The 17th Sex Worker Academy Africa (SWAA) has kicked off in Nairobi with 16 participants from three countries taking part.
SWAA, which is a pioneer training programme in Africa, seeks to empower sex workers with a range of skills such as advocacy, movement building, policy and programme development and implementation through strengthening sex worker-led organisations and national networks.
The Academy is an African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) initiative, implemented by Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) through the support of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). Read more on SWAA: SWAA Case Study – November 2015.pdf
One of the highlights of this academy is the fact that Liberia and Burkina Faso are participating for the first time since its inception in 2015. Other participants are from Kenya.
Sex worker organising in the two West Africa countries is in still in its formative stages and community members are pushing to take the lead in advocacy.
“It is great to finally get a chance to be part of the Academy that I have heard so much about. Sex workers need as much training as possible,” says Quenneh Lee, who is one of the founders of White Rose, a sex worker led group in Liberia formed in 2017.
Sex work is criminalised in Liberia making them vulnerable to gross violation of their rights and discrimination. Quenneh says rape is common, but sex workers suffer in silence because reporting violations to the police does not help.
“We want to work with the police to change this. I hope to exchange ideas with other participants on how we can address this,” she says.
She says one of the factors that makes advocacy rather hard is the fact that child sexual exploitation is common and acceptable.
In Liberia, girls are encouraged to ‘sell themselves’ by their families and friends making it hard to define the concept of sex work.
Thus, her organisation seeks to drive a campaign to make the government more pro-active in protecting children at the same time seeking to address issues facing sex workers in Liberia.
“Everyone has rights regardless of what they do for a living. When sex work is made a crime, sex workers are prevented from working together for greater security, organising to improve working conditions, getting healthcare and sharing and investing earnings,” she says.
The team Burkina Faso hopes to take lessons on strategic advocacy to make the work of their organisation KAMB BEOG NEERE YINGA, which means a prosperous future for the youth in the local Mooré language, more impactful. In the country, sex work is not explicitly criminalised, however, soliciting and operating brothels is outlawed, which complicates things for sex workers.
“This means when a sex worker is violated by a client, they cannot report to the police for fear of targeted violence,” says Nikiema, one of the Academy participants. Like in Liberia, under-age sexual exploitation and human trafficking are rife. Burkina Faso is among the top sources, transit, and destination countries for child sex trafficking.