The International AIDS Conference took place in Durban, South Africa from 18-22 of July 2016. The last time the AIDS Conference was in Durban was in 2000. NSWP, the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) and Sisonke invited sex workers from around the world to participate in a sex worker-only pre-meeting on 17 July 2016. Eighty-eight individuals from 41 sex workers-led organisations registered for the sex workers pre-meeting. NSWP, ASWA and Sisonke also organised the Sex Worker Networking Zone in the Global Village, with a programme of events that allowed NSWP members from around the world to showcase their work.
Some highlights include:
- During the Opening Ceremony of the IAC and in many sessions throughout the conference, two sex workers held a clock that stated, “you’ve been talking for [mm:ss] without a mention of sex work”. This was to showcase the importance of acknowledging sex workers, as one of the four key populations disproportionately affected by HIV, in addressing the HIV epidemic.
- Sex workers interrupted a presentation by the Deputy Health Minister of South Africa who was arguing against the decriminalisation of sex work. Sex workers also protested during the Deputy Minister of Justice & Constitutional Development’s presentation, where he misrepresented the successes of the Swedish model and spoke negatively about decriminalisation in New Zealand.
- Sex workers protested against Doctors 4 Life, an organisation that was advocating for the eradication of sex work from a moral and religious perspective.
- KESWA were recipients of the UNAIDS Red Ribbon Award in the category of reduced inequalities for Outstanding Community Based Organisation in the response to HIV.
- Charlize Theron came to the sex workers’ networking zone in support of sex workers’ rights
- NSWP members SWEAT and Sisonke held a demonstration for decriminalisation in South Africa and also mock arrested attendees of the conference who were carrying condoms. These attendees were placed in a mock jail cell. This was to showcase how condoms are being used as evidence of sex work in South Africa.
- During the Closing Ceremony, sex workers from around the world participated in a “Red Umbrella” action to highlight the call for full decriminalisation of sex work.