Networking Zone, media and meetings. The pre-conference sex worker meeting is free to attend; however, participants are requested to contact Scarlet Alliance to register their attendance. The pre-conference meeting is a sex worker only space for the first day and a half, with sex worker allies and supporters invited to attend the final half day of meeting.

The IAC Global Village Sex Worker Networking Zone, which will operate for the duration of IAC, will host a full program of events in addition to providing a space for sex workers to present, discuss and advocate our issues. The Sex Worker Networking Zone is currently calling on sex worker to participate in the Networking Zone activities. Sex workers and/ or sex worker organisations who are interested in facilitating activities, performances or conduct events are asked to contact Scarlet Alliance to register their interest. A peer steering committee including representatives from Scarlet Alliance, APNSW and NSWP will make final decisions about the program for the Networking Zone. The Global Village Sex Worker Networking Zone is open to the public and is free to attend.

Following the IAC, VIXEN, the Victorian Sex Industry Network, will host the annual Melbourne Festival of Sex Work, 26-28 July 2014. More details about this event will be announced in the near future.

Sex worker organisers have established a Facebook page to discuss issues related to the IAC, sex worker pre-conference meeting and Sex Worker Networking Zone. Sex workers who plan to attend IAC are invited to use this page as a tool for communicating with other sex worker participants.

To register for the pre-conference sex worker meeting and/or to register an activity for the Sex Worker Networking Zone, please email:  sexworkers dot AIDS2014 at gmail.com

The Scarlet Alliance website is also being updated regularly with information about sex worker events surrounding IAC.