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16 Days: Increasing the Health and Safety of Vulnerable Groups
When Stefani Mills Powers began working as a sex worker in Trinidad and Tobago eleven years ago, she took risks. But “after being educated about the diseases that could be spread by unprotected oral sex,” the mid-twenty-year-old transgender female says, “I took a serious stand to always use protection.”
Powers learned about sexually transmitted infections (STI) from IPPF/WHR’s Member Association, Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT). Through the association’s Sexual Health Integrated Programme for sex workers (SHIP), sex workers like Powers learn to negotiate safer sex with clients, prevent STI and HIV, protect themselves from violence, and access FPATT’s clinical services. In addition, SHIP increases public and political sensitivity to the rights, health, and vulnerability of all sex workers in Trinidad and Tobago by holding trainings with police, social workers, immigration officials, and the media.
After discovering a safer and healthier way to work, Powers was trained to be one of FPATT’s peer educators. Recognizing that advice is often more effectively received when a peer provides it, IPPF/WHR promotes innovative peer education programs that disseminate information on sexual and reproductive health and rights to underserved groups throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
IPPF/WHR’s Member Association in Costa Rica, ADC, trained peer educators to provide essential sexual health information on HIV prevention, care, and sensitization to 1,722 inmates incarcerated in twelve prisons throughout the country. ADC staff member Jonás Hernández began providing one-on-one sessions with HIV-positive inmates in 2008, discussing key points such as adherence to antiretroviral drug regimens, self-confidence, and condom use. Since the project began, 110 inmates have become peer educators. He says, “It is important to decrease stigma and discrimination towards this population.”
In 2008, our Member Association in Honduras, ASHONPLAFA, began reaching young people in underserved neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula using health kiosks staffed by their peers. “It feels good to be informing so many people,” says one peer educator. For some youth who aren’t taught sex education in schools or at home, the kiosks are the only place to learn proper condom use and STI prevention.
Peer educators are key to reaching vulnerable individuals in diverse communities that often get overlooked. Powers explains that sex workers wouldn’t be able to stay healthy and safe without organizations like FPATT being so passionate about their right to quality sexual and reproductive health services. She says, “We have had to keep fighting for respect and acceptance. The battle has not been won, but we know we have an advocate -- and that means a lot.”
Click the slideshow below to see photos of PROFAMILIA's outreach to sex workers in Colombia.