20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014)


Advocates Voices: Sex Workers' Perceptions of the Melbourne Declaration

July 18, 2014

Sex Workers' Perceptions of the Melbourne Declaration

In just a few days, Melbourne will host the International AIDS Society's (IAS) 20th International AIDS Conference (IAC), also known as "AIDS 2014." The conference's declaration theme is "Nobody Left Behind," responding in part to the widespread exclusion of sex workers and drug users who risked being denied entrance at the U.S. border to attend IAC 2012 held in Washington, D.C. The previous host-country still reserves the right to deny entrance to sex workers or drug users.

Like the U.S., there remain significant barriers to these communities attending the AIDS conference in Australia due to restrictive immigration policies.

Issued by IAS last May, the Melbourne Declaration: "Nobody Left Behind," focuses on inclusion and non-discrimination as "fundamental to an evidence-based response to HIV and effective public health programmes." It demands (among other things) that governments "repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatizing practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality."

IAC declarations have been issued for each conference since 2000. While this current one includes unprecedented language regarding sex workers and drug users' rights, many advocates feel that it doesn't go far enough.

Janelle Fawkes, CEO of Scarlet Alliance, Australia's national sex workers' association, said:

The Melbourne Declaration is strong in some aspects but fails to specifically call for the decriminalisation of sex work, our workplaces and our clients. The time for talking in code is long gone and sex workers are very clear what the enabling legal environment we need is. The UN Political Declaration commits signatory countries to 'intensify[ing] national efforts to create enabling legal, social and policy frameworks.' It is more important than ever that this aspect of a HIV response is not left unaddressed.

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