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Update on PEPFAR's Anti-Prostitution Pledge

By Kelly Nowicki

July 7, 2011

Update on PEPFAR's Anti-Prostitution Pledge

This article was provided by the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance.

A victory in the global fight against HIV/AIDS occurred yesterday. The United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the U.S. government cannot require U.S. organizations that receive foreign assistance to fight HIV/AIDS globally to denounce prostitution -- a policy that has had far reaching consequences around the world. (See full court decision here.)

In May 2003, Congress passed the United States Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act (Leadership Act) which required organizations receiving U.S. funds to fight HIV/AIDS globally to adopt a specific organization-wide policy explicitly opposing prostitution. The policy, also known as the "anti-prostitution pledge" stated "No funds ... may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking."

Health advocacy groups around the globe had long criticized the law as being counterintuitive to effective strategies for defeating HIV/AIDS and the trafficking of persons. As Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), said in a CHANGE press release, "The policy weakens the best HIV prevention efforts among sex workers, and exacerbates stigma and discrimination against already marginalized groups. Any anti-prostitution declaration by organizations working with persons in the sex sector undermines trust among the very people these organizations seek to assist, making it difficult or impossible to provide services or assistance to those at risk."

While the court's decision will benefit U.S.-based organizations, it still leaves foreign organizations and the communities and individuals they serve vulnerable to this debilitating clause. As prevention justice activists, we call upon the Obama Administration to avoid enforcing the anti-prostitution pledge requirement against both U.S.-based and foreign organizations, as it falls in line with their global AIDS strategy to advance the rights of populations that face stigma -- including sex workers and men who have sex with men.

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