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Thursday, 20 September 2012 08:26

MPs’ eyes opened to rights in sex trade

By Zara Nicholson, Cape Times

POLICE and health-care workers must be trained to deal with sex workers and protect their human rights, MPs said yesterday after a briefing on the plight of women in the sex trade.

In a bid to decriminalise the sex trade, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) yesterday highlighted the effects of the stigma attached to sex workers.

Ntokozo Yingwana, advocacy officer for Sweat, told MPs at the Multiparty Women’s Caucus that the criminalisation of sex work through the Sexual Offences Act enabled widespread abuse of power by police and health professionals.

Yingwana said the stigma prevented sex workers from getting access to health services. “Sex workers’ access to health care is limited due to discrimination by health-care workers, who verbally abuse sex workers for coming to clinics too often for condoms or sexually transmitted disease (STD) treatment,” Yingwana said.

She said sex workers often reported abuses by police, such as rape, physical assault and being forced into providing sexual favours. Yingwana said it was also difficult for police to enforce the law as the only evidence they could confiscate was condoms.

She said the confiscation of condoms also posed a threat to sex workers’ health.

Several MPs welcomed the presentation and said it was their duty as lawmakers to ensure that sex workers’ human rights were protected.

ANC MP Pam Tshwete said: “As lawmakers, we need to know about your concerns and monitor them. It is clear police, society and health-care professionals must be trained to deal with sex workers .”

Other MPs agreed, saying it was important that sex workers’ rights were protected from any abuse.

Women’s Caucus chairwoman Beauty Dlulane said the presentation by Sweat was an “eye-opener”.

“The constitution ensures human rights for all. We now know what issues they face, because we did not want to critisise them without hearing from them,” Dlulane said.

She asked all MPs to discuss sex workers’ issues with their party caucuses and have further discussions with Sweat.

[This news article was sourced from the IOL.co.za: MPs' eyes opened to rights in sex trade]

Published in News

By Robert Hamblin, and Sistaz Hood

“Her work was illegal and her identity a shame. Transgender sex workers suffer more than just one hate in society” said Netta Marcus from the Sistaz Hood Transgender Sex Workers support group at Sex Worker Advocacy and Education Task force (SWEAT) in Cape Town.

The transgender women* from The Sistaz Hood marched in solidarity with lesbian and gay groups today, to protest the non delivery of government action on hate crimes in South Africa. The LGBT people participating in the march handed a memorandum of demands to Western Cape ANC official Songezo Mjonggile.

In recent weeks, there has been a very visible surge in hate crime towards LGBT people. Nine LGBT people were murdered in SA. In Cape Town the Sistaz Hood lost one of their members, Sasha Lee 37, only two weeks ago. She was stabbed through the heart and left to die on a pavement in Wynberg. She is one of many sisters the group has lost in the years they have known one another.

There is no research on Trans people in South African but an international study with five participating countries found that one transgender woman is killed for every working day of the month.

Most often these transwomen are sex workers. The study documents the homicides of transgender women where clear hate crime was documented by authorities. **

In recent weeks Sasha-Lee was not the only gender variant person to be murdered because of their lives and situations as people challenged by gender identity or sexual orientation. A gay man in Kuruman was near decapitated and a transgender women in the Eastern Cape was also murdered this week.

Other campaigns in the last 24 months have created a very clear consciousness about the systemic violent rape of lesbian women because of their sexual orientation. Government has failed to produce the hate crimes response it has promised and the problem becomes more fatal for LGBT people each day that government fails to respond.

The Sistaz Hood Transgender women sex workers group is one of the largest known organised gatherings of transgender people in South Africa on a regular basis. The members also do advocacy work whereby they document the typical situations of the average black transgender woman of South Africa. Severe marginalisation due to stigma surrounding gender variant presentation has them leading outsider lives since their teenage years. The average group member has been indigent since they were a young age and sex work is most often part of their survival strategies.

They struggle with ensuing addiction issues, homelessness and HIV and experience a consistent prejudice from all that is a service provider regarding health and other basic human rights. Fear of being murdered is daily reality for all of them. Every single one of them has lost a friend to a hate crime.

