The conference highlighted the many challenges and misconceptions faced by sex workers. Delegates raised concern over the lack of involvement of sex workers in government campaigns aimed at HIV prevention. Sex workers said that they want to be ‘viewed as valued and equal partners and not just as a high risk group’. In South Africa, this call comes at a time when the country is observing National Condom and STI’s Week.
Delegates also expressed concern over the low supply of female condoms. ‘I think the ratio of female condoms to male condoms is humongous. For every 400 set of female condoms, we distribute something like 25 000 male condoms. We don’t distribute anything else, other than male condoms’, said Valda Lucas, the Development Outreach Co-ordinator of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), organisers of the conference.
Lucas also dispelled the misconception that sex workers are the carriers of disease.
‘We don’t spread HIV!’, she exclaimed.
Male and female sex workers were in unison at the conference in emphasising the importance of using condoms. Some were proud that they are not only in the business of selling sex, but they also act as peer educators in the fight against HIV and AIDS by insisting on condom use with their clients. ‘I tell him that I am HIV-positive, so that I protect his life. If he insists I just go out. But normally, I convince them and they accept using condoms’, said a sex worker from Uganda who declined to be named. ‘Because I am HIV-positive, I don’t want re-infection’, she added.
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