During the first week of February, sex workers in Africa got together for the first ever sex worker-organized conference on the continent. The Cape Town-based Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) was one of the main organizers of the event.
The conference, which had the tagline Every Sex Worker, A Human Rights Defender, produced a press statement and will have a fuller conference report sometime this month.
Here’s a bit of what the group of African sex workers had to say:
When our governments are campaigning for our votes they say “vote for us and we will deliver.” We have voted but our governments have not delivered. We try to raise our voices about human rights violations that we face on a daily basis, no one listens. Once we have voted they forget us. From our government we need law reform and the decriminalisation of sex work so that we have the spaces to access our rights. We demand rights and not rescue.
As 153 sex workers from 10 African countries: South Africa, Senegal, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Namibia and Nigeria. Today we demand our governments to honour their agreement that every citizen has human rights, and give us the rights that we are entitled to as human beings. Your citizens are speaking, you have a duty to listen and act.
…Sex workers from different African countries were able to come together and speak to each other. We saw our commonalities and differences that we face doing our work. Yes – sex work is work and it is time that everyone started to recognise that sex work is work.
Many participants spoke about the serious situation in Zimbabwe commenting that neighbouring countries take advantage of Zimbabweans. We, as sex workers, in other countries join the call for an end to the suffering of Zimbabweans.
The purpose of this conference is to come together and give sex workers a platform to their experiences and voices in support of each other. The challenge that we face as 153 participants from different countries are almost similar. Many of us face violence and discrimination on a regular basis. Regardless of which country we are from many of us have experienced being raped, verbal, emotional and physical abuse from police, clients and community members. There is unfair discrimination from service providers. Sex workers are not protected or defended by the law when they are exploited and abused. We demand that these violations stop immediately and decisive action is taken against perpetrators.
From this alliance we would like to see more work within and across organizations all over the continent. Put your stigma, discrimination and judgments aside. Let us work together to ensure that all Africans live equally and freely as human beings.
You can read the press release, which includes a declaration, by downloading the word document, African Sex Worker conference resolution and press release.
The January 2009 report Human Rights are for Everyone: Why Sex Work should be decriminalised in South Africa is well worth a read as well (click to download PDF).