Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee


Title of Project : Reducing HIV Risk in Vulnerable Populations: Rapid Policy Assessment and Response.
Name of Indian Institution :
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee.


The APNSW was formed in 1994 by members of some of Asia’s first organizations to work on health and human rights with sex workers, Empower Thailand, Sweetly Japan, Pink Triangle Malaysia, the Scarlet Alliance Australia and Sonagachi.


The APNSW facilitates sex worker participation and information sharing on both technical and policy issues, encourages leadership amongst male, female and transgender sex workers and does direct advocacy.

Structure and Resources: 

The APNSW is governed by a core group and an advisory board that are elected every two years.

The coordinator Khartini Slamah is based in Malaysia and she moderates a listserve, provides input to relevant policy forums, coordinates participation in events and mentors emerging projects and leaders. Ms Slamah also chairs the International Network of Sex Work Projects. 

There is an office in Bangkok staffed by Andrew Hunter, Chutchai Kongmont and a group of local volunteers who are responsible for publications, events management, the website, documentation and fundraising. 

Our human capacity is high. We have many skilled and multi-lingual people in APNSW. 

The APNSW had a grant from the Alliance to strengthen its capacity between 2001 and 2005 and funds to develop material from HIVOS. It now raises a large proportion of its funding by providing technical support and from member contributions. 

Recent Achievements

Policy and advocacy: 

The APNSW has advocated on several high profile issues in recent years including bringing about review and subsequent rethinking and refinement of 100% condoms programmes and challenging unethical drug trials with sex worker subjects.

The APNSW also represents sex workers in various policy and information sharing forums including:

conferences and conference planning processes

the International Network of Sex Work Projects

7-Sisters, the regional HIV NGO coalition

Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV (APN+)

the International Lesbian and Gay Association

Action for Women’s Rights in Development Network- AWID

UNAIDS, WHO, IOM and other UN consultations

Asia Pacific Consultation on Reproductive and Sexual Health

World Social Forum

Recently the APNSW has formed a network of transgender activists that will monitor and activate on transgender health and human rights issues. Primary among these is for transgenders to self determine rather than be labeled as men within the “MSM” framework.

Technical support and leadership development: 

The Making Sex Work Safe in Asia and the Pacific project has been our main activity in networking and capacity building.

The APNSW has recognized and met the challenges of working at regional and sub regional level with NGO workers and sex workers who do not necessarily share a language and have other issues that limit participation. We have developed a cultural approach based on developing films, posters, literature, artwork and music. Through this method grass roots level sex workers have built strong alliances, developed well understood policy positions and produced high quality IEC materials. Although sex workers lead this process, people who are not sex workers are key. The productive working relationship between sex workers and professionals they trust helps ensure the success and quality of APNSW work. 

The annual journal of the International Network of Sex Work Projects, Research For Sex Work is produced in Thailand and the APNSW and is key to organizing a meeting of the five regional sex work networks due to take place later this year. 

Challenges, long and short term: 

Stigma is the main driver of sex workers’ vulnerability and the main obstacle to effective HIV programming for sex workers. Challenging stigma and discrimination is the centre of our work and is likely to remain our main long term challenge.

Policy developments such as current US policy and anti-trafficking initiatives impact negatively on sex workers’ health and human rights, on the work of individual projects in the region and on us as a network. 

Despite sex workers being the largest group of people most vulnerable to HIV and related human rights abuses, sex workers, unlike other networks have found it almost impossible to secure sustainable funding, partly perhaps as a result of mistaken perceptions and mistaken prejudices about our capacity. We are often challenged about the extent to which we “represent” men, women and transgender sex workers or promote or excuse abuse by communicating the consensus view that “sex work is work”. As the network has strengthened this has reduced and sub-regional and country level activities ensure the network is inclusive throughout the region. 

People who sell sex and are living with HIV are key to epidemic dynamics. As we enter the age of large scale treatment roll out, their access to treatment is a crucial challenge. The barriers that currently and historically limit sex workers access to sexual and other health services, prevention technologies, social and economic justice and education for themselves and their children need to be removed to ensure access to treatment 

Gender based violence:

The relationship between violence and HIV is well established. Despite repeated calls for reduction in violence against sex workers there are few programmes resourced to address it. In Cambodia sex workers say that more than 90% of women who sell sex in Phnom Penh have been raped. Similar reports of extreme, systematic violence against male, female and transgender sex workers flow in to the APNSW constantly, much of it perpetuated by police and other uniformed men. The APNSW notes the inclusion of anti-violance programming in USAID’s minimum prevention package for sex work programmed in the Mekong area and encourages all institutions to adopt similar positions.

Sex Workers Contribution to regional scale up:

The APNSW and its constituent organizations understand and are fully committed to supporting the expansion of HIV programming to a level of coverage that slows or stops HIV and STI epidemics. However we are well versed in many of the challenges we face in the attempt to initiate and support activities with sex workers and their clients in the millions of cities, towns, highways, villages and islands throughout our huge region.

At the outset of the epidemic many of us worked in urban centres, often the most tolerant available settings. Since then experience has shown us that as scale increases we increasingly work in more restrictive environments and in settings where sex workers live and work in small communities, often negotiating a delicate balance upon which their survival depends. 

Working to scale requires large scale mobilization. Technical support cannot be aimed exclusively at sympathetic NGO workers and sex worker leaders. Training, leadership development, help to set up outreach and drop-in centres must address large numbers, many of whom are new to working on sex work issues, and do so rapidly. 

The APNSW has developed and tested methods for providing relevant technical support and has a wealth of experience in documenting and disseminating innovative ways for meeting these challenges.

New Page 1