Sex workers rally in Yogya, call on govt to stem spread of HIV/AIDS

Author
Bambang Muryanto and Yemris Fointuna
Source (institute/publication)
The Jakarta Post

An article by Bambang Muryanto and Yemris Fointuna in The Jakarta Post describes a demonstration in Yogyakarta which aimed to improve the government response to HIV and reject the closing of the red light district and the use of bylaws to discriminate against sex workers.

“The government must be more serious in familiarizing and providing education on HIV/AIDS to migrant workers,” executive director of the Institute for Migrant Workers (IWORK), Y. Budi Wibawa told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the meeting.

Quoting data from the Care for Migrant Workers Association, Wibawa said that last year 50 migrant workers working in Malaysia were infected by the deadly disease. This year, 12 were infected.

“Of the 50, only one is still alive,” he said.

Tue, 10/04/2011 5:00 AM: Hundreds of sex workers took to the streets of Yogyakarta on Monday, demanding that the government take serious action to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Joining the rally were women living with HIV/AIDS, transvestites, gays, lesbians, a migrant workers forum and activists.

They staged a rally outside of the venue of the national meeting on AIDS, and demanded that the government take more serious preventative measures to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

They said they wanted the government to increase the budget allocation for HIV/AIDS prevention measures and a ban on what they claimed was bylaws that discriminated against commercial sex workers.

They also rejected the idea of closing down red light districts.

“We reject the state’s control over women’s bodies and demand respect and rights protection in HIV/AIDS programs,” a protester said.

“We demand that the state be serious in providing support and treatment and free antiretroviral [ARV] drugs.”

The rally coincided with the start of the fourth AIDS National Meeting, attended by some 1,500 participants.

The meeting criticized the government for not fully protecting migrant workers and other vulnerable community groups from being infected by HIV/AIDS.

“The government must be more serious in familiarizing and providing education on HIV/AIDS to migrant workers,” executive director of the Institute for Migrant Workers (IWORK), Y. Budi Wibawa told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the meeting.

Quoting data from the Care for Migrant Workers Association, Wibawa said that last year 50 migrant workers working in Malaysia were infected by the deadly disease. This year, 12 were infected.

“Of the 50, only one is still alive,” he said.

Other data showed that in July 2009, the East Nusa Tenggara AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA) recorded that 199 people had died from HIV/AIDS, of which 15 percent, or 29 people, were former migrant workers.

Quoting her own research, activist Swasti Sempulur of Yayasan Kembang said that migrant workers were indeed highly prone to contracting HIV/AIDS.

She blamed the condition on the lack of understanding about the disease among migrant workers due to the government’s failure to educate them.

“A specific state policy on the issue is needed,” Swasti said.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the meeting, Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono said that he called on governors and regents/mayors to give support on HIV/AIDS prevention by allocating more money and issuing regulations that would guarantee protection and healthcare for people with HIV/AIDS.

“So far, only 150 regencies/municipalities have allocated funds for HIV and AIDS,” he told the forum.

There are 491 regencies/municipalities across the archipelago.

Secretary of the National AIDS Prevention Commission (KPAN), Nafsiah Mboi, said that a future advocacy program would include, among other things, an obligation for commercial sex workers’ customers to use condoms.

Reports say that 12 million men in the country pay for sex.

Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X pointed out the need for dialog over aspirations to recognize commercial sex workers as a profession.

Susi, an executive with the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI), said that the International Labor Organization (ILO) had recognized commercial prostitution as a profession.