Welcome to Asia Catalyst’s monthly media roundup.
Public awareness is key to understanding and promoting human rights. Here is this last month’s news reflecting developments for some of the key affected populations that we work with.
On July 7, Amnesty International submitted a resolution requesting that its International Board adopt a policy supporting the decriminalization of consensual sex work. The policy “seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers” and is founded on comprehensive research. However, it has been met with heated backlash from opponents, many of whom conflate sex work, which the policy seeks to decriminalize, with human trafficking, which the policy condemns in strongest terms.
Amnesty International. Summary: Proposed Policy on Sex Work.
CATW International. Letter to Amnesty International Board of Directors.
NSWP: Global Network of Sex Work Projects. Statement of Support for Amnesty International.
Informed by the findings of a two-year consultation and extensive community input, Amnesty’s Draft Policy on Sex Work is a clear, coherent, and evidenced-based explanation of the arguments for decriminalization. Resultant backlash, most notably the public letter written by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and signed by several Hollywood stars, has been overwhelmingly reflexive. Critics of Amnesty’s proposed policy have chiefly failed to identify the meaningful differences between sex work and human trafficking, or to consider the multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination faced by women involved in the commercial sex industry due to criminalization. Ultimately, the opposition falls short in the face of Amnesty’s strong evidence based arguments, and fails to substantively counter Amnesty’s research methodology or analysis, which lays the foundation for the draft policy.
It is vital that practices and policies affecting vulnerable and marginalized groups respond to real, lived experiences. Globally, sex workers experience high rates of human rights violations and abuses, with abuses occurring at the hands of a range of state and non-state actors. As stated by Amnesty, criminalization of sex work and the resulting stigmatization actively disempower sex workers and “support a culture of impunity for human rights abuses against them.” Under criminalization or some semi-regulated models, sex workers are disempowered to report crimes against them; protect themselves from HIV and other STIs; work openly in safe environments; or safely enter and leave the industry.
By standing firm and supporting the decriminalization of sex work to protect the human rights of sex workers and combat violence and discrimination, Amnesty will join UN agencies, healthcare practitioners, academics and sex workers themselves in this call to entrench human rights protections for those involved in the commercial sex industry.
Between 2000 and 2014, new HIV infections dropped from 3.1 million to 2 million annually, a reduction of 35%. The number of pregnant women living with HIV’s access to antiretroviral therapy rose to 73%, and new HIV infections among children dropped by 58%. These impressive shifts are direct results of the comprehensive and unprecedented global HIV response.
As the world turns its attention to the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eradicating HIV by 2030, it is vital that the current gaps in the HIV response are filled. While over-all HIV-prevalence is decreasing, new infections rates are spiking in several highly stigmatized—and often criminalized—communities. According to UNAIDS, globally, HIV prevalence among sex workers is 12 times greater than among the general population; for gay men and other men who have sex with men, prevalence is 19 times higher. In several countries and cities around Asia, these staggering numbers are even larger. Without increased attention to meeting the needs of these marginalized communities, and increased protections for their human rights, the epidemic will endure.
July 27 marked World Hepatitis Day, an opportunity for international groups and local community based organizations to shine a light on the troubling epidemic that kills more than a million people each year.
Globally, there are 400 million people living with chronic hepatitis B and C. The Asia Pacific region is the epicenter of the epidemic, with one million people dying from the disease every year—more than 70% of the global death toll. Despite being fully preventable and treatable, hepatitis kills more people in the region than malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV. Stigma surrounding the disease, and lack of information on transmission methods and disease management, fuels the epidemic.
This stark reality makes public forums like World Hepatitis Day key players in mitigating the epidemic and saving lives. This year, the campaign galvanized public attention by purporting that increased attention to hepatitis could save 4,000 lives a day; it also provided informational posters, infographics, and toolkits for use by activists and civil society groups. In this time period ahead of the September UN Summit to define the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, civil society groups representing people living with hepatitis must work to increase public attention on their needs. Likewise, international organizations, UN bodies, and the media should provide platforms for people living with hepatitis to voice their lived experiences and to influence the creation of comprehensive strategies aimed at stopping deaths from this fully preventable, and treatable, disease.