The six-day Alternative International AIDS Conference kicked off in Kolkata on Sunday with hundreds of sex workers from all over the world gathering to oppose USA's decision of not granting them travel visa.
Titled as 'Sex Workers Freedom Festival', the meeting is being held as an alternative to the International AIDS Conference, the world's largest meeting on the global epidemic, which began in Washington DC yesterday.
In a message Michele Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said he was 'extremely inspired' by the 'Freedom Festival' as "It is a wonderful example of people who face stigma and discrimination speaking out and taking control of their own destinies."
Hundreds of sex workers and their representatives from 30 countries converged in Kolkata for the unique event hosted by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee.
Appreciating the role of India, KayThi Win, who represents a community of sex workers in Myanmar, said, "The Indian government is treating us like anybody else and that is what we appreciate most."
Held every two years, the International AIDS Conference returned to the United States for the first time since 1990 after being kept away by laws that barred people with HIV from travelling to the country.
However, there was satellite communication between the two conferences so that the sex workers' and other stakeholders' could participate from Kolkata.
Khartini Slamah, who is spearheading the Malaysian Sex Workers movement, said this is the first time that transgender sex workers have been given a platform to speak and join the wider campaign for safeguarding the rights of all sex workers - female, male and transgender.
The representatives of sex workers from across the world demanded seven 'freedoms' for creating a global platform for sex workers to get their rights and meaningfully participate in the fight to end AIDS, Smarajit Jana, who chaired the conference in Kolkata said.
The governments must also affirm the fundamental right of the sex workers to be recognised under law and extend legal protection and support to make HIV programmes effective and useful, he added.