Hildah Nompy Tlou-Maseko, a former sex worker from eMalahleni (Witbank), in Mpumalanga, has started a non-governmental organisation in which she advocates for the restoration of the dignity of former sex workers.
After quitting sex work a few years ago, Tlou-Maseko helped many girls, through the Impumelelo Yethu Foundation, to leave the streets.
“The fear of knowing who I was, was traumatic. Not knowing how my family, friends and community who didn’t know what I was doing to survive would treat me after knowing about my past, also haunted me,” Tlou-Maseko told Mpumalanga News.
In an interview with Jacaranda FM last year, Social Development Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said the stigma around sex work stemmed from people not understanding that they too were sex workers.
“All of us are sex workers, the sooner we own the title, the less we will discriminate against sex workers. If we all sit and actually begin to think about our own relationships… sex work is all about a transaction,” she said.
“If I fight with my husband and he takes me shopping then we glorify the activity, we end up in the bed and call it make-up sex. But at the end of the day he did take me shopping, there is a transaction that happened.”
“It is easy to point at others and say you’re a sex worker but we don’t want to admit that we are all sex workers. Sex work is nothing but a transaction that ends up in a consensual sexual activity between adults. That is the long and short of it and we’re all in it together.”
On Sunday, Bogopane-Zulu and sex worker advocacy groups facilitated an engagement with sex workers, government, civil society, developmental partners and the general public about challenges that continue to plague sex workers.
“Sex workers are a vulnerable group as defined in goal three of the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Goal three stipulates that, in order for the country to succeed in its quest to end HIV as a public health threat, all key and vulnerable populations such as sex workers need targeted interventions designed for challenges unique to them,” said the department in a statement.
The department of social development has been calling for the decriminalisation of sex work.
“Criminalisation of the trade is intricately linked to the on-going human rights violations and inadequate access to social, justice and health services. Sex workers continue to be the subject of human rights violations, gender-based violence, ill-treatment by law enforcements and the public as well as severe cases of stigmatisation. These challenges were heightened by the outbreak of the coronavirus,” it said.
Watch the dialogue below:
However, in an interview with RISE FM, Tlou-Maseko has called on the government to consider “partial decriminalisation known as Equality Model – an only law framework that can criminalise third parties and decriminalise those who are bought and sold into prostitution”.
She said this was the only way to offer support to those looking to exit sex work.