Advocacy to legalize sex work to reduce risk of HIV.

Senator Thuli Mswane, Photo credits:

Senator Thuli Mswane, Photo credits:

Swaziland has one of the highest Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevalence in the world at 17.3% compared to 2.7% in the region and 0.05% globally, with a higher incidence in females compared to males. Further, female sex workers (FSW) have 14 times the odds of acquiring HIV compared to other women in sub-saharan Africa.

While the Swazi government has directed substantial efforts toward reducing HIV infection rates there are certain structural factors that play into exacerbating the spread of HIV.  Owing to the fact that sex work in Swaziland is illegal and soliciting sex is a criminalized, FSWs are at greater risk of social isolation and discrimination, and accessing public amenities e.g. health care. Further, FSW are plagued with the vicious cycle of, sexual violence, police brutality, primarily due to the inequitable law and policies. Decriminalizing sex is an established strategy to reduce the stigma and to protect women against the risks of acquiring HIV.

A public debate around the legalizing sex work, has seen strong support from Senator Thuli Mswane, Director of a local home-based care organization. Senator Mswane has announced her intention to champion the cause of legalized sex work by requesting that the justice ministry introduce a bill legalizing the sex trade as a means of controlling the spread of HIV. We believe that legalizing sex work will result in better access to public services and thus reduce FSW’s risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV. We support the bill and trust that you will too.


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4 Responses to “Advocacy to legalize sex work to reduce risk of HIV.”

  1. eperttu Says:

    Oy vey! This seems like a controversial issue from the outside for sure. My first response to this blog is that this cannot be the best solution, but I am not as familiar with the situation as I probably need to be in order to know if that is true. It does bring up a lot of questions for me though. Is it possible to help the women without legalizing the trade, like by providing healthcare with a “no questions asked” policy? Would legalizing the trade bring in more women and men to the region just for this purpose? Is that a good or bad thing? Does this actually help empower women to require condom use and decrease rates of HIV or do the men still have enough cultural dominance to just say “no” when the women request a condom be used? Could it increase the amount of sexual partners by bringing in more people to the trade, both male and female, and therefor increase the rates of HIV? I really wish there was a source linked to this statement “Decriminalizing sex is an established strategy to reduce the stigma and to protect women against the risks of acquiring HIV,” to help me learn more about the benefits of this type of legislature. This is something that I’ll have to research some more on an my own, because it is an interesting topic of debate.

  2. mindyscibilia Says:

    Is there any evidence the legalizing prostitution actually increases utilization of health services by prostitutes? Or that it reduces HIV prevalence amount female sex workers? Legalizing prostitution could have a negative impact and increase the number of street/illegal prostitutes since some prostitutes may still want to hide their profession due to stigma or is some cases avoid required health checks. Legalizing prostitution could also lead to an increased demand for prostitution which could actually increase the HIV prevalence among female sex works. Also legalizing prostitution does nothing to require health checks for the the male buyers. A study also showed that even in a condom requirement policy (which would prevent transmission) was instituted for buyers, this was rarely was enforced or the reality. See this article:
    Instead I think the Senator should focus efforts on creating economic opportunities for female sex workers so they have alternative, legal ways of earning an income.

  3. hiyawit Says:

    Really interesting! I would have thought the opposite. In my opinion, legalizing sex work without an evidence based, positive outcome is risky and will only encourage women to engage in more unprotected sex increasing the risk to HIV. Sex workers are often abused and stigmatized and I wonder how legalizing it would play a role in empowering these women, especially in an African country? It is true that sex workers face obstacle in accessing HIV prevention and treatment services, mainly due the stigma attached to it. But I don’t see how making sex work legal will mitigate the problem. While there’s no doubt that money is the primary reason for the women becoming sex workers, providing other means of income generators ( eg. promoting social entrepreneurship) might have a positive outcome. Even if it is legalized, I feel like the society will not accept it because it might contradict with their cultural and religious beliefs.

  4. rachaellinder10 Says:

    In countries with such extreme poverty and limited options for employment, sex work will likely always exist. It is difficult to condemn prostitution and to enforce such strict penalties for it when many men and women rely on this for their way of life. Though I acknowledge that it is a much different environment, prostitution was legalized in Reno, NV in the 1930s and mandatory health checks, condom use and STD testing was enacted in the 1980s. Since then, no sex worker has tested positive for HIV ( Though we may all feel that legalizing sex work is not ideal, it is sometimes better to work with the given circumstances rather than fight them. There will likely always be sex work in countries of extreme poverty; rather than taking away their livelihood it may be better to institute regulations to protect them. Legalizing sex work with the addition of mandatory condom use, STD testing and regular health checks may help reduce the prevalence of HIV.

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