Activists gathered together this week in both Washington DC and Kolkata, India to speak up against an anti-prostitution pledge that global HIV organizations are forced to sign if they want to receive money from the United States. The global HIV prevention funding option, which was set up under George W. Bush is called Pepfar, or the President’s emergency plan for AIDS relief.
Essentially, the anti-prostitution pledge was originally implemented along with the bestowal of funds to discourage organizations from abetting prostitution or sex trafficking on the global scale. Instead, the pledge acts as a way to discourage global aid groups from helping sex workers, who are often one of the most vulnerable groups to the virus.
The main problem, as pointed out by the Guardian, is that the pledge is so all-encompassing and expansive that groups cannot help any sex workers, even if they use the Pepfar funds for projects that have nothing to do with sex workers. Any grantee must promise not to implement any project that may have a hint of aid moving in the direction of prostitution.
Now many global organizations must make a choice: either avoid applying for Pepfar funds and implement as many projects as you can on a limited budget, or accept the funds and refuse to acknowledge the growing and ever-present reality that many sex workers are an especially vulnerable group.
Serra Sippel of the Center for Health and Gender Equity said in a press release this week, “It is discriminatory policies like the anti-prostitution pledge that will keep us from ever getting ahead of HIV.”
Now groups that would have been making a dent in many of the countries in Africa that especially require immediate help for populations affected by HIV have been essentially barred from getting new funding.
Protesters gathered to demand a change in the Pepfar anti-prostitution stance in the wake of the International AIDS Conference held in Washington, DC. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the event and seemed to suggest that changes were in order for Pepfar funding. UPI.com quotes Secretary Clinton:
I have seen and experienced how difficult it can be to talk about a disease that is transmitted the way that AIDS is…But if we’re going to beat AIDS, we can’t afford to avoid sensitive conversations, and we can’t fail to reach the people who are at the highest risk.
Ideally many grantees want to offer sex workers contraceptives, medications and resources to take control of their lives and their health, in any way possible. Clinton announced on Monday that another $37 million would be spent to target the most vulnerable populations but many critics feel that Clinton’s words and intentions are not strong enough. When she began her speech in DC, the shouts of the protesters could be heard over her voice.
The Guardian reports that around 200 organizations and individuals have signed a petition that demands the pledge be repealed. U.S. organizations no longer have to sign the pledge after a court declared it went against first amendment rights.
Photo Credit: Kai Mörk