Donors supporting programmes and projects by sex worker-led organisations and other Key Populations in Africa should urgently include safety and security in their thematic funding areas to address disruption of HIV programming, which is on the rise in the continent.
This call was made at a recent joint workshop in Nairobi hosted by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the LINKAGES Technical Advisory Group on Stigma, Violence, and Discrimination Against Key Populations.
It comes as violence and harassment of sex workers in many countries in Africa are on the rise. A case in point is Tanzania where the government has closed down facilities providing health services to KPs and arrested several activists for allegedly promoting ‘unAfrican culture’ such as sex work.
The workshop held last month whose theme was Improving Safety and Security Within the Implementation of HIV Programmes for and with Key Populations in East Africa, brought together Human Right Defenders (HRDs) from East Africa and International Non Governmental Organisations.
Among the issues discussed was safety and security challenges HIV programme implementers in the region experience due to violence and poor funding.
Testimonies from sex worker activists in the region showed that most organisations have no safety and security plans in place or are ill prepared to handle emerging issues on the same.
They said that despite working in hostile environments, only a handful of the organisations had prioritised safety and security of individuals, offices and beneficiaries of their programmes.
They cited lack of proper knowledge and capacity compounded by lack of resources for safety and security projects.
The activists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Southern Sudan also cited State-sanctioned violence and clampdown in some of the countries as a factor undermining HIV programming.
For example, in 2016, the Tanzanian government banned the importation of condoms and lubricants claiming they promoted promiscuity. Despite calls from local and international organisation, the ban remains in force. Ironically, Tanzania’s Multi-Sectoral Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS 2013-17provides, among others, prioritising health services to key populations to curb the spread of HIV.
A similar scenario replays in Burundi where peer educators are arbitrarily arrested for allegedly ‘promoting sex work’.
In Southern Sudan, a clampdown on sex workers and other key populations has left them vulnerable to abuse and HIV infection.
In the Eastern Africa region, sex work is criminalised in penal codes, provisions in constitutions and city bylaws.
Consequently, the rights of sex workers are abused without recourse making them vulnerable to violence, HIV and STIs infection and unsafe with little or no safety and security cushion.
The specific nature of donor funded programmes and projects has also relegated safety and security plans to the back banner mainly activated during emergencies.
For example, most donors have been supporting HIV prevention and treatment programmes among KPs, which include setting up of drop in centers and provision of ARVs and PreP with no safety and security components.
“I have been brutally attacked several times and our office vandalised because of working with sex workers. All the times, I have had to depend on friends to pay my hospital bills because I cannot pay for a health insurance cover with the stipend I get from my work,” said a transgender peer educator from Uganda during the Nairobi meeting.
Participants in the workshop who also included other KPs such as Men Who Have Sex with Men and People Who inject drugs highlighted the challenges in the implementation of HIV programmes in unsafe and insecure environments.
To address these challenges, IHAA and Linkages committed to include safety and security as a priority funding area.
As a way forward, the two have produced a draft tool that organisations can use to activate safety and security plans in their work and proposals for funding.
A more comprehensive tool with input from participants in the Nairobi meeting with be made available before the end of this year.
Both organisations have committed to mobilise and identify resources for safety and security for KP-lead organisations. They will also develop recommendations for strengthening responses to safety and security challenges within the day-to-day implementation of HIV programmes with local and national organisations working with KPs to implement HIV programmes.
IHAA will push for a buy in of the recommendations by regional and international stakeholders – such as regional and global key population networks, international NGOs, security organisations, UN agencies and donors – that provide support.
To get started with their safety and security plans, KP-led organisations can use the draft tool, which has proposed checklist as a guide.
“Safety and security should now be a priority for KP-led organisations. Organisations can use the draft tool to craft a strategy that suits their needs,” says IHAA’s Director of Knowledge and Influence, Shaun Mellors.
Also present during the deliberations was Gavin Reid, Global Aids, Technical Advisor, Community Responses and Systems – The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who committed to ensuring safety and security becomes a priority area in HIV programming.