3 March: International Sex Worker Rights Day

International Sex Workers Rights Day is commemorated globally on March 3rd every year to recognise sex workers’ rights. This year, Sisonke National Sex Workers Movement of South Africa together with partners, The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Asijiki Coalition and ally organisations will honour this day across all provinces through various activities with a common goal: a renewed call to government to decriminalise sex work.

In 2018, the Commission for Gender Equality’s investigative report into the gross violations of sex workers’ rights, that was subsequently tabled in Parliament, concludes that ‘criminalisation of sex work is contrary to international law and unfairly infringes upon the fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution’.

Sisonke National Coordinator and Sisonke founder, Kholi Buthelezi, agrees and says that ‘criminalisation of sex work started with the Immorality Act of 1927 which was then amended in 1957 and renamed as the Sexual Offences Act. This Act, further oppresses sex workers, promoting human rights violations and abuse – not to mention how it has fuelled stigmatisation and marginalisation of sex workers. 

The focus on activities this year will be the human rights violations experience across the spectrum: physical and sexual violence, stigmatisation; barriers to access justice and health care and in particularly labour rights.

Recently it was announced by the South African government that users of popular website, OnlyFans, will be charged standard value added tax (VAT) rates. This comes after OnlyFans, a subscription content service, grew exponentially during 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The online platform, that features a host of content creators, including sex workers, will now have to pay 15% of all their earnings to the South African Revenue Services (SARS).

This was confirmed with SARS explaining that the ‘VAT is imposed under the Act which requires businesses that carry on an enterprise in South Africa to register for VAT and charge the VAT on sales made to its customers’. While this move to collect tax form a criminalised industry seem legally justifiable it is morally and ethically questionable.

The impact of COVID19 on the sex work industry continues to be devastating. Since the start of the pandemic sex workers and sex worker rights organisations have implored the South African government to support the industry – calls that went ignored. Many sex workers now creating content on OnlyFans were forced to do so because of their inability to earn an income during the pandemic. The decision then to impose tax seem unbelievably cruel, especially considering the government’s continued reluctance to decriminalise sex work.  SWEAT will be hosting an Instagram live on conversation on 2 March 2021 with Sisonke, Sonke Gender Justice, and the Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation on Sex Work.  Join us.

For more details on the activities to be hosted in the provinces, contact:

Megan Lessing at 021 448 7875 or email meganl@sweat.org.za Yonela Sinqu at 021 448 7875 or email yonelas@sweat.org.za