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They are no longer sex workers, declares Shawa

Principal Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) responsible for HIV and AIDS and Nutrition Mary Shawa told an AIDS Conference being held in Lilongwe that the name Sex Workers for women who ply their trade by selling their bodies is discriminatory and has therefore been phased out. Officially opening the conference dubbed “National Dialogue on HIV and AIDS and Most At Risk Populations in Malawi at Cresta Hotel Tuesday morning, Shawa said the vocabulary had now changed from sex workers – which is discriminatory – to “People who frequent public places.” “We moved from prostitute to sex workers. We found out that the name sex workers was still derogatory and discriminatory. Now we are saying people who frequent public places,” Shawa told delegates at a conference organized by the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Affected by HIV and AIDS (MANARELA), Global Hope Mobilization, Manet-Plus, COWLHA and Human Rights Consultative Commission (HRCC). In the vocabulary of the National AIDS Commission, sex worker has been removed, declared Shawa, whose department oversees the operations of NAC. Addressing delegates who included men who have sex with men (gays), commercial sex workers (People who frequent public places), prison officials, people living with HIV and AIDS and other leaders from the NGO sector in Malawi, Shawa challenged the women in Malawi to come out in the open and break the culture of silence to avoid acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. “It is an expectation in Malawi , by culture, that a woman must get married in the end and obey their husbands. There are so many bad things women are hiding which are being perpetuated by their husbands and are not being reported because women want to preserve their marriages,” disclosed Shawa. “Some husbands are involved in promiscuous behaviors which their women know about but the wives cannot do anything about it for fear of being divorced.” She said wives want to protect their marriages because the Malawi culture demands that a married woman is a respected person in society, “yet many of these are suffering in their homes. “Husbands, and now even wives have multiple and concurrent partners outside their marriages to satisfy their needs. This is dangerous and not helping the prevention of HIV and AIDS.” Shawa added she had heard of reports of men abusing children in homes while their wives watched in silence. “Step children are at risk, maids are at risk…women know this is taking place in their houses but they cannot report it. Very few do. Even when those few bring up the matter to marriage counselors, the marriage counselors just ask the women to forgive their husbands and life goes back to Norman ,” explained Shawa. The description People Who Frequent Public Places is gender sensitive, applying to both male and female. Funded by UNAIDS, UNFPA, National AIDS Commission, the conference is being held to address the critical need to protect human rights and attain HIV services access for all, including people living with HIV, women and marginalized groups and develop an action plan. Shawa asked the delegates to include children who are being defiled “and the so called steady relationships” among the most at risk populations in Malawi . The objectives of the conference, which was attended by the chairperson and his deputy of the HIV and AIDS Parliamentary Committee, include raising awareness among government ministries and departments, stakeholders, the donor community, NGOs, policy makers on human rights and HIV and AIDS issues affecting most at risk populations in Malawi . The meeting will also identify what support is needed to accelerate programs for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for most at risk populations in Malawi . It ends Wednesday.