On behalf of ASWA, we are very pleased to express our sincere and deep appreciation and greetings to all of you dear sex workers in Africa, partners, multilateral and bilateral donors, the civil society and other humanitarian agencies for your honorable contribution and continuous support. Without your continuous and extraordinary endeavors and devotion, the success of ASWA would never be accomplished.
ASWA has witnessed great accomplishments and developments regarding sex workers’ health and rights in Africa. We have endeavored to present cutting‐edge, valuable information on amplifying sex workers’ voice, state of the art advocacy that sex work is work and on decriminalization of sex work. We have continued to grow to over 100 sex workers-led members in 34 countries, to over 24 national networks and over 40 new sex workers-led members from all over Africa joined our family in 2020. ASWA has expanded its membership to the Northern Region where for the first time we have sex workers-led organisation in Egypt. For the past year ASWA has had improved visibility, especially on the internet, which is proved by an increase of regular visitors, commentaries likes and following on our FB, Twitter and website compared with previous years.
ASWA ‘s new year message looks back on a year in which the coronavirus pandemic has gravely impacted the livelihoods of sex workers in Africa; it completely shattered our socio-economic security. Sex workers had a slowed access to health services and in some cases, access to health and other vital services grinded to a halt. The financial downturn worsened the less visible lived-realities of sex workers who were also overlooked in the time of the COVID-19 crisis. The first case of COVID-19 on the continent was confirmed in Egypt on 14 February 2020. There were fears that the new virus could quickly overwhelm the largely fragile health systems on the continent. Although Coronavirus in Africa has been less deadly than in other regions of the world e.g., Europe and America, African authorities imposed what some might consider being more Draconian public health responses that severely restricted the social and economic freedoms of sex workers—a reality that is disproportionally shouldered by the urban poor including the sex workers in the slums (Corburn et al., 2020).
ASWA pays tribute to the front-line sex workers and their allies who helped sex workers community during the ‘difficult and unpredictable times’ of the coronavirus pandemic. For some sex workers, year 2020 will be remembered with sadness — some mourning the loss of those dear to them, and others missing friends and family members, distanced for safety, when all they really wanted was the best for their lives. If you are among them, you are not alone, and be rest assured of our thoughts and prayers. And we encourage you that the best is yet to come and that there will be light at the end of this tunnel.
This is a year that has kept sex workers apart due to the observance of social distancing but it has in many ways brought us closer. The sex workers in Africa demonstrated greatness as when we came together against COVID-19 and brought out the “indomitable” spirit by rising to the challenge; ASWA member organisations KESWA in Kenya and Sisonke in South Africa considered new innovative approaches to try various funding streams whereby Sisonke incorporated crowdfunding while KESWA engaged in a national collection to establish an emergency fund for sex workers. ASWA created a new docket of sub-regional Coordinators and contracted 6 Sub-regional Coordinators who are the focal persons on the grassroots to oversee, coordinate and offer technical support of the operation of ASWA’s project and to submit the overall reports of the projects in their respective region in the time of COVID-19.
In 2021, we need to double down and not merely to gather but to move. And our movements, require us to break out of our comfort zones and be confrontational to the power that be, that resist sex workers’ rights and health, it requires us to defend sex workers’ rights when it is difficult and dangerous.2021 is a year when we water the seeds planted by our dear forebears in the preceding years so that they may sprout and grow into a strong and towering tree of promotion and respect of sex workers rights and health in Africa; a tree whose fruits are bountiful and enjoyed by each and every sex worker in Africa.
We will keep on doing our utmost to further promote the health and rights of sex workers in Africa. Our aim is to deliver updated information, connect you to donors, resource mobilise and sub-grant, challenge the powers that be and that violate sex workers rights and health, capacity building, new ideas and convincing facts, not only to the sex workers but also to the policy shapers in Africa
Sex workers have been beaten and brutalized, neglected and invisibilized, extinguished and exiled, pushed out of hostel homes, forced into detention facilities and prisons and deeper into poverty. And we hold these harsh truths close. They fuel us to move. Today, by being here, it is our commitment to getting us free that keeps us marching and moving.
Our approach to sexual and bodily freedoms need not be identical but it must be intersectional and inclusive. It must extend beyond ourselves. We know with surpassing certainty that our liberation is directly linked to the liberation of the undocumented violated sex workers yearning for refuge. The sex worker fighting to make a living safely.
Collective liberation and solidarity is difficult work, it is work that will find us struggling together and struggling with one another. We must find a way of working together seamlessly and harmoniously. We should embrace dissent and difference of opinion without judging one another, stigmatizing or discriminating one another. Just because sex workers are oppressed does not mean that we oppress our fellow sex workers.
By being here you are making a commitment to fight for the rights and health of sex workers. Together we are a movement to march through the resisting forces. A movement is that difficult space between our reality and our vision. In 2021, the liberation of Sex workers’ rights and health depends on all of us to unite and challenge the powers that be; punitive laws, policies, practices, perspectives and stereotypes.
We welcome and sincerely look forward to your valuable submissions in any form; your unique input, valuable support and specialist’s perspective on sex worker’s rights and health. Your active participation is greatly appreciated. We are thoroughly open to sex workers in Africa and other pertinent contributors. In 2021. Once again, we look forward to your continued cooperation.
We sincerely hope that 2021 will be delightful and fruitful for all.