In 2012, as the result of lengthy and consultative processes, a number of UN agencies published two reports *) that recommend the decriminalisation of sex work to help address human rights abuses faced by sex workers, and call for better access to health services.
Recently, Equality Now, a USA based NGO working to end violence against women and girls, has critiqued this recommendation claiming that it is “in direct opposition to international human rights standards” and “jeopardizes efforts to prevent and address sex trafficking and promote gender equality”. Instead, Equality now prefers to promote the so-called “Swedish model” which criminalizes the purchase of sex services.
In response, local and international sex workers’ rights groups have issued statements in defence of their human rights. Red Umbrella Fund grantee Sisonke from South Africa has issued a statement in collaboration with the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).
“When Equality Now suggests “we listen” – who are they suggesting we listen to?”,
Kholi Buthelezi, National Coordinator of Sisonke questioned.
“I would like them to listen to me, and other sex workers who participated in the deliberations of the Commission [on HIV and the Law]. The Swedish model has failed, criminalisation does not prevent nor enable anyone to address trafficking – rather it enables stigma and drives violence against sex workers”.
In the statement, Sisonke addresses the many misconceptions raised by Equality Now and makes a case for a revised report.
“The UN together with a spectrum of experts, researchers and advisors have made knowledgeable and powerful recommendations based on hundreds of testimonies, and on evidence based on rigorous research. Its recommendations should be supported – not labelled as jeopardising gender equality.”
Sisonke presents itself as the national movement of sex workers in South Africa. Based in Cape Town, Sisonke currently has active representation in seven provinces and fights for the decriminalisation of sex work and improvement of working and living conditions for sex workers. The network’s activities comprise the mobilisation, organisation and sensitization of sex workers through outreach activities, trainings and workshops and campaigns on human rights. Through advocacy campaigns, public events and meetings, Sisonke has been successful in addressing issues of violence, discrimination and unsafe working conditions for sex workers. They have also secured better access to services and advocate forthe inclusion of sex workers in decision-making spaces.
Sisonke is hosted by SWEAT and is a founding member of the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). With the one-year core grant from the Red Umbrella Fund, Sisonke is able to expand its work throughout South Africa and strengthen its internal structures by setting up a National Steering Committee of sex workers.
By Eva Cukier, Red Umbrella Fund
*) HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (2012), the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report published by UNDP and Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (2012) by UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS.
Related statements by international networks of sex workers:
- Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
- Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW)
- African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA)
Crossposted from Mama Cash