Says Sistaz Hood: We are who we are – stop Killing us. We implore government to respond to this genocide.

SWEAT works from a human rights perspective and towards the total decrimilisation of sex work. For more information on the above issues contact Sally-Jean Shackleton director of SWEAT at 011 488-7875 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*Transgender woman: A transgender woman is a person who was born with a male body and who has the gender identity of a woman. (Male to female transsexual)

**Murder Monitoring Project

For more images of The Sistaz Hood visit the SWEAT FACEBOOK page.



Published in SWEAT Press Releases

By Kate Forbes, BBC News

Will prostitution ever be decriminalised in South Africa? The women's league of the governing African National Congress party hopes so and it has claimed a victory which takes the country one step further towards legal soliciting, writes the BBC's Kate Forbes in Johannesburg.

Lilly, 32, has been working as a prostitute in Johannesburg for six years.

She puts her coffee cup down gently to avoid drawing attention, as she explains to me in a low voice what life is like as a prostitute on the city's very mean streets.

"I know of women caught on the streets by police who have been the victims of horrific humiliation," she says.

"Like spraying pepper spray on a woman's private parts, or forcing her to stand naked while they take photos.

"You can't make a complaint because you'll be arrested and prosecuted for being a sex worker. You have no rights."

Lilly and her peers embody the argument for decriminalising prostitution in South Africa.

A conservative society and unsympathetic police force leave women and men in the sex industry with few rights when things go wrong.

However, the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) has just won a key victory to change things for men and women like Lilly.

The principle of decriminalisation was adopted at the recent ANC's policy conference, which sets it on track for approval when the party meets again to decide national policy in December.


Unexpected move?
Hlengiwe Mkhize, the group's treasurer and South Africa's deputy minister of economic development, laughs when asked if this is a new direction for the women's league.

The ANC Women's League treasurer and Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Professor Hlengiwe MkhizaHlengiwe Mkhize says money spent harassing sex workers could be better spent retraining them

They are working hard to shake off a sometimes unfair reputation for being benign church-going ladies who let the rest of the ANC do the talking.

"Yes, it may be seen as an unexpected move from us, but we have seen that there is a need to protect women, and that this agenda is not being addressed," she says.

"We made a decision that [prostitutes] are women too, and need protection.

"There is no context here that protects women's rights; there are no special laws, we don't have shelters for vulnerable women and there isn't a network of help for them."

It is the women's league's aim to help women "reclaim their dignity", she says.

"The money we spend harassing and criminalising them could be spent retraining or re-orienting them."

So does the decriminalisation debate show that women in South Africa are becoming more able to steer the political debate?

Before the first free elections in 1994, the ANCWL was told that it should not be campaigning for women's rights but focus on the national liberation struggle instead.

After 1994, the group has achieved victories such as the creation of a ministry for women, but the political landscape remains one dominated by men.

For a nation reborn on the principle of equality, South Africa has found it difficult to make that equality a reality for women.

Women earn less, have fewer opportunities and suffer high levels of rape and assault.

South Africa is traditionally Christian and conservative, and so the argument over supply and demand of sex workers is key to the debate here, as are concerns over the trafficking of women.

A friend of Lilly's, Sarah, also a prostitute, says that she thinks twice before reporting underage or trafficked women to the police.

"I don't want to get taken in by the police for soliciting," she says.

"It is really risky, so it's difficult to report. Sometimes you just mind your own business."


'Encourage demand'

But for trade union group Fedusa, which represents workers across the racial spectrum in South Africa, decriminalisation misses the point.

"We think that decriminalising prostitution will encourage supply, which will in turn encourage demand," says Dennis George, the union's general secretary. Close-up image of Lilly's handsSex workers like Lilly and Sarah may one day be able to work legally

"If there is bad policing let's tackle that," he says emphatically, speaking to the BBC as he runs between meetings.

"We know it's an industry as old as the mountains but that doesn't mean we have to live with it."

