Category Archives: sex education

What Is Prevention Justice? Why a Mobilization?

— Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project

November 2007 • Issue 7

Rumor has it that this World AIDS Day, December 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will announce that its estimated number of new HIV infections in the United States each year is higher than 40,000 for the first time since the late 90s – and it may be much higher. Meanwhile, in May, the CDC scaled back its previous goal of reducing annual new HIV infections in half to reducing them by only 10% a year. Is the government giving up on us? Instead of budget cuts that pit our communities against each other, why not add money for interventions that we already know are effective but have no federal funding streams, like syringe exchange and comprehensive sex education? What about studying new ways to fight the epidemic?

The Prevention Justice Mobilization (PJM), initiated by CHAMP in collaboration with SisterLove, the Georgia Prevention Justice Alliance, the Harm Reduction Coalition, the National Women and AIDS Collective, the New York State Black Gay Network, ACT UP Philadelphia, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, and AIDS Foundation of Chicago, is a dynamic force of activists from many communities. We are starting a new conversation in our AIDS service organizations, social justice circles, support groups and homes, and we are telling the CDC at its annual conference in Atlanta in December: We are not going to allow ourselves, as individuals and groups at risk, to be blamed for the consequences of government failures to prevent HIV. To end this epidemic, we have to change the way this country works.

“When people change and systems do not, HIV still thrives,” explains Dázon Dixon Diallo, MPH, a lead organizer of the Prevention Justice Mobilization and founder of SisterLove, based in Atlanta, the first and largest women’s AIDS organization in the Southeast. “We’ve been working under this assumption that HIV transmission is about individual risk behavior, and that’s where all of our resources and our best thinking have gone. But what’s missing from that is an understanding that HIV happens in a larger context. You can be vulnerable to HIV just because of who you are in the world. If you are poor, a person of color, LGBT, disabled, homeless, mentally ill, or dealing with substance abuse, injustices also exacerbate the transmission of HIV. Where are the resources to address those injustices?”

People in groups with higher HIV rates are often no more likely to engage in risk behaviors such as unprotected sex than other groups. But the disparities are just getting worse. Black women today are 23 times more likely to have AIDS than white women, and Latinas are five times more likely. Among white men who have sex with men (MSM), HIV rates have reached 21%, while Continue reading


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The AFIYA Center: La Cisha Crear and Marsha Jones

— Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project

November 2007 • Issue 7

*Activist Snapshots #3*

When La Cisha Crear and Marsha Jones heard about the Prevention Justice Mobilization, the Dallas activists knew they had to get involved. “Our vision was already based on an HIV prevention justice model,” Crear says. She and Jones haven’t yet quit their day jobs as prevention outreach counselors at Mosaic Family Services, but for the past several months, they’ve been building a new, community-based HIV prevention organization for women of color, called the AFIYA Center.

“I attended the SisterSong ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ conference, where I was exposed to the reproductive justice model,” Crear says. “If you read Dorothy Roberts’ book, Killing the Black Body, you see that, for women of color, the struggle has always been for the right to control our own bodies. The mainstream reproductive rights movement elevates abortion above everything else, but for women of color it’s about the right to have or not have a child.” Crear is also a member of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, a pan-African liberation organization that has member groups in Africa, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. Jones graduated from the African American HIV University, a two-year intensive education and training program on HIV science, prevention education, presentation development, and community mobilization, along with three six-month internships.

La Cisha Crear (left) and Marsha Jones of the AFIYA Center in Dallas

The pair are putting their diverse backgrounds to work at a time when AIDS has become the leading cause of death among Black women ages 25 to 34, and women of African descent are 23 times more likely to have AIDS than white women. But their approach to prevention comes with a sense of thoughtful urgency that is not narrowly focused on the virus. “AFIYA is a Swahili word for health and wellness,” Crear explains. “Our approach is women’s total health and well being. We have clients for whom getting an HIV diagnosis may not be the worst thing that’s happened to them. Yesterday, that woman may have been on a three-year waiting list for housing and couldn’t get food stamps or transportation. If we can address those issues before someone becomes HIV positive, we may prevent them from becoming positive.”

