Joint Statement between Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) and Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) In Response to the article “Ministers order arrest of sex workers, clients’ Appearing in The Zimbabwean Newspaper 14 – 20 May 2009 Dated: 15th May 2009
GALZ and SRC are horrified by an article in The Zimbabwean entitled ‘Ministers order arrest of sex workers, clients’, which reports that the two Home Affairs Ministers have issued a decree to round up and prosecute female and male prostitutes and their clients as a way to curb the spread of HIV. This is a knee-jerk reaction and serious short sightedness and flies in the face of more enlightened government policy as outlined in the Zimbabwe National HIV and AIDS Council Strategic Plan 2006-2110.
In terms of female prostitutes, the strategic plan says that: “Periodically occurring round-ups and arrests of street and hotel-based prostitutes in urban sites will be replaced by longer-term regulation of the sex work scene and more predictable planning and programming.” The plan also states that “this will be agreed upon on a consensus basis between the Ministries of Home Affairs, Health and the Department of Social Welfare, in collaboration with humanitarian NGOs.”
In terms of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) the plan states quite clearly that “there can be no doubt that there are men who have sex with other men. They are at risk of HIV infection and passing on the virus to their partners, including female partners. Furthermore, international experience has shown that ignoring this group or adopting punitive approaches will only serve to drive MSM underground and reduce opportunities to dialogue with this group.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs would therefore seem to be acting unilaterally and without proper thought to the consequences of their decree. This decree merely reinforces stigma and discrimination against a group of men and women who are constantly experiencing human rights violations at the hands of clients and the police. It will drive these vulnerable and marginalized groups further underground making them difficult to reach with HIV/AIDS interventions and will simply provide corrupt police officers with additional ammunition to extort money out of already impoverished men and women. And as one of the prostitutes pointedly says in the article: “I will still find a way of soliciting clients even if it means servicing the police officers for free”.
GALZ and SRC call on the two Ministers to rescind their decree and to support the National AIDS Council and other organizations in the fields of sexual rights and HIV/AIDS to develop sensible and sensitive and non-judgmental HIV/AIDS strategies for interventions amongst these marginalized groups. Only in this way can we hope to see a continuing downward trend in the HIV infection rate in Zimbabwe.