South African sex worker activist Dudu Dlamini was recognised by the International AIDS Society for her work in advancing gender justice and health.

Amsterdam - South African sex worker activist Dudu Dlamini was recognised by the International AIDS Society on Wednesday for her work in advancing gender justice and health.

Dlamini became the first person to win the Prudence Mabele Award, an endowment made in honour of the first black woman to publicly reveal her HIV status in South Africa.

“I am a sex worker, a woman, an organiser, an advocate, lobbyist and ambassador for the rights of children with HIV,” said Dlamini, who is from the Sex Workers Education Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT).

“Sex workers don’t have money to take children to school, to buy their uniforms, to keep them safe when they go out to earn money to feed their children,” said Dlamini, who has started an organisation to help sex workers who are mothers.

“As a sex worker mother, it is very hard. Our children are often ashamed and angry and leave home and go off by themselves. The relationship between us and our children is broken,” said Dlamini

The International AIDS Society (IAS) created the prize, which has the highest monetary value of all awards at the conference, through an endowment from the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, and in partnership with the Positive Women’s Network of South Africa, which Mabele headed.

South African Deputy President David Mabuza was initially supposed to present the award as head of the SA AIDS Council, but he opted to attend the BRICS Summit instead.

Meanwhile, two studies released at the conference on Wednesday showed that the “Swedish model”, which criminalises clients not sex workers, has had a negative effect on sex workers in Canada and France.

In 2014, Canada adopted the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), which criminalises sex workers’ clients.

Elena Argento of the University of British Columbia said that the Act (based in the Swedish model) “conflates sex work with trafficking”.

 “We found sex workers experienced a 41% drop in access to health services,” said Argento.

In 2016, France also opted to criminalizing sex workers’ clients. But Hélène Lebail from the French AIDS research institute, Centre de Recherches Internationales, presented a study that showed the new law had resulted in sex workers in Vancouver experiencing more violent attacks and more dangerous working conditions and a decrease in condom use.

“The law has driven sex workers underground. They have to work in less visible places and move around a lot more, finding it difficult to get HIV services,” said Lebail.

“After two years, sex workers are still more criminalised than their clients. They are arrested more by police and have to pay more fines.”

There was also evidence of an increase in syphilis among sex workers in France.

“Given the importance of sex workers in the global response to HIV, I think these studies deserve careful consideration,” Linda-Gail Bekker, President of the International AIDS Society and International Chair of AIDS 2018, said. “If ‘end demand’ laws [based on the Swedish model] create new barriers to HIV prevention and care, that is a very significant concern.” 

Health-e