Building and strengthening partnerships and collaboration can go a long way in creating a better working environment for the most marginalized communities, including the sex worker community.
On 24/5/2022, UNESO held a regional stakeholders’ dialogue meeting in the western/ Rwenzori region. The topic for discussion was “forging ways to enhance the promotion of health and Human rights for sex workers in the region“.
The meeting explored the understanding of health and Human rights issues of sex workers, the human rights violation implication to the sex workers’ well-being, the challenges and gaps that need to be addressed, and finally wrapped up with the discussion on the way forward – stakeholders’ jointly set up a road map to support the promotion of health and Human rights of sex workers in Rwenzori region.
The dialogue meeting that took place at Fort Breeze Hotel in Fortportal City, was honourably honoured by key health district stakeholders led by Dr Asiimwe Solomon – the Kabarole City Health Officer, and the regional security agency was led by IP Tumwesige Enock Apuuli, implementing partners led by Baylor – Uganda, other CSOs like ACODEV, religious institutions represented by UMSC, Bashir Raymond – Bunyoro /Tooro region coordinator, journalists, Lodge managers, and all sex worker-led organizations / UNESO members in the Rwenzori region.
Key issues that were discussed included:
- Increased GBV among sex workers, for example, Rape, and increase murder cases of FSWs in Bundibugyo district and child negligence by their fathers, leaving sex workers as single mothers.” many sex workers are taking care of their children single-handedly, and yet their fathers are there and well- off but deliberately doesn’t want to provide any support to their children” said one of the sex worker.
- Lack of trained KP focal persons to handle KPs issues- hence limiting the accessibility of health services among SWs.
- Police asking for bribery for one to secure a police bond, yet ‘police bond is free’. “In case of police arrest, some police officers ask for money like 20,000ugs and above so as to release you,” said one of the Sex workers/participants.
- The limited number of paralegals in the region to provide first legal aid to sex workers.
- High level of illiteracy coupled with the lack of human rights awareness among sex workers.
“Sometimes police write false statements and make a sex worker sign and because she doesn’t know how to read and write, just signs without knowledge of what is in the statement,” said a sex worker.
- Kabarole being the 2nd with high HIV prevalence among other districts in Uganda, and Kasese district has the increased number of new HIV infections.
- Sex workers are not patient when accessing health services, “sex workers think they are special, so should be given priority to others who may even be having an emergency case” expressed one of the KP focal people during the meeting.
Key areas of improvement that called for joint action were as follows:
- Need for continuous training of health workers on the provision of friendly health services to sex workers.
- Run a campaign to eliminate stigma and discrimination against sex workers in clinic and community settings.
- Continuous creation of human rights awareness among sex workers and other stakeholders.
” Sex workers lack knowledge about procedures to deal with violent police officers” said the CLO.
“Sex workers are human beings, so they deserve all the rights to be protected against forms of insecurities ” recommended IP Tumwesige.
- UNESO and its members should continue to promote behavior change- social etiquette among sex workers “at least, there is a recognizable change among sex workers, that they are not so abusive and vulgar like they used to be, so UNESO should influence that change” said one of the participants.
- Sex workers were recommended to be patriotic by nature, work with police to promote security, and don’t engage in criminal activities .” Sex workers can be good crime preventers because they deal with all kinds of people in their sex work business” recommended CLO – Bunyangabu.
- Sex workers were recommended to embrace HIV prevention programs like a differentiated service delivery model for PLHIVs to promote easy access to HIV treatment and reduce stigma at the health facility level.
- Sex worker-led organizations were recommended to set up interventions that empower sex workers economically to improve their source of income.
”scorecard/ social accountability interventions yield great results like improving health delivery performance and strengthening collaboration between duty bearers and rights holders, so sex workers should take up such interventions” recommended- CHO.
Meeting Key action point:
Kabarole DLG is to organize a massive world AIDs day, this year 2022, with a campaign to reduce HIV prevalence in the district, so as to promote advocacy for HIV prevention among sex workers, (UNESO and Kabarole Women’s Health Initiative( KWISH) are given an opportunity to participate as chief organizers of the event, granted by the City Health Officer(CHO) – Dr Asiimwe Solomon.