Brazil: Support Recent Refusal To Accept US Agency For International Development Funding Restrictions Against Sex Workers

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Network of Sex Worker Projects (NSWP) congratulate Brazil’s government for refusing US$40 million in US Agency for International Development (USAID) AIDS grants to protest the US requirement that all grantees take a pledge to not knowingly promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution, or to implement any program by or work in correspondence with other organizations which have not stated in either a grant application, a grant agreement, or both, that they do not promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution.

According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on 2 May 2005, Dr. Pedro Chequer, the Chair of Brazil's National HIV/AIDS Commission (which made the decision to turn down further US funding as long as the anti-sex worker pledge requirement remains in place) said: "We can't control [HIV/AIDS] with principles that are…theological [and] …fundamentalist….” Dr. Chequer further noted the commission members, including cabinet ministers, scientists, church representatives and civil society activists, viewed U.S. demands as "interference that harms the Brazilian policy regarding diversity, ethical principles and human rights." Brazil’s HIV/AIDS policy is known as among the most effective and multi-faceted in the world.

After Dr. Chequer’s announcement, he has received numerous local and international criticisms from conservative groups. In response, the Network of Sex Work Projects and IGLHRC ask you to send letters of support to Dr. Chequer for taking this courageous position. A model letter is provided below.

BACKGROUND:

Sex work is not illegal in Brazil. In fact, several sex workers’ rights groups are among the most active and effective organizations engaged in HIV prevention work. US funding would have included $190,000 for eight prostitution groups in Brazil, according to Gabriela Leite, coordinator of the Brazilian Network of Sex Professionals. Ms. Leite said she participated in lengthy discussions with USAID to ensure that US money went only to HIV/AIDS education and prevention, and not to other sex workers’ rights issues. The result was a 50-page agreement, Ms. Leite said, but it broke down because her group was unwilling to condemn sex work.

Brazil appears to be the first major recipient nation to take such a definitive stand against the US policy. Several Republican lawmakers are pressing to restrict federal grants to those who do not support the Bush Administration’s policies promoting sexual abstinence, condemning prostitution and opposing clean-needle exchanges for drug-users.

Many scientists and public-health specialists consider Brazil's approach to HIV prevention a “model.” The government promotes comprehensive sex education that includes both equal endorsement of abstinence and the use and distribution of condoms for the general population. In addition, since 1996 the country has provided free ARV medication to HIV-positive persons. The result has been extremely positive: In 1992, UNAIDS forecast 1.2 million Brazilians would carry the AIDS virus by 2002. Instead, an estimated 660,000 cases have occurred in Brazil today.

ACTION:

IGLHRC and NSWP ask you to write letters of support to Dr. Chequer for respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of sex workers in the Brazil government’s costly step in refusing USAID funds, and for the Commission to continue to take such brave steps in promoting the health and human rights of sex workers through scientifically-proven measures.

MODEL LETTER:

Dr. Pedro Chequer
Chair
National Commission on HIV-AIDS
Brazil
Phone + 556614488001
Fax + 55614488001
Email pchequer@aids.gov.br

Dear Dr. Chequer,

I am writing to congratulate you on your decision to reject US Agency for International Development (USAID) funding restrictions which would require that all grantees take a pledge to not knowingly promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution.

I furthermore commend Brazil’s principled stance to continue the successful evidence-based approach to HIV prevention and treatment. In fact, the USAID restrictions that you have opposed could easily hamper the work of some of the best advocates for the human rights of sex workers to secure rights -- sex workers themselves. These restrictions will circumscribe HIV/AIDS workers from engaging in effective education, mobilization, prevention, and service provision.

Moreover, the active inclusion of civil society in the National Commission on HIV-AIDS should be lauded, as is the genuine inclusion of sex workers and transgender persons as crucial partners in Brazil’s effort to engage in the most effective HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support efforts.

In this climate of hatred against sex workers, I again congratulate the Brazilian government for respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of sex workers in taking a courageous and costly step in refusing USAID funds.

Thank you.

Sincerely,