3rd March is recognised globally as the International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. According to the Global Network for Sex Work Projects, the day’s history goes back to 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit.

This year, an event to mark the day was hosted by Lady Mermaid Bureau under the them sex workers’ rights are human rights. The Uganda Key Populations Consortium Coordinator Richard Lusimbo also shared a message to commemorate the day.  In the communique, he highlighted the need to review Uganda’s discriminatory and restrictive laws that do not uphold the rights of minorities.

Full statement from UKPC Coordinator

Message from the UKPC National Coordinator on the International Sex Workers’ Rights Day

Today- the International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, is a very special day.

A special day because I get to talk about the rights of a key population group, one of which I do have friends, role models, sisters, brothers and my everyday unsung heroes.

For the bigger part of my adult life and an advocate for key populations even before being at the center of the Uganda Key Populations Consortium (UKPC), I have walked, worked and lived with sex workers. Everyday, I am always inspired by their determination, courage and resilience.

In the same way, I have witnessed first hand the day to day challenges they face.

It is very clear that sex workers in many parts across the world including Uganda, continue to face criminalization, violence, discrimination and other forms of human rights violations which increase their risk of acquiring HIV.

Studies have shown that female sex workers in Uganda for example are subjected to high levels of violence. A 2016 study named Prevalence of HIV and Associated Risks of Sex Work among Youth in the Slums of Kampala, it was reported that 82% of sex workers interviewed reported being a victim of violence initiated by the client. More so, According to UNAIDS, HIV prevalence among sex workers is 10 times higher than among the general population, and sex workers are poorly served by HIV services.

COVID19, didn’t even make it easier. It just worsened everything. Partners for example HealthGap, interviewed sex worker led organisations under our consortium that receiveid reports of over 117 sex workers women who were arrested through raids in Lira, Wakiso, Masaka, Kampala, Oyamu, Mbale, Nakasongola and Kasese. These were being targeted with violence, blackmail, and arrest by police.

All this continues to happen due to criminalisation and the restrictive Ugandan laws, regulations and practices they face. Selling and/or buying sex is illegal under Uganda’s Penal Code. So even if sex workers go through challenges, reporting about inequalities or violence that they go through, becomes a challenge.

Sex workers—female, male and transgender adults have rights and all forms of discrimination need to end. We cannot claim to be advocating for Sustainable Development Goals, National Development Plan and all HIV related responses yet we are leaving sex workers behind.

I am always happy to read about interventions by UKPC sex work led member organizations championing rights of sex workers both at the national and grassroots level. Organisations for example WONETHA, Lady Mermaid, Alliance of Women Advocating for Change, Uganda Network of Sex Worker Organisations and many others are rolling up their sleeves by assisting in the distribution of condoms and lubricant, information on sexually transmitted infections and HIV prevention, paralegal services and health service referrals. All their community empowerment services are all working towards reducing violence, stigma and discrimination against sex workers.

We need to protect all sex workers. Their rights are human rights and that can never be taken away from them.

All forms of discrimination, violence and stigmatisation against sex workers too, need to end.

Let’s end this discrimination. Today. Everyday. Always.

Richard S. Lusimbo

National Coordinator

Uganda Key Populations Consortium