Journal Article

Knowledge and exercise of human rights, and barriers and facilitators to claiming rights: A cross-sectional study of female sex workers and high-risk men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh, India

HIV prevention interventions recognize the need to protect the rights of key populations and support them to claim their rights as a vulnerability reduction strategy. This study explores knowledge of human rights, and barriers and facilitators to claiming rights, among female sex workers (FSWs) and high-risk men who have sex with men (HR-MSM) who are beneficiaries of a community mobilization intervention in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Data are drawn from a cross-sectional survey (2014) among 2400 FSWs and 1200 HR-MSM. Human rights awareness was assessed by asking respondents if they had heard of human rights (yes/no); those reporting awareness of rights were asked to spontaneously name specific rights from the following five pre-defined categories: right to health; dignity/equality; education; property; and freedom from discrimination. Respondents were classified into two groups: more knowledgeable (could identify two or more rights) and less knowledgeable (could identify one or no right). Univariate and bivariate analyses and chi-square tests were used. Data were analyzed using STATA 11.2.

Overall 17% FSWs and 8% HR-MSM were not aware of their rights. Among those aware, 62% and 31% respectively were aware of just one or no right (less knowledgeable); only around half (54% vs 57%) were aware of health rights, and fewer (20% vs 16%) aware of their right to freedom from discrimination. Notably, 27% and 17% respectively had not exercised their rights. Barriers to claiming rights among FSWs and HR-MSM were neighbors (35% vs 37%), lack of knowledge (15% vs 14%), stigma (13% vs 22%) and spouse (19% FSWs). Community organizations (COs) were by far the leading facilitator in claiming rights (57% vs 72%).

The study findings show that awareness of human rights is limited among FSWs and HR-MSM, and a large proportion have not claimed their rights, elevating their HIV vulnerability. For a sustained HIV response, community mobilization efforts must focus on building key populations’ awareness of rights, and addressing the multiple barriers to claiming rights, with a view to creating a safe environment where vulnerable groups can demand and use services without fear of stigma, discrimination and violation of rights.