Utterances by United Nations Executive Director Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka that all women in the sex work industry are victims and the ones buying the services are perpetrators during a webinar on Monday 20 July 2020 undermines the work by Sisonke National Movement of Sex Workers and organisations such as SWEAT of more than 20 years’ call to decriminalise sex work in South Africa; Asijiki, a 112-membership organisation; 18 Civil Society Sector and vast number of international organisations.
On 11 March 2016 at the launch of the South African National Sex Worker HIV Plan, then Deputy President and now President, the Honourable Cyril Ramaphosa noted sex work as work and unacceptable that one department [health] gives condoms and another [police] confiscates them.
He added that sex workers should not have to suffer and die from diseases that are preventable and affect us all. “Sex workers can no longer be denied their constitutional rights, be beaten up with no recourse to justice, or that they can be subjected to unlawful arrest. In this we are guided by the letter and spirit of our Constitution.”
Sisonke National Movement of Sex Workers is baffled that a woman of her [Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka] stature who has fought for the liberation of women and once served as deputy president of South Africa as the first woman in the country, now bashes women’s rights to decision and aids in stigmatising their efforts to earn an independent living to provide for their families.
Had our call to decriminalise sex work been heeded more than 20 years ago, sex workers would not have been subjected to these injustices and the ongoing acts of gender-based violence from those taking advantage of the criminalised system. Just like many generating an income in South Africa, sex workers are mothers, sisters and aunts contributing to the economy and development of the country.
Lest we forget, sex work is not limited to sexual intercourse, but a variety of services between consenting adults. Sisonke is aware and condemns acts of human trafficking and abuse by those taking advantage of the system for their illegal doings.
In aid to curb the scourge of poverty and abuse, Sisonke seeks to record and educate adult men and women in the industry. We under no circumstances work with underage children, trafficked men and women. We advocate for the safety and health of those in the industry.
Now faced with Covid-19 some had the privilege of registering and benefitting for government relief which did not afford those in our industry the same opportunities. We are well aware of grants in place from Social Development, however, those are limited to their beneficiaries which are children, the elderly and those with disabilities. Men and women are not catered for and remain in abusive marriages and relationships.
Sex work is the answer to those who are also discriminated and spewed by the formalised job market, this however, does not equate to being desperate, but a healthy and dignified manner to earn a living for themselves and their loved ones.