CEO of Scarlet Alliance and Chair of APNSW Management Committee, Jules Kim, addressed a meeting of stakeholders and co-facilitators for the High-level Meeting (HLM) on Ending AIDS at the UN in New York, on 19 May 2016.
As part of the drafting process for a Political Declaration to be adopted at the HLM, Iceland proposed replacing the term “sex workers” with “people who sell sex.” A number of UN members states seemed to have no objection to this choice of language, or were unaware of the implications of such a change.
In this speech, Jules Kim outlined why such a change would be an enormous step backwards in choice of language. (Video available via UN WebTV, scroll to 09.30)
“There is a clear understanding of the profound impact that stigma and discrimination has in driving the HIV epidemic. But we are now in the unusual position where there is a proposal in the draft declaration to change language [in such a way] that will perpetuate stigma against a recognised key population – namely sex workers.
The proposal to change the recognised community terminology from sex worker to ‘people who sell sex’ – [is] far from being an inclusive term. Using ‘people who sell sex’ in the declaration would be a giant step backwards that will only serve to alienate and exclude.
For example, in India and South Asia, the construct of ‘selling sex’ is considered derogatory and discriminatory. In contrast, sex work is a non-judgmental, inclusive term that describes the adult consensual provision of sexual services for men, women and transgender people who engage in this occupation.
Sex work is universally accepted as a term that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination; and consequently violence, oppression and exploitation of people who engage in sex work.
It argues for the dignity and better work conditions for all people in sex work.
Further, occupational health and safety is best protected when sex work is framed as work. The protection of our labour standards for sex work results in a reduction in violence, improvements in safety and it promotes decent work conditions and improved access to health including services, treatment and testing. There is strong evidence to support positive outcomes in relation to health and safety – and especially in relation to HIV and STIs – when sex work is regulated through an occupational health and safety lens.
Evidence from jurisdictions that have decriminalised sex work – New South Wales … and New Zealand – shows that the approach of defining sex work as legitimate labour empowers sex workers, increases access to HIV and sexual health services, and is associated with very high rates of condom use.
In fact, in New South Wales and New Zealand, sex workers have lower rates of HIV than the general population. This is in stark contrast to the epidemic in other areas in the region and for our neighbours in other countries.
And finally I would like to quote the research from the Lancet that cites decriminalisation as the single intervention that would have the largest impact on the course of HIV epidemics, averting 33-46% of new HIV infections in the course of a decade.”
[ Update post HLM: Despite the overall HLM process being described as a “High Level Failure” by key population groups, the use of the term sex workers was maintained in the final Political Declaration. ]