Success stories in fighting stigma and discrimination for female sex workers

“What   I grained  in regard  to  the prevention  of  new HIV infection, before  the training I  used  to think that  if I  happen  to be infected I would  directly  infect others. However, I came to know that doing so would be harming myself, and I realised this thanks to the training.  As a result of the trainings, I no longer have these negative misconceptions in my mind.  Instead I must advise and teach others according to what I leant so that they may develop a positive way of thinking.  I also learnt that to have access to health services is my rights” Said one of female sex workers.  

On the other hand, one nurse from centre de santé  BETHESAIDA Kicukiro District   said “From the training, I came  to know  that  those  who engaged themselves in  prostitution  deserve respect  and they need  advice, I came to understand  that  we must  teach  them in order to develop  their self-esteem, and I used not to. I could not understand  the nature  of their  problems to day  I have  fully understood.”

Participants from three districts of Kigali (male and female)

Speakers in different forums alongside this project included Innocent Musore the initiator of the program, UNAIDS representatives, representatives of Rwanda Biomedical center, National Police, Universities and other health service providers.

A consultative workshop was organized in June 5, 2014 at Umubano Hotel in Kigali.  In 40 total participants (30 males and 10 females) were present from Government Institutions, UN family and civil society organizations and Faith based organizations and representatives of female sex workers.

Mr. Innocent Musore stressed the importance mobilizing leaders and experts in HIV response, stigma and discrimination as an issue and encouraged individuals, Civil Society to come out with concrete and appropriate strategies – approaches and actions –   “this workshop comes at the right time” he reiterated.

The UNAIDS Country Director Dr. Sibongile Dludlu recommended the Government of Rwanda for its leadership in HIV response and the involvement of civil society organizations in this journey towards ending AIDS epidemic. She appreciated the initiative of VCO to organize such an important meeting to think about strategies to target female sex workers as well as their clients. Dr Sibongile highlighted that, “though Rwanda has a generalized AIDS epidemic it also has an epidemic which is highly concentrated in certain groups. The BSS 2010 for sex workers revealed that HIV prevalence among female sex workers is at 51%”. This means that at least one out of 2 female sex workers is living with HIV. This calls for evidence informed programs if we are to control AIDS epidemic” She said. 

It was highlighted by different speakers that informed actions should be jointly encouraged to reach out female sex workers and those who are at risk of HIV contamination to educate them about HIV transmission and HIV prevention related services.

Participants appreciated the intervention, pledged to plan for and intensify prevention programs targeting key populations including Female sex workers and male clients. The FSW would serve as entry point if we are to reach male partners reiterated participants in discussions

The presentation from University of Rwanda by Mr. MUKUNDWA Denis, said that the lower level of understanding of the consequences of the FSWs, Alcohol abuse, Lack of Sexual satisfaction, Illegal Marriage and Extra marital  affairs, conflict between partners lead to increase of HIV infection in Rwanda.  He added that behaviors associated with drug abuse are one of the largest factors in the spread of HIV infection in sex workers’ settings.  

Participants from three districts of Kigali (male and female)

The representative of University of Rwanda reminded participants that HIV is transmitted by contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. This can occur during unprotected sex or through sharing injecting drug-use equipment. In addition, untreated infected women can pass HIV to their infants during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding; therefore MPTCT program is very crucial and encouraged to all pregnant mothers.

The FSWs who attended mentioned discrimination and stigma attached to commercial sex work, lack of education, poverty, family responsibility, negative societal attitudes, illegal nature and legal restrictions lack of safe sex practices, increased abortion rates, and low negotiation power in condom use results to high rate of HIV infection.

This project equipped youth with knowledge on HIV prevention and Mother to Child Health Care. Implementation plan in place, involvement of youth in planned activities and the number of reached people and the workshop facilitation methodology which includes:

The   Presentation of Dr. Grace from UNICEF shared about the overview of HIH epidemic and response in Rwanda. She presented used contains the information from the research done by the Kicukiro District in partnership with UNICEF on HIV Epidemic among Adolescents aged 10-19 years, whereby that category of age constitutes 23% of the total population of Rwanda.

Focusing on HIV Prevention among adolescents and young people, the information shared showed that females are more affected five times than males. Youth representatives were requested to channel the message to their peers and their fellow ones.

It was pointed out that understandings, cultural norms and beliefs can be the driving factor of stigma, discrimination and GBV that sex workers face. Listening sex workers and non-judgmental behavior is an effective strategy of behavior change.

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