The day of 17th of November 2010 wittiness the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity Hon Nsaba Buturo calling off a conference organised by Akina Mama wa Afrika on advancing sex workers health rights and economic empowerment which was taking place at Serena lake at the Ranch Lweza based in Kampala, Uganda. The Minister did so by sending a strong worded letter to the Hotel General Manager giving “directives not to host a Prostitutes Conference run by Akina Mama wa Afrika and if they do so, will be abetting illegality in Uganda”. However Akina Mama sent a letter to the Minister informing him about the details of the conference. He never responded to it, but instead, sent a threatening letter to the hotel management with the objective to suspend the meeting.
The Minister’s actions contravene article 29 the constitution of Uganda which guarantees the Freedom of Assembly, Speech and non discrimination and the NDP 2010-2015 Objectives of enhancing human capital development-cornerstone for sustainable development through encouraging skills development and increasing access to social services especially for vulnerable persons said Kyomya Macklean Director of Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy, a sex worker lead organisation.
Sex workers constitute to most at risk in a population that strives for the realization of the right to assemble, share ideas and forge ways on how to guard against violence, human rights abuse, HIV/AIDS, STIs, SHR as well as economic empowerment, as any other Ugandan citizen.
Worth noting is that we do not use the term sex work in our constitution, but prostitution which is a derogatory term used to dehumanise sex workers. Under our Penal Code Act (sections 136-139) ‘prostitution ‘is illegal and living on the earnings of sex work and keeping a house for sex work is an offence. Sex work is a criminal offence punishable with seven years’ imprisonment. However its important to note; sex work is a way that many Ugandan women are managing to survive and support their families. It is not a chosen, but necessary, occupation. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable, subject to abuse by law enforcement and the general public. Sex workers are also discriminated against by the health system which often denies access for HIV/AIDS victims to antiretroviral drugs. One sex worker narrates her experience.
“The last time I visited and vowed never to go back to a health facility even if I were dying, was when the nurse told me that the facility was constrained with scarcity of drugs and priority given to those who need them most, hence giving them to a sex worker who is a vector of HIV and STIs would be like washing a cloth spotless white and spreading on filthy ground to dry and cursed why Government was not being tough enough to prostitutes.”
An iron hand that was waved to stop the conference, repeats a known pattern, as was, in 2008 when the same Minister also cancelled a scheduled conference organised by the same group. While many other groups can meet freely in Uganda without being stopped or harassed, sex workers, who experience high levels of vulnerability, inequality and discrimination, cannot exercise their right to freedom of assembly and speech.
“This is injustice in motion, it is a violation of political and civil rights as well as of the right to work”lamented Nakato Daisy Country Coordinator African Sex workers Alliance (ASWA) and Uganda Harmonized Rights Alliance (UHRA) .
It is sad to note that sex workers responsive initiatives geared towards enhancing their health and socio-economic well being are often frustrated by state agents. The Ugandan Ministry of Health, as it is well known, has acknowledged that Sex Workers are among Most at Risk Populations (MARPs) and has included them as main partners of the National HIV/AIDS program, which is guided among others by the UNGASS guidelines. Therefore the actions preformed by Mr Buturo are at odds with the national policy guidelines and will evidently undermine the investments made by the Ministry of Health to prevent and treat groups and persons affected by HIV/AIDS. It should also be noted that, since 2003, Uganda has received eight grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Certainly, Global Funds guidelines are also very clear to state that the various populations affected by HIV/AIDS should be part of the efforts to prevent and treat the pandemic and, not as it is happening in Uganda, where sex workers are systematically brutally criminalised.
The analysis by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr. Anand- Governor, his report to UN Human Rights Council in June 2010: presents that “Criminalisation represents a barrier to participation and collective action, through the suppression of activities of civil society and individual advocates. The participation of sex workers in interventions has been shown to have significant benefits. Organisations representing sex workers took an early lead in attempting to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS, through the promotion of condom use, the development of AIDS education programs and inclusive research studies”
The act of stopping the conference being organised by Akina Mama was Afrika openly contradicts these recommendations and guidelines to fight universal access and HIV/AIDS in Uganda. No universal access without harm reduction.
For more details contact:
Solome Nakaweesi on Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +256772463154
Kyomya Macklean on Email: email@example.com or call +256 701 603754