International Sex Workers’ Day
Sex workers in Africa marked International Sex Workers’ Day with online and physical events and campaigns for the promotion of their human rights. The day is celebrated annually on 2nd June.The Day’s theme was ‘Access to Justice‘. The day provided a platform to demand equal rights for sex workers.
International Sex Workers’ Day History
In 1975, as many as 100 sex workers in France gathered at Lyon’s Saint-Nizier Church and protested against the criminalisation of their work and exploitative living conditions. The protest happened on 2 June and this is why it is today marked as International Sex Workers’ Day.
The 1975 protest also lead to a national strike but could not drive in any reforms and after occupying the church for eight days, the sex workers were removed by the police. However, the protest is considered to have started the rights movement for sex workers in Europe.
International Sex Workers’ Day Theme and Significance
According to the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), the theme of International Sex Workers’ Day every year is Access to Justice. There are several barriers faced by sex workers when accessing justice, as victims and as well as defendants.
It is significant as even today, sex workers around the world are struggling to get basic rights. The day acts as a platform to demand equal rights for sex workers. It also celebrates the impact of the first protest and how when together, the community of sex workers is stronger.
Nigeria Sex Workers Association held a discussion on decriminalising sex work in Nigeria. The National Coordinator Enemo Amaka said that decriminalising sex work is the first step to ending violence against the community.
Eswatini (Former Swaziland)
To mark the International Sex Workers Day, sex workers in Eswatini, Voice of Our Voices, held an event ‘Red umbrella Expo’ to celebrate their members’ achievements and also the success of their economic empowerment activities that have eased access to health services.
Community Health Rights Advocacy (CHERWA) Executive Director; Aniz Mitha
He said that there is no harm in talking publicly about uplifting the living conditions of sex workers. “It is our duty to speak against injustice and raise our voices for the sex workers who struggle every day to live.“
LIMSHER: Executive Director; Melvin Quaye “In Liberia, sex workers face gross violation of their human rights and are discriminated against when doing sex work. This can be addressed if the society accepts sex work as work and the Liberian government provides protection for all sex workers”.
Newly elected Board member and Alcondoms (Cameroon) Program Coordinator, Wadjo Moussa. He highlights the challenges facing female sex workers who use drugs in his country.
“They are unable to easily access health care services.Sex worker is criminalized and punishable through prison sentences ranging from 6 months to 5 years. Sex workers face problems such as arbitrary arrests, abuse, torture, discrimination and other inhuman and degrading treatment. My fight as a human rights defender and a sex worker is that Cameroon should repeal these laws and decriminalise sex work. Criminalisation of sex work has become an epidemic that we must fight. Let’s all together say no to the criminalisation of sex work. Together we are stronger.”
Benin: Nehemiah Kakpo; “The criminalization of sex workers has become an epidemic that we must fight. Let’s all together say no to the criminalization of sex work.Together we are stronger.”
Global Women’s Health, Rights and Empowerment Initiative (GWHREI) held a talk show involving sex workers, a legal practitioner and a police officer who have been on the fore front of addressing sex workers violence cases.
Challenge: Criminalization of sex work exposes sex workers to abuse and exploitation by law enforcement officials.
Call to action: Decriminalizing sex work increases sex workers’ legal protection, including access to justice and health care.
Experience Of Sex Workers In Southern Region Of Nigeria In Accessing Justice
Greater Women Initiative For Health And Right (GWIHR) Executive Director; ASEME JOSEPHINE CHIOMA
Josephine said that despite the overwhelming shreds of evidence that violence is daily perpetrated against sex workers in the southern region of Nigeria, access to justice for these violations has received little or no societal attention due to the indirect criminalization nature of sex work in the region.
The 2022 GBV incidence report of GWIHR has also shown that sex workers in this region face a high rate of coercion ranging from physical to sexual violence from their clients, law enforcers, and family members. For example, In early March 2022, a 19-year-old brothel-based sex worker (name withheld) in Rivers State was a victim of physical violence by a police officer, which resulted in severe bruises around her upper arm region. She cried out for justice, but when a perpetrator of violence is entrusted with safeguarding and protecting the rights of the population he violates, how then, can access to justice for sex workers ever be achieved?
CALL TO ACTION
In Nigeria, the policymakers should engage in the reformation of laws that directly or indirectly criminalize sex work;
The Law enforcement agencies, especially the police, to shape their institutional practices, attitudes, and behaviors toward recognizing that sex workers’ rights are inalienable rights;
Women-led groups for the inclusion of female and transgender sex workers in all feminist movements that aim to fulfill women’s rights and the general public to understand that sex work is only an occupation and does not define who we are.
Mauritius: Iswamanee Thakurdas Luximon; Coordinator Parapli Rouz. “There is so much hatred for sex workers in Mauritius. Spread love for sex workers, treat them with kindness, dignity and respect.”
Zimbabwe: Gregory Brighton Tony Kata; Zimbabwe Sex Workers Alliance National Coordinator: said ‘There is a legal framework which protects sex workers but law enforcers do not properly implement it. Sex workers face assault, harassment and bribe demand by police who also steal from them. The laws which protect sex workers should be implemented and sex workers access to justice.”
Namibia: challenges faced by Sex Workers Due to Access to Justice
Rachel Love Gawases: Executive Director; Equal Rights for All Movement Namibia said that Namibian sex workers face high rate of harassment, rape, violence, and extortion from law enforcement officers, clients, and society member’s especially male counterparts. In relation to safety and security there are inadequate implementation of protective laws and policies, contributing to the lack of access to justice when sex workers rights are violated. Sex workers in all 14 regions of Namibia, Caprivi, Erongo, Hardap, Karas, Kavango East, Kavango West, Khomas, Kunene, Ohangwena, Omaheke, Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, and Otjozondjupa and in all 121 constituencies are challenged by this issues due to lack of access to justice.
Call to Action Message
Namibian Government should advance human rights for all to reduce inequalities. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Equality and non-discrimination is the core heart of human rights. Sex workers are right holders and entitled Constitutional Fundamental Human Rights.
Kisumu Shiners celebrated the International Sex Workers Day by hosting a Webinar on ‘How best sex workers can access justice’. The panelist included sex workers, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, an administration police officer, a social justice expert and a clinician.The discussion aimed at enhancing collaboration among stakeholders and partners to address barriers to access justice for sex workers justice.
Rachele Ouko, a police officer, said: “We are committed to working with sex workers to end violence against the community.
The officer urged sex workers to ensure they followed reported violence cases to the end to ensure they got justice. The community was also advised that once they were violated, they should not tamper with evidence.