It’s Bigger Than You and Me: Institutional Racism and Sexism

The AFIYA Center – and women’s AIDS organizations like SisterLove, Women Alive, and WORLD that paved the way for them – are up against deep-rooted systems of racism and sexism. A November 2006 National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) report on AIDS and health disparities in Black America by Dr. Robert Fullilove of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health reviews extensive data and observes that HIV rates in both urban and (mostly Southern) rural Black communities are “a function of the same set of forces that create residential segregation, the concentration of poverty in segregated communities and the geographical concentration of health disparities.”

SESA WO SUBAN “Transformation”

Dr. Adaora Adimora, associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, digs even deeper for the structural roots of racism and its links to HIV risk. In a July 2006 Sexually Transmitted Diseases article titled “HIV and African Americans in the Southern United States: Sexual Networks and Social Context,” she and her colleagues report “extensive economic injustice and racial discrimination…such as preferential hiring and job advancement of whites, blacks’ inability to obtain mortgages, and academic tracking of black youth in schools.” This institutional racism was linked to HIV risk in several ways. Poverty and unemployment disrupt stable relationships, and discrimination can affect health planning and services. Looking at STD rates, the researchers found that “Southern counties with high syphilis rates tended to have worse race relations, with exclusion of minorities from positions of influence such as the county commission or board of health, lack of employment opportunities for minorities, lack of minority-owned businesses, and in some cases, evidence of systemic economic oppression.” Continue reading

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The Global Impact of the U.S. Anti-Prostitution Pledge

Ideology Continues to Trump HIV Prevention

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

The gag rule. The loyalty oath. Where did it come from and what does it mean to people at risk for HIV?

In 2003, Congress passed the Global AIDS Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which bar the use of federal funds to “promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution.” These laws require any organization applying for or receiving U.S. funding to combat global HIV/AIDS or human trafficking (forced labor) to sign a statement that it “does not promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution” – parroting the lawmakers’ words.

Organizations that distribute U.S. funding to sub-grantees must ensure that those groups also comply with the oath. Organizations that have to adopt the policy include foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving U.S. HIV/AIDS funds and U.S.-based NGOs working abroad.

These funding restrictions are in line with similar – and ever-increasing – efforts to force organizations working in public health to comply with ideological litmus tests that often actually hurt public health practice – and betray human rights standards.

With this policy, the U.S. government has increased stigma and discrimination against sex workers in their home countries. In Thailand, for example, it has led to the breakdown of successful activist coalitions and joint HIV prevention efforts, as groups that were previously allies will no longer work with sex worker groups. Lost funding worldwide has led to serious condom shortages for sex workers. Veteran activists against forced labor within sex work are tarred as supporting human trafficking. And drop-in centers that provided many homeless sex workers with a place to bathe, nap, and find a sense of home and family have closed due to the loss of funds. Their families have been torn apart. People who were active in community HIV prevention can no longer find each other.

U.S. policies run contrary to best practices in public health and undermine efforts to stem the spread of HIV and forced labor.

Thanks to the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and “Taking the Pledge”

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Kumjing’s Activist Passport: Migrant sex workers in Thailand become HIV prevention leaders, despite U.S. groups’ attempts to “rescue” them

By Suzy Subways, with additional reporting by Darby Hickey

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

When the Thai sex worker activist group EMPOWER traveled to Toronto for the International AIDS Conference last year, one of its most vocal representatives was a puppet named Kumjing. EMPOWER works with many women who come to Thailand from Burma for health care, a way to support their families back home, and freedom from Burma’s military regime. They also come from Burma illegally – which means they cannot attend international meetings as other activists do.

EMPOWER’s Kumjing puppets represented migrant sex workers who could not speak on a panel for fear of deportation at the XV International HIV/AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand

“Think about a poor Burmese travel[ing] from one country to another,” says Noi, an EMPOWER activist. “How would she be treated at the immigration authority? When Kumjing was invited to the Toronto AIDS conference in 2006, we took her like a human being, like an art masterpiece made by migrants… The puppet of human life is telling her story from home, in the journey and in the meeting room – on the panel discussion.”

EMPOWER Foundation was started by sex workers and activist allies in 1985 and produced Thailand’s first HIV educational materials. Now EMPOWER runs its own bar, “Can Do,” collectively owned and run by sex workers, with best-practice occupational health and safety standards, a sex worker-designed security system, condom distribution, and workers who are trained as safe sex counselors.