Trade unions are hugely influential in politics in South Africa, and so Fedusa's opposition is important.

However, an even bigger union grouping, Cosatu, has lent its support to the women's league on this issue, and so the months leading up to December will see fierce debate on whether prostitution will eventually become decriminalised.

Change for women like Lilly is on the horizon, although it may not be soon.

"We have strengthened our position and we're going to use that to strengthen the position of women who are some of the most disadvantaged in our society," says Ms Mkhize.

"We are on track for change".

[This news article was sourced from BBC News: Will South Africa make prostitution legal?]

Published in News

By Kgomotso Matsunyane and Oratile Moseki

It is time to move on and consider the evidence on sex work. We are disappointed to note that the ANC Women’s League has decided to retract what appeared to be support for the decriminalisation of sex work, stating that “more engagement” on the issue was needed.

While respecting their decision, SWEAT and our decriminalisation supporters say it’s about time the controversies plaguing the issue were dealt with.

There is a shift in focus towards evidence that supports total decriminalisation, and we say that at the heart of these issues are sex worker voices, choices and needs.

This information is supreme in that it comes from the experiences of the sex workers themselves.

It is a little known fact that the ANC first seriously considered options to legalise sex work 18 years ago in 1996, when “decriminalisation” or alternatively “legalisation of sex work” was discussed. si sex workers

The issue proved too controversial to decide upon and has evolved into a call for the “dignity of women” as articulated in the ANC gender discussion document.

Controversies around women’s issues, gender and economic inequalities are not uncommon and come with the territory.

They should not be feared by the ANCWL.

In all such cases strong and brave leadership is needed to defend women’s rights and will be needed here in order to move beyond the impasse of 1996.

The ANCWL has such leaders: during Cosatu Gender Conference deliberations in March, Women’s League President Angie Motshekga spoke out on radio and in session saying women must discuss the issues that affect them, no matter how controversial they are.

The ANCWL has come one step closer to empowering women by acknowledging that criminalising sex workers does not work.

Now is the time to move beyond that. We can’t afford to wait another 18 years.

Yes, we agree with the ANCWL that it is time to engage. It is time to engage sex workers who can and do speak for themselves and are completely capable of knowing what is in their best interests, and of making decisions about their lives.

This is a fundamental right that we build our argument on. Sex workers are family members, parents, churchgoers and community leaders.

Partial criminalisation, in which the client is criminalised and not the sex workers, is a law reform which is based on the assumption that women are incapable of making decisions about their lives; that they need to be “rescued”.

It is a law reform option that totally objectifies women, while completely disregarding their agency. In this sense it is worse than criminalisation, where although considered a crime, at least the law acknowledges that sex workers are capable of choosing to do it. Taking the views of the sex workers out of the equation provides the most demeaning legal view of women and reinforces patriarchal control of women’s choices and bodies.

If the ANCWL wants to empower women, to challenge patriarchy, to show that women are just as capable as men of designing and deciding their own destinies, it certainly should not support partial criminalisation.

Criminalisation of sex work, which has been in place for 55 years and is founded on “moral” values with little evidential support, has crippled any traction on the issue.

In an interview recently, Motshekga admitted their reluctance has been as a result of league members not knowing what the implications of law change would be (The Star Monday June 18, 2012, “Searching for Common Ground”).

Moral views without any basis in fact are dangerous and South Africans know this first hand from our experience of apartheid, for instance, which was a policy decision rooted in morality and beliefs without basis. We have moved on from there, and have since made decisions in spite of the controversy surrounding them.

So, what is the evidence?

Let us consider two common concerns to illustrate our point.

The first is the belief that decriminalising sex work will lead to an increase in the numbers of sex workers, particularly of younger women. There is no evidence to show that decriminalising sex work has any effect on the numbers of sex workers.

In fact, no legal system at all has been shown to do this.

