Lawsuits against restrictive USAID Policy

In 2003 new legislation was passed that allowed the US government to restrict NGOs in regards to what they can do and say about working with sex workers. Darby Hickey analyses the latest development on this issue, a lawsuit against the restriction from the Open Society Institute and affiliates.

The latest development in opposition to Bush Administration HIV policies has come in the form of a second lawsuit against USAID – the Agency for International Development which dispenses funds to groups working to prevent HIV internationally. The funds are restricted by legislation that says every organization receiving the money must pledge to oppose prostitution. This restriction was not enforced until this year when the Justice Department decided it was constitutional to enforce it. The Open Society Institute and the Alliance for Open Society International have sued USAID over the policy, which they say violates their First Amendment rights and is too vague to implement. In August a similar lawsuit was filed by DKT International – which operates HIV prevention projects with sex workers in several countries, and received USAID funding until it refused to sign the new pledge. As both lawsuits note, such a policy is detrimental to HIV prevention efforts, which must incorporate sex workers. The most successful HIV prevention projects involving sex workers include strong efforts to promote leadership of sex workers as knowledgeable voices in their own communities, recruit sex workers as peer educators to conduct health promotion, and affirm sex workers’ value as members of society, while combating stigma. The US funding restriction makes all of those activities difficult, if not impossible, undermining health promotion and contradicting evidence-based public health practice. Making health projects condemn the people they are working with only adds to the isolation and stigmatization of sex workers, placing them at higher risk for discrimination, violence and HIV, while driving them further underground and away from health and social services.

For an article on the lawsuit, click here , or click here  for info from Open Society Institute.

For more info on the DKT lawsuit, click here .