What is the status of sex work and sex workers in the Caribbean at large?
Sex work is the oldest profession in the world. But there is no defined definition of sex work which is making it difficult to distinguish between sex work and transactional sex for example. In the Caribbean there are boys, girls and young adults entering the sex work market and mainly poverty is driving them into sex work. Married women are also involved in sex work to earn money to support their family. One key population group which is forgotten in the regional response to HIV is the HIV-affected children who are entering the sex work market because of the necessity to support their family because their bread winners are living with HIV or have died of an AIDS-related disease. Also social networks which existed in the Caribbean to keep communities together have become weak and that protection is no longerexistent, pushing people to choose for sex work to survive.
How are sex workers organised?
The regional coalition of Sex Workers is working with English, Dutch and Spanish speaking countries to build national coalitions of sex workers. Under the leadership of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities, this effort is being financed by PANCAP, UNAIDS and UNFPA and already national sex worker coalitions exist in many Caribbean countries. These coalitions will work towards building sex workers’ skills in the area of protection against HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections, and negotiations with clients, law enforcement officers, gatekeepers and health care workers. This effort to organise sex workers will also include issues regarding mobility among sex workers and exchanges with Latin America.
What are the challenges facing sex workers?
These are multiple and include stigma and discrimination in the health care systems and from law enforcement personnel (Police and Customs) accompanied with violence and abuse including sexual violence. The criminalisation of sex work is an important challenge because it leaves sex workers without any protection in legal terms. One other area is the lack of meaningful involvement of sex workers in the development and implementation of programmes targeting them.
What are your messages for Caribbean leadership?
Caribbean leadership should advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work in the region, the empowerment of sex workers, the reduction of stigma and discrimination towards sex workers by health care and law enforcement professionals. Special attention should be paid to the provision of care and support to AIDS-affected children and economic opportunities should be made available to sex workers to get them out of the streets
Photo Caption:Miriam Edwards, Chair of the Caribbean Sex Worker Coalition