The Anti-Prostitution Pledge

It's imposed, not taken, by Bush's foreign-aid people -- with disastrous results worldwide.

Published May 2, 2007 6:40PM (EDT)

Really, it's impossible to write this post without using the word "irony." As you no doubt know, Randall Tobias, Bush's foreign-aid chief, resigned over "Gals"-gate. You may also be aware that Tobias was the lead enforcer of the administration's international Anti-Prostitution Pledge. Heh. However -- though the pledge was the subject of protest when it was instituted -- only some reports have made clear in the current context just how "ironic" this pledge is in practice. Ironic, that is, in the Alanis Morissette sense. In other words, it sucks.

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) comes with a string attached: funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development go only to organizations -- abroad and here -- with an official position against prostitution. Irony: Any group taking that position cannot, say, distribute condoms to sex workers. Yep, when it comes to AIDS relief, that is an excellent plan. (It's also impossible to write this post without sarcasm.)

So the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City is trying to turn the publicity around Tobias into an opportunity for education. According to a statement by the project: "The proponents of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge claim that it will help in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, sex workers are not the source of the HIV problem -- instead, they are a key part of the solution. When they are empowered and their rights are protected, sex workers are able to insist on condom use and take on the role of sexual health educators and prevention advocates."

Here, according to the Sex Workers Project, are a few examples of the damage caused by the pledge:

-- Brazil rejected approximately $40 million in USAID money because signing the pledge would interfere with its successful anti-HIV/AIDS program.

-- An English class for sex workers in Cambodia had to seek other funding.

-- Sixteen drop-in centers for sex workers in Bangladesh lost funding when the agency that supported them signed the pledge. Those involved describe it "as having lost their home, their family, and their sense of community and safety."

The project adds, "Organizations are so fearful of the political backlash stemming from the Anti-Prostitution Pledge that many are going further than the Pledge may even require, because they do not understand what kinds of programs are banned. For examples, some groups have dismissed sex workers, claiming that they can no longer keep them on staff, and other groups have distanced themselves from sex workers' groups with whom they had previously worked and supported. The real hypocrisy here is that people who need healthcare and services, and who need their rights to be protected, are being denounced by those whose stated mission is to help them."

To learn about the impact of the pledge directly from the people it affects, watch this video produced by the Network of Sex Projects.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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