Week four: Perceived as a sensitive one

Published: November 21, 2011

The energy in the 4th week of our collaborative effort to Crowdsource fresh ideas for new UNAIDS strategy on HIV and young people was a bit different.

The discussion focused on young key populations – sex workers, young men who have sex with men, and young people who inject drugs – at higher risk of HIV transmission.

In our efforts to CrowdOutAIDS, you’ll agree it is imperative not to leave out any groups in the discussion, irrespective if people sometimes shy away because they perceive it as a sensitive one.

One of the forum members ignited a positive energy, nudging on the discussion. Amal said, “Female Sex Workers, MSM & IDU are the Most at Risk Population, and I agree that we should address this topic in this forum, although, it is very sensitive topic in the MENA region, but we should go through it to ensure effective AIDS response in our community.”

The week kicked off with a question: “What are some challenges faced by sex workers, young men who have sex with men, and young people who inject drugs in your community today?”

Most of the forum members acknowledged there are challenges.

Responding to the question, in the Middle East and North Africa Forum, Basheer  said, “Sex work is illegal in Syria, however, a lot of girls take sex work as a career and those girls lack the medical attention, regular tests and education about their right to use protection. As for men having sex with men, it is still a huge cultural issue, and very few people feel comfortable to talk openly about it… Very few counselling and treating centers in rural areas and small cities.”

In Africa (English speaking) Forum, Douglas said that most people in his country do not like to talk about sex workers and men who have sex with men or what affect them, thus their activities are perceived as secret. “I would say, in Africa (Kenya) stigmatization drives this population into hiding and this hampers interventions that would otherwise help prevent infections,” he said.

Tsoarelo Molapo agreed with Douglas’s opinion. He said, “I can’t really comment on the use of intravenous drugs (and I may well be ignorant) …in Lesotho. I have to agree with the idea of secrecy and stigmatization. Homosexuality is so hugely frowned upon that to date I can only think of 2 people who’ve come out as being lesbian (I mentioned the numbers because we are such a small population and if you’ve been there you’ll realise that we all know each other) and the same goes without saying with regards to prostitution and this probably has to do with the fact that its a predominantly catholic/ Christian state…”

She says sex workers, young men who have sex with men and young people who inject drugs are not protected nor are they empowered. “Personally, I don’t understand why its not legalised so you can charge people taxes and try and ensure they have a clean bill of health in order ‘to practice’ & then they are also afforded protection by the law,” Tsoarelo added.

In Asia and Pacific Forum, Bidur points out the key challenges faced by sex workers in Nepal. He says, “Prostitution is not legalised in our country, though it is rampant here. Sex workers do not want to open up themselves because of law, social stigma among others. Similarly homosexuality is also very hard to digest by our society so all the sex workers, gay people and drug [users] can be organised in the AIDS response, if the forum is held in conclave.”

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