Uganda Network of Sex Worker led Organizations (UNESO, on Friday 28th August 2020, hosted its inaugural annual general meeting in Kampala. The convening was attended by representatives from 21 member organizations based in different regions of the country, several partners and allies. It aimed at updating member organizations on the achievements, challenges, upcoming opportunities and the financial status of the network as well as to elect a new Board of Directors which will be tasked with the growth of the network and full representation of sex workers’ needs.

The meeting saw Prof Gideon Baguma Byamugisha who decry stigma, shaming, discrimination, denial and inaction by service providers towards key populations- something he says encourages human rights violations. Rev Byamugisha compelled partners and allies to encourage KPs especially those living with HIV to adhere treatment, embrace HTC services and empowerment activities.

The acting Chair of the organization’s steering committee Ms Shamillah Batte highlighted some of UNESO’s successes which include the recognition of UNESO as a network at national and international levels, registration of UNESO as a legal entity, building more partnerships and collaborations at international, regional and national levels and a committed and passionate Secretariat.

Ms Batte also noted a number of challenges that have strained the organisation’s work which include the break-in at the UNESO office premises earlier this year, the continuous volatile legal and political environment that threatens their work, discrimination and stigma.

Namakula Daisy Nakato, the National Coordinator of UNESO expressed her pleasure atthe success of UNESO's first AGM and thanked all partners, allies and member organizations for honoring their invitation especially during this harsh time of the COVID 19 pandemic. She further gave a brief history of UNESO and delivered the management report of the network with an overview of their work.

"We had hiccups along the way as we were young in leadership. Many were scattered all over the country. I remember that we sat at the WONETHA offices in a meeting to form this network in 2015 with the aim to bring all Sex Workers' led organizations together in unity," Ms Nakato reminisced.

She also added that there was still a huge gap in rural organizing which was very challenging. She pledged UNESO's commitment to continue their nationwide mapping of sex worker led organizations.

Among its accomplishments, UNESO currently boasts of 23 member organizations in different parts of the country, development of a 5 year strategic plan with help from members and partners, successful annual stakeholders meeting with 135 participants from across the country, trained 58 sex workers' representatives on PrEP with the support from Ministry of Health, hosted stake holders' dialogue meetings on PrEP and printed over 5200 IEC materials on COVID19 to ensure sex workers in the country have enough simplified and localised information on COVID19 and how they can manage it especially at the border districts.

Despite all these achievements, the network has encountered a number of challenges especially in rural areas due to weak structures, stigma and discrimination against sex workers especially in health facilities which also manifests in the communities. Also the limited funding has led to failure of some sex workers' led organizations to sustain their activities and growth especially within this COVID 19 period, displacements and lapse in deliver of HTC and ART services.

The attendees also voted a new Board of Directors whose members include Shamillah Batte as Chair, Akello Lydia, Beyonce Karungi, Dora Kiconco and Joseph Semanda.