Exactly 20 years ago 70 women took it upon themselves to form a Movement to challenge the stigma and discrimination endured by sex workers – particularly street-based sex workers, fuelling the racial and economic divide among women.
Continuing the work of male sex worker and social worker, Shane Peltzer (may he continue to rest in power), to decriminalise sex work in South Africa, these women from all walks of life established Sisonke National Sex Workers’ Movement.
Sisonke National Sex Workers’ Movement with the force of these women, saw the rise in nine other African countries following suit.
It was this South African-based Movement which birthed Sisonke Botswana, Kenyan-based KESWA, Malawan-based FESWA including Zimbabwean-based ZIMSWA, spreading the notion of women empowerment in the sex work industry as far afield as Uganda and Nigeria.
Despite sex work being criminalised in many of these countries, the unity to rally behind each other and hold governments to account for the gross inhumane human rights violations targeting women in sex work at the hands of healthcare workers, law enforcement agencies including general members of the public has brought about the much-needed shift in how sex workers’ rights are being addressed.
Taking South Africa for an example, almost three decades into the call to decriminalize sex work, members of the public were in 2022 afforded the opportunity to publicly comment on the amendment of the Sexual Offenses Act.
The two-prong Bill afforded sex workers the opportunity to have their existing criminal records (only those records which entailed the admission of guilt to purchase/solicit the sale of sex) expunged. Secondly the Bill would lawfully permit the sale and purchase of sex, sexual activities between consenting adults.
These provisions have since been marred with provisions from the State Law Advisor to regulate the industry and make provisions for matters already addressed in the Children’s Act and laws regulating human trafficking. Thus, leaving sex workers with no human dignity, existing criminal records which push them [sex workers] further in the racial and economic divide.
Of course the struggle does not end with the marred Decrim Bill, but continue with these women joining forces with members of the 18-sector civil society forum who are at the forefront of addressing the scourge of HIV, TB and STIs including GBVF.
This women’s month we applaud the women who have stood by Sisonke National Sex Work Movement to continue the advocacy work to repeal punitive laws preventing sex workers from accessing and exercising their Constitutional rights to economic freedom, healthcare, justice and freedom of association.
AMAAAAAAAANDLA! AMAAAAAAAANDLA! Wathinta abafazi wathinta imbokodo! Sixth Administration give us the first YES #decriminalizesexwork