Aye Myanmar Association

“Sex workers should get protection from law and policy same as other citizens.”

Aye Myanmar Association (AMA) is a countrywide network of sex workers, working in seven state divisions in Myanmar, including secondary and capital cities like Yangon, Mandalay, Bago Meikhtilar and Pyay.

What are the priority areas that your organization works in? Tell us a bit about the organization’ activism and area of work specifically.

The mandate and mission of AMA is to mobilise the sex worker community, build the capacity of sex workers, to reduce stigma and discrimination against sex workers, and support the sex worker community in Myanmar. Board member Kyaw Kyaw stated, “I am working with an international organisation and helping AMA as a board member. At the same time I provide training to AMA staff members and AMA volunteers. Also most of the sex workers cannot speak English so at AMA learning centre we provide English and computer training. Sometimes I also do teaching myself.”

AMA is working in the following areas:

  • Building leadership skills among the sex worker community;
  • Increasing human rights of sex workers and knowledge on advocacy including advocacy on access to health services;
  • Improving the advocacy skills of AMA members and sex workers;
  • Providing Legal Counselling and services;
  • HIV prevention and referral services for HIV, STI testing and treatment and SRH services for sex workers.

How did this organisation start up?

AMA was established in November 2009 at a countrywide consultation of sex workers organised by an international organisation. The network was initially known as the National Network of Sex Workers and was part of a “Targeted Outreach Program” (TOP) run by Population Services International (PSI), Myanmar.

The main objective of the network was to establish the rights of sex workers, challenge stigma and discrimination, and promote and protect the human rights of sex workers.

In practice, however, AMA’s founders discovered very quickly that it was difficult to engage in the work of structural change for sex workers from within an international organisation whose objective was disease control and not structural development.

So in 2012, under the leadership of Kay Thi Win, the National Network of Sex Workers transformed into Aye Myanmar Association, or AMA (meaning “sister” in Burmese) – a sex worker-led organisation independent from PSI /TOP.

The sex worker community welcomed this and started to do more and more together as a network. As of early November 2015, AMA has over 2000 members in seven states/regions.

What were the biggest events or challenges this organization has worked on in the past? (e.g. opposing or campaigning for a law; organizing an event?)

AMA’s biggest achievement is that they have a very good relationship with the National AIDS Program (NAP) for referral services for sex workers. These include HIV testing and treatment, STI testing and treatment, and sexual and reproductive health services including prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT). AMA also works with international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local community groups, as well as NAP, on sexual health and treatment.

Currently, sex workers can get treatment from the National AIDS Program anytime they need through the National AIDS Program clinics. This is not just HIV treatment, but also for opportunistic infections like tuberculosis, sexual transmitted infections, or PMTCT. NGO or INGO facilities are not able to provide comprehensive services because they are often based on specific projects. With NAP HIV treatment is available for everyone who needs it.

Another achievement is that sex workers are also becoming leaders in their own organisations and in the sex worker community working with INGOs, NGOs and NAP. In the sex worker community AMA delegates what they learn: so the first people who learn something new share this with others, who in turn go on to share this knowledge with the community.

AMA is also very proud that they are independent and they stand on our own as a sex workers’ organisation, which is one of their objectives and achievements. Ever since March 2012, AMA stands for sex workers, with sex workers and by sex workers.

In 2012 nobody believed that sex workers could be united and form an organisation. But AMA’s volunteer, staff and board members proved that sex workers can manage their own organization and program. This is the biggest achievement of AMA and AMA members.

In 2013, AMA organised the first event in Myanmar for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17, together with INGOs, NGOs and sex worker community.

On March 3, 2015, AMA organised the launch of “The Right(s) Evidence” report in Yangon, together with the Center for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalization (CASAM), Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) and NSWP.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges for your organisation and sex workers in your country in the future?

Kyaw Kyaw, a current board member and advisor to AMA told NSWP their biggest challenges are:

  1. Country level politics in the HIV field;
  2. Lack of fundraising opportunities for sex worker-led organisations;
  3. People still do not accept the empowerment of sex workers. (They are more willing than before to consult and listen, but this does not extend to employing sex workers in decision-making positions);
  4. Stigma and discrimination which is associated with sex work and sex workers – this is the biggest challenge for sex workers and sex workers’ organisations.

“In this regard, we are spending more time on engagement of stakeholders, policy makers, and CSO leaders with advocacy; and so we have less time to fight or reduce new HIV infections, work on protection against violence and protection of lives of sex workers, or fund raising for sex workers organization.

These effects on sex workers organizations are serious; if we do not secure proper resources then we will face problems on many fronts. For example we may not be able to work on HIV prevention and treatment, or capacity building, or on the sustainability of the organisation,” Kyaw Kyaw said.

Do you have one message for the sex worker rights movement?

Founding member Kaythi: My message is that sex workers are not a problem; we are part of solutions.

Board member Kyaw Kyaw: Sex workers are also human, so we should have equal rights and opportunities in any place, including the workplace.  Sex workers should be treated equally whether they are working in their own organization, or attending health care setting and services.

Do you have one message for people outside of the movement?

Kaythi: “Don’t discriminate us. We don’t need your pity, we need our rights and allies.”

Kyaw Kyaw: “Sex workers should get protection from law and policy same as other citizens.”