NGO trains Benue health workers on sex workers rights

By Martin Iyonguvihi

Sex workers have rights and those rights must be respected by everybody, as well as the healthcare providers, in order to create an atmosphere of confidence in accessing medical services.

This was the focus of a two-day workshop organized by the African Women Development Fund in partnership with a non-governmental organization, Concerned Women International Development Initiative (CWIDI), for healthcare workers on human rights need for sex workers in Benue.

The workshop recently organized at Chateau De Victoria Hotel, Makurdi drew participants from the federal, state and private health facilities in the state.

Lecturing on the topics: “Understanding Human Rights,” “Human Rights under Colonial Rule,” “Fundamental Rights as stated in African Charter on Persons and the 1999 Constitution,” “The Right to Privacy,” “Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Law Benue State 2019,” “Patients Bill of Rights,” “Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),” “The National Health Act,” the facilitator, Barr Mike Utsaha said the objective of the training isn’t to convert the health care providers into human rights activists but rather to cause a mental adjustment that will affect their relationship with their patients generally, and with people, who identified themselves as sex workers.

“The objective of being here today is to enhance the relationship between the health care providers and a category of persons who access the services you health workers offer and to see how we can improve that relationship and ultimately promote health care service delivery.

“The philosophical basis for this workshop is that sex workers have rights and those rights have to be respected by everybody, including the health workers, because if we do not respect and protect the rights of these sex workers and they do not have the confidence to access the medical services that all of us offer, the society will be in danger. They have rights to access health care in an atmosphere of dignity and respect,” Utsaha said.

According to him, human rights are those basic entitlement that are attached to people as their rights, based on nothing but their humanity. He categoried these rights into civil and political; as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

He said there are at least 12 fundamental human rights under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended which are intertwined and are: The right to life, regarded as the most fundamental of all of them; Right to dignity of the human person; Right to personal liberty; Right to fair hearing; Right to private and family life;

Others, according to Utsaha are; Freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Freedom of expression and of the press; Right to peaceful assembly and association; Right to freedom of movement; Right to freedom from discrimination; Right to acquire and owned immoveable property anywhere in Nigeria; and the right to restriction on and derogation from fundamental rights.

The training traced the foundation of human rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, through the Republicans Constitution of Nigeria 1963 which captures it as a bill of rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, to 1979 Constitution, where these rights first appeared in the Nigerian construction as fundamental human rights.

According to Utsaha, the world is changing and there is need to change with it, and the easiest way to change with the world is to arm oneself with relevant information.

Also delivering a lecture, titled: “Human rights and the role of health care providers,” Prof. Ebenezer Durojaye, who was also a resource person at the workshop said: “Healthcare providers must treat all patients with respect and dignity irrespective of class, gender, health status or age, any discrimination based on any of the grounds mentioned above is unacceptable and will amount to a violation of human rights.

“For instance, refusing treatment to a person living with, sex workers and refugees and asylum seekers is not permitted as it will lead to rights violation.

“Freedom to be free from non-discrimination implies that all human beings/patients are to be treated equally without any distinctions. It also means that no one may be denied of any opportunities, services or treatment due to race, colour, tribe/ethnic groups, religion, political associations, nationality etc.”

He also said: “Respect for the right to information of patients by health providers. The right to information can be viewed in two ways, the right of the patient to be informed of the nature of treatment he/she is provided and the right to know of the outcome of his/her diagnosis.

“Healthcare providers are obliged to provide relevant information to patients, including adolescents seeking health care services. On no ground should a patient be denied important information by virtue of age, race, gender, refugee or asylum seekers status, or sexual orientation.”

Prof. Ebenezer cautioned the participant on the importance and need to adhere to the regulations, in order to avoid being disciplined by professional bodies they belong to or exposed to court actions either civil or criminal matter, or being summarily dismissed from employment or blacklisted from their profession or have their license withdrawn.

Speaking earlier, the state Co-ordinator of CWIDI, Becky Gbihi said, the NGO has over time continued to advocate for the rights of women in society and the workshop focuses on enlightening health workers on the need to support sex workers to access necessary support and services that respect their diverse needs and identities such as Sexually Transmitter Infections (STI) treatment, contraceptives, in case of gender-based violence such as rape, etc.

She also said the workshop aimed to enhance participants’ knowledge about health and human rights and the role of health workers, and build the capacity of health care workers to advocate for the rights of vulnerable populations such as sex workers.

Speaking at the end of the workshop, some participants, Andrew Iyaji, from Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Elizabeth Odo, from the Federal Medical Centre, and Ode Edugbeke, of Multi Care Hospital, all in Makurdi, in separate remarks lauded the initiative as it has broadened their knowledge of human rights, their duties, and rights as healthcare providers and positioned them better to relating with not just the sex workers but all who seek for medical care.

According to Iyaji, “I want to say that it exceeded my expectations. I have been enlightened about human rights and the right of sex workers as a group of people that need health care. I have had the mindset that they are human beings and we all are equal, although the workshop has further enlightened and strengthened my resolve to treat all persons as humans first, and not discriminate any human on the basis of what they do or who they are.

“I have learnt so much on human rights and about all the laws at different levels up to international level that seek to protect sex workers and all human beings in general. I want to thank CWIDI for allowing us this opportunity to learn and it will help to improve our practice.”

Highlights of the workshop was a post-workshop evaluation on the training of health workers on human rights, to test the participants on the knowledge gained.

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