The African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) is the Pan African alliance of sex worker-led organisations.

ASWA was formed in 2009 with an initial membership drawn from 10 African countries. ASWA has members from 33 African countries. In the years since its formation, ASWA has increased in its reach, its power and its influence across Africa and around the world.

Sex workers from 10 African countries set out an agenda to advocate for their human rights in Africa. They were drawn from South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Mali, Mozambique, and Mauritius. At its most basic, ASWA was formed to help fight human rights violations perpetrated against sex workers and advocate for access to services, especially health care.

Several of the key outcomes that then informed ASWA’s mandate were; consensus on decriminalization of sex work, the recognition of sex work as work, need for access to free sex worker-friendly health services, peer education, and community-led research. Furthermore, it was agreed that documentation and reporting of human rights abuses against sex workers and also at the same time addressing violence by state actors, access to justice and redress were also crucial action plans. Additionally, ASWA was also mandated to raise awareness and educate policy makers and the community on their fundamental human rights.

ASWA after first Sex Worker Conference

In 2010, immediately after the first sex worker conference, country coalitions led by sex worker groups were formed in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, and Uganda, with Namibia and Nigeria following in 2011. Each coalition sought to build collaborations with other national stakeholders, including human rights organizations, women’s rights organizations, and health and local government institutions. With support from ASWA, the country coalitions:

  • Raised awareness for sex worker rights and spearheading vigorous advocacy campaigns around policy change in South Africa, and Kenya on law reforms
  • Marked December 17th “International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers” and 3rd March “International Sex Worker Rights Day” in several cities across Africa
  • Kenya hosted the largest ever street protest of sex workers for two (2) consecutive years during Dec 17th in 2010 and 2011, recording a total of 1700 and 2500 sex workers respectively marching in the streets calling for an end to violence and human rights abuse. Two years, and after building a cohort of sex workers leaders, and activists not just as human rights defenders and role models, but as passionate leaders who are driving the movement and their own agenda, ASWA appointed its first regional coordinator who identified as a sex worker marking a shift in its strategy and outlook.
  • At this point too, ASWA engaged various regional and international platforms through active representation of sex workers in bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), The Global Network of Sex Work Projects(NSWP) GNP+(Global Network of People Living with HIV) Board, Red Umbrella Fund International steering committee, UNAIDS Steering committee on HIV, Sex Work and the Law, and participating in global and regional forums such as International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa( ICASA) 2013 and 2015 and the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Melbourne and the AIDS Conference that took place in Durban in July 2016.

Our major breakthrough came when we published our first regional report in April 2011: I expect to be abused and I have fear: Sex workers’ experiences of human rights violations and barriers to accessing healthcare in four African countries. The report documented human rights abuses that sex workers faced using case studies from four countries.

Our first strategic plan

ASWA’s turning point came during the Sex Workers Freedom Festival, a global convening of sex workers, held in Kolkata, India in July 2012. Here, representatives from other national, and regional sex workers movements challenged ASWA and its response to the wider sex work movement in Africa.

It was clear that ASWA was intended to meet a greater need other than what it was addressing at that time; the regional and international spaces and platforms that ASWA would engage and influence as opposed to doing programmatic work that was already being done by local and grass root organizations and collectives.

It was at this point that ASWA decided to take up this role and ensure that the African sex workers’ voice was being heard at national, regional and global levels. ASWA, then a coalition of 8 member organizations, then formulated its strategic plan for 2013-2015 that informed its work for the next few years. The key strategic plans included registration of ASWA, strengthening the voices of African sex workers and defending the rights of sex workers.

In 2009, SWEAT organized the First African sex workers conference in Johannesburg, South Africa at which sex workers from 10 African countries set out an agenda for advocacy of their human rights in Africa.

This included decriminalization of sex work, recognition of sex work as work, access to free sex worker-friendly health services, peer education and community-led research, documentation, and reporting of human rights abuses, addressing violence by state actors, access to justice and redress, raising awareness and educating among policymakers and the community.

The African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) is currently hosted by UHAI for two years. ASWA is in the process of being legally registered and UHAI has been instrumental in this transition period including facilitating the development of systems and policies that are viable for a regional organization such as ASWA.