UNAIDS Viet Nam Speech at MOLISA Sex Work Workshop, 11 September 2008

Thursday 11 September, 2008
Ha Noi, Viet Nam

Mr Le Bach Hong, Mr Nguyen Van Minh, ladies and gentlemen.  I am speaking this morning on behalf of many UN partners, all of whom are involved in responding to the different challenges related to sex work. I would like to recognize the commitment that UNFPA, UNIFEM, IOM, WHO and UNODC, as well as UNAIDS, have shown in addressing issues of trafficking, gender, drug use and access to social and health services, including sexual and reproductive health services and HIV prevention, care, treatment and support. 

On behalf of the United Nations in Viet Nam, I would like to thank MOLISA for holding this workshop. We support this meeting insofar as it is a preparatory step towards the national conference that will be held in October. The United Nations in Viet Nam recognizes the importance of addressing the many issues surrounding sex work, and looks forward to participating with MOLISA in future dialogues with those most directly affected.

As we are all aware, few women choose to do sex work. Poverty, lack of education and gender-based violence – both structural and physical – make women more likely to enter sex work and, very often, prevent them from leaving it when they wish. 

The Government of Viet Nam protects all women, including sex workers, in the Law on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, the Gender Equality Law and the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control. We are assembled here today because we recognize that despite these declarations and commitments, hundreds of thousands of women are falling through the cracks. 

Nation-wide, 4% of sex workers in Viet Nam are living with HIV. Within some groups, HIV prevalence is almost 30%.  One out of three sex workers works on the streets or in brothels, where they are controlled by pimps and are frequently the recipients of physical and sexual violence.

MOLISA’s efforts to openly address this complicated and challenging issue are strongly backed by Government policy. The 2003 Ordinance on Prostitution Prevention and Control – the very document that outlaws the buying and selling of sex –– requires that sex workers be targeted for HIV prevention, care, treatment and support (Articles 7, 10). The importance of targeting sex workers is also mandated by the National Strategy on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, the Law on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control (Article 3.3), and Implementing Decree No.108 (Article 5).

It is essential that MOLISA and other stakeholders work together to raise the awareness of the entire society about the importance of creating an enabling environment for sex workers to access services and overcome gender inequality. HIV vulnerability, for example, encompasses not just sex workers but also their clients, their partners and children, and their clients’ partners and children. Across Asia, 10 million women sell sex. That is a lot. But more than 75 million men regularly buy sex, and that is much more. Clients are frequently willing to pay extra for services without a condom, and sex workers are not always in a position – financially and physically – to refuse them. Thus sex workers are at high risk of contracting HIV from their HIV positive clients.

Sex work does not exist in a vacuum. This is a social issue, and an effective response will need to mobilize the entire society in changing the social conditions that make sex work a reality for some women.

I look forward to participating in this workshop and to preparing for the national conference. I wish you all possible success every step of the way.

Thank you and chuc suc khoe.

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