Research in Australia, where in some states sex work is legalised, in another it is criminalised and in one other decriminalised, there is no difference in the percentage of sex workers in relation to the general population. Research from New Zealand shows that after sex work was decriminalised in 2003, there has not been a significant increase in the numbers (Basil Donovan, et al., The Sex Industry in Western Australia: A Report to the Western Australia Government vii, 6, 9 [2010]).

The other common fear is that decriminalising sex work will lead to higher rates of trafficking.

This too has been shown not to be the case. Firstly it must be said that sex work and trafficking are not the same thing. Sex work is adult, consensual and done in private.

Trafficking has to do with forced work and exploitation. A five-year review of decriminalisation in New Zealand has shown no evidence of an increase in trafficking, or of more under-age sex workers (New Zealand Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003’, May 2008.)

Other such research also exists.

The fact is, sex workers don’t want crime just as much as the next person, and by decriminalising it, sex workers can openly report crimes such as trafficking and child sexual exploitation without fearing prosecution.

In no other legal system is the opportunity for sex workers to expose crime as great as it is in decriminalisation.

SWEAT encourages policymakers to use five key criteria when considering any sex work law or policy. We believe we can agree on these.

The first thing to consider when reviewing a possible law is whether it protects sex workers from police abuse. Secondly, does the law make sex workers vulnerable to labour exploitation?

Thirdly, does it make it difficult for sex workers to exit the industry freely? Fourthly, can sex workers access respectful health care and other services?

And finally, can the police tackle real crimes like trafficking and child exploitation effectively, and can sex workers report them?

There is more evidence, and a lot of experience in the area to guide our lawmakers.

There is no better time than now.

Matsunyane is a SWEAT Board Member and Moseki is Advocacy & Human Rights Defence Manager at SWEAT

[This news article was sourced from IOL News: SWEAT wants women's league a stand]

Published in SWEAT Press Releases

DECRIMINALISATION OF SEX WORK - THE ONLY LEGAL ARRANGEMENT WHICH OFFERS DIGNITY TO WOMEN

Introduction
We welcome the opportunity to input to the policy position of the most significant political party in South Africa, and to its Women’s League, on an issue of great importance to us and to many thousands of South Africans. We have designed our submission to be relevant, accurate and accessible – based on evidence which we have accessed and which we have collected from South Africa, or from places relevant to our South African experience. We are convinced that evidence-based policy decisions are vital in this area, which has been populated for too long by failed approaches based on ideology rather than reality.

[See below a downloadable PDF version of the submission]

Published in Publications

By Khuthala Nandipha, Daily Dispatch

The African National Congress Women’s League is officially backing calls for sex work to be legalised in South Africa.

The motion will be discussed at the ANC’s policy conference in June and national conference in Mangaung in December where the league hopes for a resolution to be passed. This follows the recent release of the league’s gender policy discussion document, which highlights the right for women to be sex workers without fear of the law and social stigma.

“We want a total decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa. The law treats prostitutes as criminals but does not treat their male clients with the same heavy-handedness.

“We want the ANC to support a position that will embrace the dignity of women,” said Hlengiwe Mkhize, ANCWL treasurer.

The move received support from former deputy minister of health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.

Currently the executive director of Embrace Dignity, an NGO addressing trafficking and sexual exploitation, Madlala-Routledge wrote in a recent article that while she doubted the ANC would call for total decriminalisation, there was merit in calling for the decriminalisation of selling, and not the buying, of sex.

“This position takes into account the underlying causes that drive women, mainly poor women, into prostitution …” she wrote.

Gender activists argue that criminalisation of sex work makes it difficult for sex workers to leave the industry because many have a criminal record which makes employers reluctant to give them work.

One 32-year-old East Londoner who became a sex worker 12 years ago, said women did not turn to sex work because they wanted to be aroused, but rather due to financial difficulties. The woman, who only has a Grade 11 education, is a divorcee and single mother to two children.

“All I have ever wanted was to go to school and become a social worker,” she said.

She is one of many women who turn to prostitution to make ends meet. Recent unemployment statistics show official unemployment among women stands at 28%. The woman said she made up to R1000 on a regular night and during the festive season or other holiday periods up to R3000.

