UNAIDS Helps Sex Workers
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.
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.