Three thousand sex workers have studied at EMPOWER University, which offers primary and high school qualifications, computer skills, and safer sex counseling skills, as well as training in leadership, media, research and public speaking. English classes are designed by sex workers who want to learn the language in a way that meets their needs – and helps them protect themselves from HIV. For example, a sex worker who can say to a customer, “I like wine but I don’t like whiskey” and “do you have a condom?” will have a better chance to stay in control and away from unsafe situations. Continue reading

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Excerpt: Durbar Policy Document on HIV Positive Sex Workers

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

In the Bengali language, Durbar means unstoppable. Based in West Bengal, the region of India with the major global city Kolkata (Calcutta), Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, or Durbar for short, is an organization of 65,000 sex workers. Durbar grounds its work in the “3 Rs” – Respect toward sex workers, Reliance on the knowledge of the community of sex workers, and Recognition of sex work as an occupation. In 1999, Durbar took over a government HIV prevention program, the Sonagachi Project, which now has HIV prevention programs in 49 sex work sites and outreach efforts serving 20,000 street workers and their clients. The group also provides low-cost HIV medications at its own clinics, education and vocational programs for sex workers and their children, cultural activities, savings and credit, social marketing of condoms, and self-regulatory boards in sex work sites to prevent trafficking.

The following is an excerpt from Durbar’s policy document on the inclusion of HIV positive sex workers in its work and leadership. It also offers insight into how stigma, violence and criminalization fuel HIV risk. In this document, “+ve” means “HIV positive.” It can be found in its entirety at Continue reading

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SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

If you’re part of a sex worker activist project and would like to learn from others doing this work, contact the following groups for insight and inspiration:

Different Avenues
Washington, DC
Different Avenues is a peer-led organization working for the rights, health and safety of people at high risk for HIV, and fighting violence and discrimination. The organization works across labels and identities to envision a world where our communities live with justice and well-being. The majority of its constituents are youth and young adults, people who are homeless or just trying to get by, and people who formally or informally exchange sex for things they need. Most of its work is local, but Different Avenues also does its best to support national and global movements for social justice.

Project SAFE
SAFE serves women, including transwomen, and distributes a Bad Date Sheet to help street-based sex workers avoid clients who have attacked other women or stolen their money. Workers call SAFE’s hotline or invite SAFE volunteers to visit them at home (where they feel safer talking than in the street) and give a detailed physical description of the attacker and what happened. Reports are anonymous and shared only with women. This keeps the information from johns and the police (who may arrest or dismiss a sex worker trying to report a rape), builds trust and community, and helps women define what rape is and be heard without being stigmatized.

St. James Infirmary in San Francisco, run by sex workers for sex workers, provides free, non-judgmental healthcare.

Stella, a broad-based sex worker activist group in Montreal, Canada, also has a Continue reading

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SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

Bilingual Links:

Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) Policy Brief: Implications of U.S. Policy Restrictions for Programs Aimed at Commercial Sex Workers and Victims of Trafficking Worldwide (PDF).
This document is from November 2005, but remains an accurate overview of the anti-prostitution pledge and what it means. The document includes recommendations for lawmakers.

Sex workers of Apizaco, Tlaxcala, Mexico meet with the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign (2006)
English: Sex Workers/MexicoSexWorkersEnglish.htm
Español: Sex Workers/MexicoSexWorkersSpanish.htm
Addressed to sex workers and supporters of the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign (a movement of marginalized people against capitalism and allied with the massive teachers’ strike in Oaxaca), the CNUC (Women’s Rights Network Collective) of Apizaco, in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico, calls for sex workers across Mexico to fight for their rights together.

English Links:

Desiree Alliance
A coalition of sex workers, health professionals, social scientists, professional sex educators, and supporters working to reinvigorate the U.S. sex workers’ rights movement.

$pread Magazine
A magazine for sex workers, sex worker outreach and labor rights.

Bound, Not Gagged

A blog for sex workers to respond to the way they are portrayed in the media in the wake of the Deborah Jeane Palfrey scandal.

The Manual (PDF, 2002)
Tips for providers planning services for male sex workers. Compiled by the European Network Male Prostitution, which lost funding in 2003 and dissolved into Correlation, the European Network Social Inclusion and Health. Continue reading

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