She was married at 16 and moved to East London from the Transkei with her husband. But after three years of abuse and entrapment, she divorced him and got custody of her child who was just 11 months old.

She moved in with a friend. She had no idea that her friend was a sex worker until she followed her one night. A driver approached her and she learnt that in less than an hour she could make up to R150.

“The thought that by morning I could afford nappies, formula and vegetables motivated me throughout the gruesome process,” she said. “Of all the piece jobs I have done in-between prostitution , none have ever given me this much income.”

She has just received her Computer Literacy certificate and is currently studying for a certificate in Childhood Development. She plans to leave sex work soon and open a crèche in a rural area with the help of government funding and savings.

Considered one of the oldest professions in the world, prostitution was declared illegal in South Africa in 1957, but gender rights advocates maintain that if a person wants to buy or sell sex, this should be their choice.

In 2009, the Democratic Alliance’s Jack Bloom, spokesperson for DA Gauteng Health had said: “Decriminalising of sex work would be a grave mistake that would send the wrong signal to communities.”

However, the party has changed its tune. According to Mmusi Maimane, DA’s national spokesperson, the Alliance’s main concern is for every human being’s constitutional rights to be protected.

“Often prostitution is met with a lot of police brutality, so whatever needs to be done to end this violation, the DA is behind it.”

However, he added that the matter of decriminalisation should be resolved through public participation and in no other way. “People need to decide what kind of society they want to live in.”

Ntokozo Yingwana, advocacy officer for Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) said sex work was difficult, dangerous and not an easy decision to make. “So it’s not about making quick money, it’s about making a hard choice,” said Yingwana.

[This news article was sourced from the Daily Dispatch, 21 April 2012 edition. For a downloadable PDF version of this article, see below.]

Published in News
Monday, 26 March 2012 08:28

ANC will talk about sex at Mangaung

The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) wants to decriminalise prostitution in South Africa.

The league has authored a discussion document on gender in preparation for the party’s December conference in Mangaung.

In the document, the league argues that current laws lead to “total criminalisation of the seller” – women who work as prostitutes.

But it argues that the men who pay for sex are not treated with the same heavy-handedness.

“To decriminalise it, that is where we are going,” said ANCWL treasurer and Higher Education Deputy Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize.

“When the new bill is debated, people must understand it is not about women wanting to expose themselves. It is not about approving the behaviour; it is about how else women can position themselves.”

Mkhize said the league expected resistance so they had planned their approach carefully.

“As we move to the policy conference, we want to put the facts before people and build buy-in that way.”

She said the league hoped to pass a resolution decriminalising sex work at Mangaung.

The South African Law Reform Commission is investigating new prostitution laws.

“The ideal approach for the ANC will be to support a position that will embrace the dignity of women,” the league says in its document.

Asked how the country’s churches were expected to react to the proposed change in legislation, Mkhize referred to abortion legislation that government signed into law in 1996.

“Churches were saying no, but we still passed the law. The problem with churches is that churches prepare people for heaven, but not for life on earth. They are not supposed to condemn, they are supposed to educate.”

Former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge addressed the league’s national executive committee on the issue of sex work while preparing the discussion document.

She is the leader of the Embrace Dignity Campaign, which advocates legislation that decriminalises prostitution to deal with human trafficking.

[This news article was sourced from the City Press: ANC will talk about sex at Mangaung]

Published in Decriminalisation
Tuesday, 10 January 2012 08:02

Prostitutes Profit As Politicians Party

While the ANC threw around a whole heap of cash for their 100th birthday celebrations in Bloemfontein over the weekend, a number of smart 'entrepreneurs' descended upon the city to take advantage of the cash-heavy guests.

Prostitutes from across the country made their way to the 'City of Roses' and spent the last few days 'entertaining' clients and kicking off their 2012 with a 'bang'.

Just like the 2010 World Cup, the celebrations in the Free State city opened the door for the 'working girls' to up their prices and make more than their usual adventures reward them with.

A prostitute from Pretoria told Sunday World that she would have been foolish not to make the trip down 'south'.

