UNAIDS Helps Sex Work­ers

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The re­quired clo­sure of bor­ders and in­tro­duc­tion of nightly cur­fews in March due to COVID-19, sig­nalled the start of dif­fi­cult times for sex work­ers liv­ing in Fiji. Many of these sex work­ers de­pend on this in­come to sup­port their fam­i­lies. This week UNAIDS Fiji made a timely do­na­tion of clean­ing equip­ment and gar­den­ing tools to sup­port an in­come gen­er­at­ing project ini­ti­ated by Sur­vival Ad­vo­cacy Net­work Fiji (SAN Fiji) to sup­port the needs of sex work­ers. Sur­vival Ad­vo­cacy Net­work Fiji (SAN Fiji), is a net­work that fo­cuses on the needs of sex work­ers pro­vid­ing HIV pro­mo­tional sup­port and ad­vo­cat­ing for sex work­ers’ rights, re­ceived re­quests from sex work­ers for the most ba­sic of needs—food.

Se­se­nieli Naitala, Project Co­or­di­na­tor at SAN Fiji said that since March this year re­quests had been flood­ing in from their mem­bers and it was clear that with­out a source of in­come many sex work­ers were un­able to cover the cost of daily ex­penses and hous­ing.

SAN Fiji, has been ex­plor­ing other means of gen­er­at­ing in­come to sup­port their mem­bers through cater­ing, grass-cut­ting ser­vices and gen­eral back­yard clean­ing. Dur­ing these strug­gling times, SAN Fiji is work­ing closely with other or­gan­i­sa­tions such as STRUMPET and Haus of

Khameleon to im­ple­ment these in­come-gen­er­at­ing ini­tia­tives.

UNAIDS Coun­try Di­rec­tor for Fiji and the Pa­cific, Re­nata Ram, said: “UNAIDS is sup­port­ing SAN Fiji to de­velop their in­come gen­er­at­ing en­trepreneur­ships run by sex work­ers to be able to com­pen­sate the loss of in­come due to COVID-19. As with other vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions, re­stric­tions im­posed in re­sponse to this pan­demic are dis­rupt­ing their ac­cess to liveli­hoods.”

“Adding to this, sex work­ers are usu­ally dis­owned by fam­ily mem­bers and fail to have the stan­dard com­mu­nal safety nets. The im­pact of COVID-19 has left many sex work­ers in a des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion in ac­cess­ing shelter and food.

“Hav­ing no other means of sup­port could also put sex work­ers at risk of be­ing highly ex­ploited in re­turn for ba­sic food items. “These risks also in­clude in­creased vul­ner­a­bil­ity to violence and ac­quir­ing sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted diseases such as HIV.” Sex work­ers, like oth­ers, are fac­ing in­cred­i­ble hard­ships dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic, whether it be strug­gles with their men­tal health, dif­fi­culty in con­tin­u­ing their work and loss of in­come. The role of net­works and or­gan­i­sa­tions of sex work­ers like SAN Fiji is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant in en­sur­ing that the needs of sex work­ers are sup­ported at this vi­tal time.

Photo: UNAIDS Pa­cific

From left: So­phie Radro­radro of STRUMPET, UNAIDS Coun­try Di­rec­tor, Re­nata Ram, Se­se­nieli Naitala of SAN Fiji and June White of Haus of Khameleon dur­ing the han­dover.

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