It is time to end discrimination on sex workers in Africa


Zero Discrimination Day:1st March

2021 Theme: End inequalities

Today marks the eighth year of the United Nations’ Zero Discrimination Day. The event started in 2014, aims to create global solidarity towards ending all forms of discrimination. The day is particularly noted by organisations like UNAIDS that combat discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.

Zero Discrimination Day is observed annually by many countries across the globe on March 1 to promote equality in practice and before the law. The purpose of the day is to eradicate inequalities in income, age, sex, health status, colour, race, occupation, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and gender.

Significance of the day

According to UNAIDS “Inequality is growing for more than 70% of the global population, increasing the risk of division and restraining economic and social development.”

In 2015, all countries pledged to reduce inequality within and between countries as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, there is still a lot of work left to be done in order to ensure that inequalities are completely eradicated.

Discrimination towards sex workers in Africa is high. In addition to the criminalization of sex work, entrenched social stigma means that sex workers often avoid accessing health services and conceal their occupation from health-care providers. Sex workers of all genders struggle to meet their own health and well-being needs and face significant legal and institutional discrimination. Health service providers often neglect their duty to provide care when seeing sex workers. Similarly, police and other law enforcement officials often violate the human rights of sex workers rather than promote and protect them. Stigma towards male sex workers who have sex with men is very high owing to homophobia. Many sex workers do not wish to disclose their occupation to health-care providers and, generally, stigma and discrimination were considered a major barrier in their willingness or desire to test for HIV. Social and cultural isolation combined with stigma and discrimination further reduces sex worker access to social and health services.

ASWA observes Zero Discrimination Day 2021 by calling for actions to end the inequalities that continue to inflict sex workers in Africa. Confronting inequalities and ending stigma and discrimination against sex workers in Africa is critical to ending AIDS.

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