"I've decided to be part of this celebration as I saw a business opportunity for myself," she said.

"I used to charge R70 a round in Sunnyside, but since this is the gathering of loaded politicians I am charging according to the size of their pockets.

"They have a lot of money that they don't know what to do with."

An Eastern Cape prostitute revealed that she had hit the big time during the celebrations, with a number of heavy-hitters paying for her services in just one night.

"I got five clients in one night and most of them are high profile people," she said.

[This news article was sourced from Howzit MSN News: http://news.howzit.msn.com/prostitutes-profit-as-politicians-party] "Sadly I will not tell you their names as they are prominent politicians and musicians. Since I got here I managed to score big."

Along with the prostitution boom in Bloem came a few issues for the local girls trying to earn a few extra bucks.

Some of the locals lost out on business to their out-of-town counterparts, while a heavy police presence made it difficult to pick up clients.

"We are used to charging R50 a session and now we are forced to charge hundreds of rands to meet the standard," one 'lady of the night' said.

Another added: "These cops should understand that we are also working and we are not doing this because we want to.

"Some of the politicians are scared to speak to us because they think their friends might tell their wives or girlfriends that they bonked hookers."

[This news article was sourced from Howzit MSN News http://news.howzit.msn.com/prostitutes-profit-as-politicians-party]

Published in News
Monday, 09 May 2011 11:37

Sex workers' election debate

A group of Cape Town based sex workers, one of which is a Kenyan national, discuss the upcoming elections, politicians, and the government. Things get a bit heated when some argue for the DA, while others for the ANC.

http://soundcloud.com/sweat-audio/sex-workers-election-debate

 

Published in News
Friday, 29 April 2011 18:02

Viva Youth, Viva Decrim

The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) recently released a gender discussion paper, which calls for the decriminalisation of sex work. The document outlines issues to be discussed at this year’s ANCYL 24th National Congress, in June.

 

Floyd Shivambu, ANCYL Spokesperson writes on the paper:
“iii. Sex Work and Women’s Oppression

36. Women who are involved in sex work are extremely vulnerable to violence and victimisation both from the state and their male clients. This vulnerability is fostered by the criminalisation of sex work, which is results in sex worker’s reluctance to report rape, mainly due to fear of secondary victimisation and insensitive treatment from the police. The criminalisation of sex work does not serve as a determent but rather leads to covert operation which in itself increases the propensity for victimisation and abuse of sex workers. The persistent stigma and discrimination against sex workers significantly hampers access to crucial health services”.

 

Sisonke Sex Worker Led Movement and NPO Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) salute the statement by the ANCYL. “This statement shows the ANCYL’s understanding of the struggle women, youth and poor face in South Africa”, said SWEAT Director, Eric Harper.

 

Harper continued, “This is in stark contrast to the Western Cape were we see the criminalization of poverty and boasting by the Vice Squad about money fined (actually stolen) from sex workers”. Vice Squad statistics show that 620 fines totaling R184 650 have been issued to sex workers in the last 18 months of the squad’s existence (Big Issue, "Slow success for vice squad’s clampdown on prostitution").

 

National Sisonke Coordinator, Kholi Buthelezi  also added, “Ukuvumeleka kwabasebenzi basemzansi kube semthethweni lokho kungenza ushintsho oluyimiphumela emihle ezimpilweni zabathengisi oocansi. Ngalendlela yokuthi uma behlukumezekile nanoma ubani ngayiphi indlela bakwazi ukusukumela amalungelo abo. Okwamanje basebumnyameni; nobanina uyazenzela”.

 

The African National Congress Youth League 24th National Congress will happen between the 16th and 20th of June 2011 in Johannesburg under the theme 'Youth Action for Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime'.

 

 

Buthelezi’s statement translated into English:
“The decriminalisation of sex work for South African workers will mean a better lives for sex workers. In the sense that if they are abused by anyone, in anyway, they are able to stand up for their rights. At the moment they are in the dark; anyone does as they please with them.”

Published in News