We believe that the end of AIDS is possible if there is more focus on key populations. Our project in Ukraine 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 a strong and influential sex worker movement; equal access to human rights; decrease of stigma, discrimination and violence; and increased access to comprehensive health services.
On-going war and low access to health for sex workers
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine has been growing since the early 1990s among key
populations. The HIV epidemic observed in Ukraine is the second largest HIV epidemic among Eastern European and Central Asian countries. During the last five years, progress in HIV response and a decreasing HIV rate among several key populations has been achieved with technical and financial support from international donors. However, HIV prevalence is estimated at 7% among sex workers. Since 2009, the Ukrainian state took financial responsibility for ART but not for the comprehensive country HIV response. In early 2014 Ukraine was hit by socio-economic and political crisis with the occupation and annexation of the Crimea.
The ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine has caused many people to leave non-Ukraine controlled territories amid high violence, crises in access to food and accommodation, and massive human rights violations. It has become hard or almost impossible for key populations to access health services. War and waves of internally displaced people (IDPs) have led to shortages in domestic funding, and pushed HIV response down to the lowest priority for state and local governments.
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 of how change is believed to happen. In 2016, representatives of the sex workers community developed 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 a strong and influential sex worker movement; equal access to human rights; decrease of stigma, discrimination and violence; and increased access to comprehensive health services.
Through innovation and by building on previous work, we will strengthen civil society organisations’ ability to:
1. We facilitate community development
- Exploring opportunities to build and/or strengthen local sex worker initiative groups by mobilization of sex workers;
- Supporting and strengthening self-help groups;
- Conducting an activist school to build the capacity of sex workers on human rights, the law, and advocacy.
2. We advocate for the continuously strengthening of services and upholding human rights
- Advocating for a new bill on the decriminalization of sex work through a documentary and a photo exhibition;
- Initiating research on the level and type of violence, the relation between violence and HIV, the relation between violence and law enforcement, and mitigations strategies to decrease violence against sex workers.
Our project builds on the strong advocacy work of our partner Legalife Ukraine to put sex workers’ health issues on the political agenda and get them included in national plans. Their work is internationally supported by Aidsfonds.