WGNRR Supports Amnesty International’s Draft Policy for the Decriminalization of Sex Work

Posted on August 7, 2015

WGNRR expresses its full support to Amnesty International regarding the Draft Policy for the Decriminalization of Sex Work. Read the full letter addressed to Mr. Salil Shetty, Secretary General here.

Mr. Salil Shetty, Secretary General
Amnesty International

Dear Mr. Shetty,

Greetings from the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), a Southern-based global network that builds and strengthens movements advocating for the full realization of the sexual and reproductive health, rights (SRHR) and justice of all people.

As a network of more than 1000 members around the globe advocating, promoting and defending SRHR, we would like to extend our full support for Amnesty International’s Resolution and proposed policy opposing the criminalization or punishment of activities relating to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults. Tabled for adoption at the ongoing International Council Meeting from the 6-11 August 2015, we see this proposal as a much needed step forward in creating policies that meaningfully work towards realizing the human rights of sex workers. It is our hope that Amnesty International continues to develop this progressive approach in line with the needs, voices, and rights of those most impacted, namely sex workers themselves.

As you know, the criminalization of sex work has been shown to promote and perpetuate associated stigma and discrimination, compromising sex workers’ health, safety, and ability to exercise their rights.[1] Where sex work is criminalized, sex workers not only have a decreased ability to negotiate safer sex with clients; as a result of the covert nature of their work, sex workers experience high levels of physical and sexual violence,[2] at risk of abuse from both clients and police.[3] Aware of the risks in reporting human rights abuses to the police, many sex workers are often reluctant to turn to law enforcement agencies for help, since they run the risk of experiencing additional harassment and violence, with police often failing to investigate complaints of abuses, and limited access to seek justice and legal recourse.[4] Moreover, sex workers face barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services, including denial of treatment and/or abuse at the hands of healthcare providers, both of which deter sex workers from accessing needed healthcare information and services.[5][6]

The criminalization of sex work has also placed women human rights defenders at risk, as evidenced in the case of the Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA).[7] WONETHA, a sex worker organization based in Uganda and one of WGNRR’s constituents, has faced ongoing harassment and criminal charges, which the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) has asserted is based solely on discrimination against sex workers, the community WONETHA serves.

Criminalizing sex work, and conflating the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults with trafficking, aggravates the risks sex workers face. It also undermines the response to HIV,[8] and perpetuates harmful patriarchal ideologies and gender stereotypes. And as noted in Amnesty International’s draft policy, numbers of UN agencies and human rights bodies have spoken out against the criminalization of sex work, among them the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. In 2010, the Special Rapporteur stated that criminalization violates sex workers’ right to health in multiple ways, and that “decriminalization, along with the institution of appropriate occupational health and safety regulations, safeguards the rights of sex workers.”[9]

We at WGNRR align ourselves with the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) in their statement of support for Amnesty International´s Resolution and draft policy. The proposed policy is evidence-based, grounded in human rights and harm reduction principles, and was developed through a process of meaningful consultation with sex workers themselves. We see it as an important step forward in developing policies that effectively contribute to better safeguards for sex workers, and in turn protect their human rights, including their rights to self-determination, privacy, health, to work and free choice of employment, to associate and organize, and to be free from violence and discrimination, among others.

As it is sex workers who stand to be most impacted by policies and programming concerning the sex work industry, it is integral that any policy which seeks to protect or defend the rights of sex workers ensure full consultation with sex workers themselves, and their meaningful involvement in the policy development process. In this regard, we support Amnesty International’s continued efforts in developing policies that are evidence-based, progressive, and reflective of the needs, voices, and rights of sex workers, in addition to advocating for the conformity of States’ laws and practices with international treaties and human rights standards.


Kathy Mulville

Executive Director



[1]Commission for Gender Equality (2013), Position Paper On Sex Work: Decriminalizing Sex Work in South Africa.

[2]American Jewish World Service (2013), Sex Worker Rights, p. 6.

[3] Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (2008), Documenting Human Rights Violations of Sex Workers in Kenya: A Report Based on Findings of a Study Conducted in Nairobi, Kisumu, Busia, Nanyuki, Mombasa and Malindi Towns in Kenya; Jenkins, Carol, et al (2006), Violence and Exposure to HIV Among Sex Workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

[4] Open Society Foundations, Common Human Rights Violations Experienced By Sex Workers; American Jewish World Service (2013), Sex Worker Rights, p. 6.

[5]American Jewish World Service (2013), Sex Worker Rights, p. 6.

[6]Commission for Gender Equality (2013), Position Paper On Sex Work: Decriminalizing Sex Work in South Africa.

[7] Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) (2012), International Coalition Condemns Human Rights Violations Against WONETHA.

[8]Shannon, Kate et al (2014), Global epidemiology of HIV among female sex workers: influence of structural determinants. The Lancet, 385(9962) : 55 – 71.

[9]U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, para. 46, Apr. 27, 2010, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/14/20.


Photo taken from: Blog Post