UNAIDS leadership probe sexual harassment claims
Sir: We have learned through news reports and social media, of the very serious allegations of sexual harassment at UNAIDS. Unwelcome sexual advances are some of the worst crimes that sex workers face almost every day. Our members are harassed by men (including those in uniform) on the streets, brothels, hotels and their own homes for the work they do to earn a living. We are often victims of violence, perpetrated by powerful male clients, pimps and security personnel.
We have come to live with the torment of men in power, especially security personnel, who harass sex workers to the extent of demanding unpaid sex in return for ‘security’ on the streets and other areas that our members use as work spaces. The harassers have treated us as lesser humans for years on end. But to learn that similar misdeeds are taking place in the United Nations system, including UNAIDS, is jolting. To learn that similar allegations were leveled against one of our best friends, the former UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Dr. Luiz Loures, is even more hurting!
Loures was always on the side of key populations in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world. His support, advice and friendship were unmatched. We are relieved by the fact that an investigation into Loures’ alleged misconduct found the allegations to be unsubstantiated, but if his accuser is not satisfied with the process, UNAIDS must ensure that her right to appeal is respected. The organisations that we represent take issues of sexual harassment most seriously. The Nigeria Sex Workers Association works towards the decriminalisation and elimination of all forms of oppression against sex work. Similarly, Passion and Concern for Women Welfare and Empowerment Initiative (PACOWWEI) is a human rights, capacity building and development initiative for female sex workers. We find sexual harassment inexcusable!
We must commend the UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe for his role in integrating sex workers on the HIV programming and advocating for their rights and dignity. Sidibe has worked hard to ensure that our voices count and are respected by governments and society at large.
Sidibe, in an act of foresight and courage, had asked Loures to step down and proposed a five-point agenda that we believe could help UNAIDS to completely stop sexual harassment. We fully support the five-point agenda. We will hold Sidibe accountable and we will do our part to make the agenda work.
Lastly, we are shocked and angry to see recently that some people with hidden motives are trying to use the #Metoo movement to push their own ungodly agenda! We suspect a regime-change agenda. We, the associations of sex workers in Nigeria, vehemently reject that agenda. That is why we are saying: “Hands off Michel Sidibe!” He is our brother and hero. He stands with us and makes us believe in ourselves and in our cause.
These unwarranted attacks against the UNAIDS executive director must stop forthwith.
Hands off our Michel Sidibe!
Amaka Nara Enemo is the coordinator of the Nigeria Sex Workers Association (NSWA).
Ada Adah is the programme officer at Passion and Concern for Women Welfare and Empowerment Initiative (PACOWWEI).