Members from five Pacific countries met with the APNSW Secretariat in November 2015. Representatives from Friends Frangipani (Papua New Guinea), New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), Survivors Advocacy Network (SAN-Fiji), Scarlet Alliance (Australia) and $carlet Timor Collective (Timor-Leste) took part in the meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The purpose of the meeting was to review the situation of the sex workers’ rights movement in the Pacific region, and to plan a strategy for how APNSW can support Pacific member organisations.
APNSW Regional Coordinator Kay Thi Win said, “the geography and the size of the Pacific region make it difficult to collaborate and expensive to meet together. So we need to make the most of this rare opportunity to share experiences and make plans. Although the distance is far, we still have so much in common.”
Participants identified five priorities that APNSW and Pacific members will work on over the next three years:
1. Address the funding crisis among sex worker-led groups caused by the global shift away from HIV funding by major donors.
Shifting priorities of donors have had a dramatic impact on sex worker organisations in the Pacific region in recent years. Two big changes account for much of this impact. The first change was the Global Fund’s decision to focus on low-income countries rather than middle-income countries. And the second was the 2013 change of government in Canberra, which has led to significantly less overseas Australian aid in all sectors. The amount of donor funds available for HIV prevention and sex worker rights activities has reduced. This has meant cuts in funding to several Pacific members of APNSW, and to the APNSW network itself.
2. Meaningful participation of sex workers at all levels in projects and policies that affect sex workers.
Sex worker are not included enough in health or HIV prevention programmes. Sometimes larger organisations involve sex workers’ in a project in order to receive most or all of the funding. However, they do not meaningfully include sex workers in the project implementation. Peer-led outreach work is important, but it is not enough. Sex workers must be included in all levels of programme development and implementation, including in managerial positions.
3. Sex worker community-led capacity building and organisational development.
Donors are often unwilling to work with smaller or un-registered organisations due to concerns about financial management. When they do work with small organisations donors often require using a “fiscal agent” - a partner organisation who handles all the money. This enables some participation of sex workers, but does not help the organisation develop. So when one project finishes and the next one starts, the small organisation is still dependent on the fiscal agent.
To break this cycle requires training in organisational management and setting up professional financial management processes. Sex worker organisations in neighbouring countries or the APNSW network can support smaller organisations through training and mentoring.
4. Law reform including decriminalisation of sex work, work-places, clients and third-parties; and passing of anti-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, or past or present occupation.
The state of New South Wales in Australia decriminalised sex work in 1995, and New Zealand became the first country to decriminalize sex work at the national level in 2003. Sex workers in other countries in the Pacific region – and other states in Australia - still face big challenges relating to legal frameworks. In some countries and states there is strong interest and support for decriminalisation, in others conservative views and laws still dominate.
A number of countries in the region already have anti-discrimination laws, and some of these include sexual orientation and gender identity. Work is needed throughout the region to include past or present occupation in anti-discrimination laws.
5. Comprehensive voluntary health services for sex workers that are available, accessible and affordable.
The quality and availability of health services for sex workers varies widely across the Pacific region. Health facilities may be too far from the people who need to use them, they may run out of drugs, and they may not guarantee privacy and confidentiality. In some places testing is mandatory or ‘virtually compulsory’, and infringes on the human rights of sex workers.
Rani Ravudi from SAN Fiji said in closing, “there is so much talk and even support at a political level, but actually making things happen is difficult. We need all those who say they support us also to act if we are to make these priorities a reality.”