We believe that the end of AIDS is possible if there is more focus on key populations. Our project in Myanmar addresses barriers faced by the sex workers community related to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Driven by community champions, we work to realize having an empowered and strong sex worker movement; increased access to justice; and access to comprehensive services that are available, affordable and accessible for sex workers.
Sex work is ‘bad, abnormal and a threat’ to society
After decades of oppressive military rule, Myanmar is now governed by a civilian government.
As the new government work towards delivering its promises for peace and reconciliation, the health sector plays a critical role in opening the space for building relationships and developing joint health programmes with ethnic political parties and ethnic armed organisations. Myanmar is currently experiencing a national concentrated HIV epidemic. There are an estimated 212,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV), of which 34% are women. The epidemic is rapidly increasing amongst female sex workers (FSW), with Health Sentinel Sero-Surveillance (HSS) 2014 data reporting a HIV prevalence of 6.44% among FSW. However, the situation in Mandalay suggests a different scenario. 17% of sex workers who have engaged in sex work for a year (or less) were found to be HIV positive in Mandalay. Despite rapid progress and programmatic achievements in recent years, important gaps and challenges remain. None of the priority population programmes have been scaled up to high coverage levels. ART uptake has not yet reached national targets and loss to follow up remains.
Laws pertaining to criminalisation of sex work greatly impact on the effectiveness of HIV interventions. Even in places where these behaviours are not criminalised, cultural and religious norms exist and lead to the labelling of people engaging in these practices as ‘bad, abnormal, and a threat’ to the community.
Sex workers claim a right-based HIV and SRHR response
Bridging the Gaps works with a Theory of Change approach. A Theory of Change is a description of a list of events that is expected to lead to a particular desired outcome. It is a visualization how change is believed to happen. In 2016, representatives of the sex worker community developed a a specified Theory of Change We that consists of short-,medium, and long term outcomes. The Theory of Change describes how we plan to realize having an empowered and strong sex worker movement; increased access to justice; and access to comprehensive services that are available, affordable and accessible for sex workers.
Through innovation and by building on previous work, we will strengthen civil society organisations’ ability to:
1. We facilitate community development
- Initiating a coordination mechanism within the sex worker movement in Myanmar;
- Developing materials for and conducting Training of Trainers on human rights and advocacy;
- Facilitating community development on human rights and advocacy;
- Building leadership skills.
2. We advocate for the continuously strengthening of services and upholding human rights
- Conducting a healthcare service delivery mapping that includes identifying gaps and needs;
- Initiating research on the relation between violence and HIV.
3. Deliver inclusive, rights-based and gender sensitive services
- Providing legal counselling and support;
- Training paralegals;
- Document human rights violations.
4. Foster global and in-country processes and partnerships that reinforce results
- Providing access to international HIV and AIDS conferences and meetings.
Our project builds on the strong advocacy work of our partners AMA and SWIM to put sex workers’ health issues on the political agenda and get them included in national plans. Their work is internationally supported by Aidsfonds.