In this crossover episode with AIDS’ Existential Moment, recorded during the International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Katherine speaks with Phelister Abdalla, of KESWA, the Kenya Sex Work Association, and Ruth Morgan Thomas, of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSPW), about the intersection of sex work, HIV/AIDS, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Phelister and Ruth argue that sex workers’ livelihoods have been uniquely disrupted by recurring curfews and lockdowns, noting that this often-stigmatized community has not benefitted from the social protection programs many countries established to support workers in the formal sector from loss of jobs or income during the early phases of the pandemic. They highlight how sex workers have instead been at the forefront of community-led initiatives that deliver antiretroviral medications, food, and other essential health commodities to each other, and consider how the integration of HIV/AIDS response into pandemic preparedness and response may affect sex workers and the community people living with HIV. Over the years and across many international AIDS conferences, sex workers have fought for their experiences to be taken into account and for their voices to be heard within the meetings’ focus on policy and research agendas.
Phelister Abdalla is the National Coordinator of the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) and the President of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSPW), based in Nairobi. She is a single mother of three, and an active sex worker living with HIV for the last 11 years. Ruth Morgan Thomas is the Global Coordinator, Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSPW). She has been involved in the sex industry for more than 30 years, including as a sex worker, an academic researcher at Edinburgh University, and a sex workers’ rights advocate.