A history of protest...
This week the OneWorld Mobile4Good team is in Washington, DC, for the Nineteenth International AIDS Conference. Keep an eye out for posts here and on our Twitter feed to stay in touch with the action...One of my favourite things about the International AIDS Conference is that in bringing together policy makers with researchers, advocates, scientists, service providers, and affected populations (among many, many others...), it creates a vital space for voices which may not have otherwise have been heard. The conference has long been a dynamic place for dialogue, both of the tidy advocacy sort and the messy activism sort, to steal a phrase from the amazing Cheryl Overs' plenary presentation this morning. The dynamic and creative protests around the AIDS conferences have rightly been credited by many people here as being a driving force in changing policy and improving programmes.
Which is part of why so many were so disappointed and frustrated with the ongoing US policy is that it not only denies sex workers and injecting drug users (two of the populations most affected by the epidemic) access to this conference where decisions about their lives are being made, but is just bad policy. The pledge restricts the ability of US-funded organisations across the globe to work with sex workers, contributing to stigma, discrimination, and increased risk for violence, abuse, and HIV (for a great primer, check out the Center for Health and Gender Equity).
Which brings us to yesterday's bi-partisan panel discussion on US HIV policy and funding, with Senators Frist, Coons, Enzi, and Rubio and Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Congresswoman Lee has recently introduced legislation in the house that would repeal the pledge, which unfortunately has little chance of passing. Sex workers rights advocates called for attention, chanting "nothing about us without us," a reference to the exclusion of advocates from the conference, "repeal the pledge," and "sex workers rights are human rights." The message didn't seem to make it through, as Frist repeatedly admonished the protesters to be quiet and "respectful" and then refused to allow time for questions from the audience until shouted down by the audience and one particularly powerful young man from the Gambia. The Red Umbrella Project posted this excellent video of the protest along with interviews with organisers - definitely worth a watch.
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