Sex work and HIV – Reality on the Ground

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Source (institute/publication): 
UNFPA Africa

UNFPA Africa’s website features this story marking the launch of this resource, which can be found in our resources section here.

Source: Extract from the full story on the UNFPA Africa website.

Sex workers are a critical aspect of Namibia’s plans to tackle HIV and AIDS. However, up until 2011 little was known about their needs and challenges and nor were there national guidelines for effective, rights-based programming with sex workers. A series of rapid assessments on sex work and HIV was conducted by sex workers with the support of UNFPA and UNAIDS Namibia and the Society for Family Health (SFH). This was implemented as part of UNAIDS’ programme acceleration funding (PAF) award to UNFPA Namibia.

The assessments were designed to provide a better understanding of the situation of sex workers, their vulnerability to HIV and their access to services, as an invaluable guide to programming to reduce HIV and AIDS. A participatory approach was chosen because there is considerable evidence that the active participation of and increased solidarity among sex workers, as well as addressing HIV through a framework of human rights, are essential to making programmes targeting them more effective.

Rapid assessments were carried out in five towns in October 2011. The aim was to engage sex workers in assessing the barriers to HIV prevention and treatment and proposing relevant solutions in five towns in Namibia; to build the capacity of sex worker leaders and organizations at the national and local levels; and to demonstrate good practice in community participation and empowerment approaches.

The 17 sex workers trained to conduct the assessments in Kalkrand, Katima Mulilo, Oshikango, Walvis Bay and Windhoek conducted 29 focus group discussions with 212 sex workers.

Common issues identified

A number of issues were raised in most or all of the towns, including stigma from health care providers and the community, a preference for traditional medicine, violence from a number of sources, and extortion and abuse from police officers. However, the way these affect sex workers differs for each location.

Results and findings

Ownership is empowering

The rapid assessments were conducted by sex workers themselves to emphasize their ownership of the issues discussed and to empower sex workers and support communities to analyze and eventually respond to the situations they are facing. This approach has made an important contribution to supporting sex worker organizing and action to tackle health and human rights issues at the local level, as well as generating information that is relevant for programming.

Lessons learnt and recommendations

A number of recommendations are offered to the relevant ministries, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations (UN) agencies and donors:

  • The findings should be used to address issues identified in each town.
  • Continued assessment processes should be enabled in the five towns covered by this report.
  • Sex worker organizing should be supported in the five towns.