Network for Key Population Service Organisation (UNESO) with support from UHAI and AIDSFONDS, last week, released a report detailing the human rights violations experienced by sex workers during the national lockdown that was imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report found that torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and unlawful arrests were very rampant during lockdown, and discrimination and societal abuses towards sex workers were widespread throughout the country.

To create evidence based advocacy while working to protect and promote the human rights of sex workers.

UNESO’s National Coordinator Ms Daisy Nakato Namakula said they undertook this project mainly to create evidence based advocacy while working to protect and promote the human rights of sex workers. She says they hope the outcome is reduced human rights violations experienced by sex workers in Uganda

“The documentation was intended to establish an evidential record of human rights violations faced by sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate evidenced based advocacy and inform programming to create favourable social, economic and political environment for sex workers to live” Ms Nakato explained.

In the report, UNESO shares some recommendations to both the state and non-state factors to tackle the continued human rights violations of sex workers

To the state actors/government.

  • Recognize sex work as work.
  • Respect sex workers’ work choice and human rights.
  • Ensure inclusion of sex workers in decision making processes at all levels.
  • Ensure to act on perpetrators of violence so that they may act as examples to others.
  • Ensure that issues of non-discrimination are prioritized especially in times of disaster outbreak.
  • The department of community health under the ministry of health should intensify training of health care providers on sexual orientation to enable provision of discrimination free health services for every one including sex workers.

To the non-state actors (religious institutions, cultural institutions, Civil Society

Organizations and individuals.

  • Recognize sex work as work.
  • Respect sex workers’ work choice and human rights.
  • Ensure inclusion of sex workers in decision making processes at all levels.
  • Promote the culture of documentation of human rights violations experienced by sex workers and general population to inform evidence-based advocacy and proper planning and programming for the communities.
  • Empower the vulnerable communities to be able to report the violations and seek redress whenever their rights are violated.
  • Support public education and awareness creation programs on sexuality, sexual and health rights and violence and discrimination and other issues that affects sex workers.
  • Establish and strengthen partnerships to support monitoring and documentation of abuses of sex workers in their diversity for purposes of creating evidenced advocacy.
  • Create information sharing systems so that reports of human rights violations against sex workers can be used simultaneously by multi parties.
  • And strengthen reporting systems, evidence collection and data storage to facilitate easy verification of violations against sex workers in their diversity.
  • Capacity building and skills enhancement and agency of sex workers should be undertaken to increase the sex workers’ ability to negotiate, report and resist violations and seek legal redress whenever violations occur against them.

Below are some of the stories as shared by the interviewed sex workers.

Prossy (not real name) told that, when the lockdown was enacted, she had to Kasese to check on her family but she had packed only ARVS that could take her for only one week, so when the ARVS got finished, she went to a nearby health facility to access HIV treatment and she was informed by the health workers at the facility that she cannot be helped because they only have drugs for the PLHIV who are under their care. She then had to walk from Kasese to Fort portal to access ARVs from the health facility where she registered and under care. When she reached in fort portal, to her dismay she found when the brothel she used to stay in was closed and the brothel managers could not allow her in claiming she is from Kasese boarder and so she might be infected with coronavirus and they denied her access to her room and other essential commodities like clothing and she was left with the only option of going to a stay with a friend.

A sex worker living with HIV went to BUHINGA REGIONAL REFFERAL HOSPITAL for ART refill after she had missed her appointment for 2 weeks and the health worker ridiculed and stigmatized her by telling her not to come closer to the dispensing window because she is a sex worker and sex workers are known for being in close contacts with truck drivers who carry the corona virus. The health worker just thrown the Drugs to her as she never wanted to be in any way close to her.

Daphne (not real names) says, when the total lockdown was announced, the lodge manager ordered all sex workers to vacate the brothels and go back to their homes/families but when they pleaded with him, he accepted with an exception to only those who are not living with HIV, in doing so he pointed out by naming those he suspected to be HIV positive without their consent and ordered them to live the brothel immediately. The ones who were claimed not to be HIV POSITIVE were to stay while he forced them to have unprotected sex with him every day.

On 22/04/ 2020 a sex worker went to hospital to access her HIV treatment including viral road testing and ARVS refill. However, as she approached the health care provider, she noticed a poor attitude and a funny look by the health provider towards her and before she even mentioned anything, she was informed by the health worker to go back home because she has come late and that the health facility will find an alternative way of getting her ART refills and take the viral load testing from her outside the health facility. When she tried to inquire to why she cannot be supported at the moment, the health care provider blasted her and told her to go away and not to waste her time.