'Happy Prostitutes' AIDS Campaign Sparks Debate

Published: June 12, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 12 (IPS) – Happiness, the subject of endless philosophical discussions, has now become the focus of controversy in an HIV/AIDS prevention campaign aimed at prostitutes in Brazil. The campaign chief has been booted out and a further question has been raised: What are the limits of popular participation in the definition of public policies?

Before the Health Ministry campaign was even broadcast, shocked conservative sectors complained that it condoned prostitution.

As part of a strategy against HIV/AIDS, the slogan "Sou feliz sendo prostituta" (I’m happy being a prostitute) arose from national debates and workshops involving the targeted participants.

"(The slogan) expresses the dignity of our profession. To remove that phrase is a violation of our rights, especially because of the social stigma we suffer," said Leila Barreto, of the Group of Women Prostitutes in the northern state of Pará.

The campaign, run by the department of sexually transmitted diseases (STD), AIDS and hepatitis, resulted in the dismissal of the head of department, Dirceu Greco, and the resignation of two assistant directors.

"It was a great disappointment," Barreto told IPS. "The stronger we are, the less vulnerable we will be to diseases, unless society says: these women do not exist. But they do exist, and their work contributes to society," she said.

The anti-AIDS campaign, which had not been authorised by the ministry’s advisory office for communications, included other statements such as "O sonho maior é que a sociedade nos veja como cidadãs" (Our greatest dream is for society to see us as citizens). It had barely gone out over the internet on Jun. 2, International Sex Workers Day, before it was withdrawn.

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