By Kurt Campbell
Executive Director of the Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC), Miriam Edwards is urging the authorities in Guyana to offer protection against violence, stigma and discrimination to what she says is a growing migrant sex worker population in Guyana.
Edwards said work is already being done by the GSWC with help from UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. This began in March 2020 with plans to continue in 2021.
“We had a hard time with getting them to work with us at first, but we convinced them that it is something new and they should try it, but at first they didn’t understand why we wanted them to work with migrant sex-workers,” she said Wednesday during a panel discussion to commemorate World Aids Day.
Edwards made a special appeal to the National Aids Programme Secretariat (NAPS) to look for ways in which they can support the migrant sex work population.
“They ain’t going any way regardless of what we say and we are actually seeing an increase in sex workers and there will be more coming so we have to work with them to keep HIV under control,” she added.
Edwards said the GSWC made a “large achievement” and has done work with migrant sex workers along the coastland in Region Four and several interior locations across regions 1, 6, 7 and 8.
The support to these sex workers, as Edwards explained, includes protection from stigma and discrimination, HIV testing, placing them in safe places, but most importantly, protection against violence.
Edwards noted that sex workers are a high target for gender-based violence with 60 current document cases being investigated, but there are almost another 100 undocumented cases, which include persons who have opted not to follow through with police investigations.
While she could not provide confirmed statistics on the migrant sex worker population in Guyana, Edwards noted that it includes persons from Venezuela mainly, but also Cubans and Brazilians.
“We work with a lot of different sex workers from different countries. We must work with them and try our best to look into violence persons are facing,” she added.
During the pandemic, sex workers, including migrants, have benefited from HIV testing, condom, and hamper distribution.
“For Venezuelan sex workers, we have hampers for them through a UNAIDS project.
“Sex work is here to stay and it is not going anywhere no matter how we condemn them; we must have what is necessary for them and work with them,” she added.
Edwards said she has several persons on her team who speak both English and Spanish and have been able to successfully address the language barrier.
While the pandemic has affected the work of the GSWC, innovative methods were employed to reach the population during the pandemic.