"A sad privilege to speak at the UN meeting on ending AIDS"

June 8, 2016

My name is John Mathenge. I am a proud Kenyan. The truth about me is I am a male sex worker, and have been living with HIV for almost 20 years now. I’m executive director of HOYMAS, an organization that supports men who have sex with men and male sex workers living with HIV, I also serve as the Vice President of the Global Network of Sex workers (NSWP).

I will be speaking at the High Level Meeting on ending AIDS in New York. My government invited me to join their delegation. I considered my participation in the meeting as a human right. But since I heard about the list of 22 banned organizations, a list that could have contained my organization, I tend to consider my presence as a privilege. A very sad privilege.

The scope of HOYMAS can be compared to ISHTAR MSM Kenya, one of the organisations that has been banned from the meeting. How could this have happened? I still don’t understand. It seems like bad memories revive.

Driving force

The lack of support I have experienced in the past is the driving force behind my work. HOYMAS brings together male sex workers living with HIV to change how they address their health and social needs. This is the reason why we were formed: we realized we are our own agents of change. The initial goal was just to focus on accessing health services but over time we learned about the major barriers that prevent male sex workers from accessing HIV care. These barriers are criminalisation, human rights violations and not having access to legal support. HIV and AIDS can only come to an end when these barriers are addressed. We have been able to grow into a professional organization that is being supported by international donors and ministries.

Turning point

I am hoping to participate in a meeting that will be a turning point in the fight against AIDS. But I am afraid about what will happen since I have heard about the 22 banned organizations. It will be more important than ever before to literally mention key groups in the paragraphs about human rights in the final meeting declaration. The affected key population groups are: male and female sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgenders and drug users.

Mentioning these groups by name is even more important since donor countries are withdrawing their funding from countries that have reached middle income status. At this moment my organization is proactively working with international donors and our Kenyan government to make sure the work will be continued after funding will be stopped. In this light we need to be backed up by the paragraphs about human rights in the declaration that is going to be signed by all member states, including the ones that have requested to block organizations.

Side event

What else can I do having the privilege to enter a meeting while it should have been a right? During a dedicated side event, organized by international partners like the Dutch Aids Fonds, STOP AIDS NOW! and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, I will share an important message on behalf of my banned colleagues. Especially in a time like this, wanting to speed up the fight against AIDS, we must all stand up against discriminatory behaviours. The ignored and stigmatized people are the most vulnerable ones. They fear to access HIV-prevention, -testing and -treatment services. Discrimination is fuel to the AIDS epidemic. We can only reach the goal of ending AIDS by 2030 if we do it together.

It is against this background that I wish to make a plea in the strongest of terms to the UN SG Ban Ki-moon to name and shame states/countries which voted against the attendance of the key population organisation which have been banned from attending the High Level Meeting.

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