Sex workers, activists and supporters yesterday walked in heels from the Joburg CBD to Constitutional Hill to call for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa.
According to Katlego Rasebitse, the walk aimed to highlight different challenges faced by sex workers, to ensure a safe working environment and the need for sex workers to access all public services, including the justice system.
“This industry has a huge risks of human trafficking, violence and abuse from clients, the police, as well as brothel owners or managers,” he said.
Rasebitse said sex workers had joined forces with organisations Funk It I’m Walking, Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), Sisonke and Show Me Your Number – to make streets safer for women at any time, regardless of what they do for a living or what they are wearing.
He said sex workers were often targeted by the police and were more vulnerable to violence because they have to work in dangerous and isolated locations to evade attention.
“We have been fighting for decriminalisation of the sex work sector for years and today we want to claim back the streets of Joburg and make them safe for all women, including sex workers and transgender women.”
Poet, activist and founder of Funk It I’m Walking Nomsa Mazwai said the criminalisation of sex workers had created an avenue for women to be abused, raped and made victims of gross violations.
“The law itself is outdated, unreasonable, very problematic and no longer implementable,” she said.
Mazwai said the aim of the initiative was for the business to be recognised and the laws in SA to recognise and accommodate sex workers like any other worker.
“While we were walking the reality was very painful. It was very devastating because these women are not fictional characters but mothers and members of our community who made a decision to survive,” Mazwai said.
Duduzile Dlamini, who has been a sex worker for more than 15 years and is now an advocate for sex workers at Sweat, said sex workers were vulnerable because when they are victims of violence, they cannot seek help or protection from the police.
“In a democratic and developing country like ours where the biggest stigmas – abortion and marijuana – have been legalised, sex workers are still not afforded the opportunity to at least report rape, assault, theft to the police.”
Sex worker Nosipho Vidima said the walk was a much needed wake-up call to force people to make sex work a topic of discussion.
“Many have been forced to work in brothels because they need the protection but they end up being exploited,” she said.
Vusi Mphema said he came to support his friends who were sex workers.
“The people are providers. They are mothers, fathers, caregivers and, most importantly, taxpayers and should be treated as such. Sex work must be recognised as work,” he said.