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UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work

It is an exciting time for sex work policy. Governments, UN agencies and key civil society institutions are beginning to focus on reforming laws and policies that can reduce abuses of sex workers and enable HIV prevention and care programmes to develop and work effectively.

The UNAIDS Executive Director has established an advisory group on HIV and sex work  co-chaired by the Global NSWP and UNFPA.  The group includes sex workers from all regions and representatives of all the UNAIDS co-sponsors. Nandinee Bandyopadhyay is representing PLRI on the group.

The Advisory Group has set up four working groups to clarify key areas in the UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work. They are : 

The removal of punitive laws, policies and practices

The Guidance Note is silent on decriminalisation of sex work. It was agreed that the recent UNAIDS Outcome Framework provides a useful reference point for developing this area.

Reduction of demand

The key mission of UNAIDS is HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. It was agreed that the UNAIDS focus and advice in the context of sex work should be reduction in the demand for unprotected sex. Any emphasis on reduction of the demand for paid sex could result in important resources being diverted to implementing policies that criminalise and discourage clients purchasing sexual services rather than on direct HIV prevention.

The conflation of human trafficking and sex work

Anti-trafficking legislation and interventions in many countries often criminalises and target the sex industry as a whole, resulting in harmful practices that may increase HIV risk and vulnerability of sex workers. There is an urgent need for UNAIDS and governments to understand and differentiate between the two, recognising that trafficking relates to coercion and deceit resulting in forced labour and is a gross violation of human rights and sex work is consensual sex between adults which provides sex workers with a livelihood like other forms of labour.

Economic empowerment

There is a concern that microcredit and microfinance are construed as promoting rehabilitation and exit from sex work strategies. It was agreed that economic empowerment of sex workers is much wider than such schemes, enabling sex workers to have agency over their own lives.