Rose has been a sex worker for 15 years. She was reluctantly introduced to sex work by a violent ex-partner.
Despite her traumatic experiences Rose has the personal strength and warmth that has enabled her to make something from her experiences.
She is an outreach worker for the PT Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, which provides information to sex workers.
“I regret that PT wasn’t around to help me when I was going through my difficult times ... maybe I would have become something else. But I still feel that I can be whoever I want to be.”
PT Foundation is a partner of Alliance Linking Organisation, the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC). MAC is the Principal Recipient of a Global Fund grant (Round 10) which supports activities which aim to prevent the transmission of HIV among people who inject drugs, sex workers, mak nyah (transgender people) and men who have sex with men.
In Malaysia, an estimated 105,400 people are living with HIV and the estimated number of new infections annually stands at 10,375. Female and mak nyah sex workers have an HIV prevalence rate of 10% (second only to people who use drugs) These two groups are not distinct populations, which only serves to further increase their risk of HIV infection.
Image: Sex workers talk to outreach workers at an outdoor café during a street shift in Kuala Lumpur. © International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Rose: “It is hard to get sex workers to test for HIV and then to disclose if they are positive. If someone did say there were HIV positive there would be support for them but it is difficult.
“A sex worker friend of mine, we were inseparable, but I did not know she was living with HIV. Only three months before my friend died I found out. If I had been working with PT Foundation at the time then I might have been able to save her life.”
Image: Rose on an 11pm to 4am shift, providing condoms, information and support to sex workers in Kuala Lumpur. © International HIV/AIDS Alliance
“We get a lot of stick from the police, they’ll say that we are encouraging people to sell sex by distributing condoms but that’s not true. I am proud that I am part of PT Foundation’s mission to help reduce HIV in vulnerable communities.”
Image: A pack of Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) branded condoms, handed out sex workers during outreach programmes. © International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Thanks to the partnership between Malaysian civil society and the Global Fund, Rose and her colleagues are able to provide outreach strategies and sensitisation workshops targeted at key community leaders, and law enforcement officers and state-level religious authorities who frequently arrest or fine sex workers.
Image: Rose, bottom right, with other outreach workers for the PT Foundation in Kuala Lumpur. They’re a close knit team, supporting each other not just in work but in life. © International HIV/AIDS Alliance
The PT Foundation has also developed a leaflet which informs sex workers of their rights. “This has been very helpful,” says Jlofa, who has experienced problems from the state-level religious authorities in the past. “When the authorities come I tell them I know my rights. As soon as we start talking about rights they just move away.”
There is now hope for the estimated 60,000 female and mak nyah sex workers in Malaysia. This Global Fund supported programme aims to reach 11,900 of them over the five year period of the grant. Success will be measured in terms of increased coverage and increased safe behaviours.
Image: Jlofa entering Rose’s number into her phone. Being a peer outreach worker is more than just a job; even after clocking off at 4am they are available if someone needs support.