African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) expresses grave concern over two female sex workers who were murdered by their clients, as reported by the Uganda Network of Sex Workers Organisation (UNESO). On the 22nd of March 2022, Harriet Ayenya from Kireka Railway Hotspot and on the 29th of March 2022, Apio Monica from Village Bar and Guest House, Busia were both found murdered in a pool of blood.
We mourn their death and honor their lives even as we demand justice for their lost lives. Our thoughts are with their family, to whom we extend our sincere condolences.
The Alliance through sex workers-led organisations in Liberia is following with deep concern about the exposure of sex workers, LGBTIQ and People living with HIV on social media in Liberia in West Africa.
The following social media accounts namely; Facebook – Michelle Denzel Fries group and Tik Tok-Liberians Geez Kitchen 246 are currently being used to expose sex workers, LGBTIQ and People living with HIV. These accounts expose their pictures and also have derogatory descriptions along those pictures.
Sex workers in Liberia did not consent to this appalling and heart-breaking exposure. The use of these unconsented pictures and the use of derogatory information on social media not only outrightly exposes sex workers in Liberia to imminent violence but also clearly infringes their rights and health. It has also brought mental health challenges like depression.
The sex worker-led organization in Angola also reported rising cases of violence against sex workers in Angola.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Homme Pour Les Droits Et La Sante (HODSAS)- a sex worker-led organisation in DRC Congo reported that 173 female sex workers were raped in the first quarter of 2022 and this could be higher because most sex workers prefer not to report for fear of reprisal. The organisation also documented 21 abortions among sex workers.
There are rising cases of violence against sex workers in Madagascar. Due to the legal landscape, there is a lack of support structures for thousands of sex workers who are victims of human rights abuses. There is also a lack of advocacy strategies to strengthen the protection of sex workers in DRC.
There are rising cases of violence against LGBTIQ sex workers in Ghana.
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We are also saddened to hear that a group of six men raped, sodomized, and stabbed one of the sex workers in Kiambu County in Kenya. The number of sex workers’ rape cases has recently increased.
Legal Framework: Sex Work Laws in Uganda, Liberia, Angola and Kenya
In Uganda, selling sex is a criminal offense and being a sex worker and behaving in a ‘disorderly and indecent manner in a public place’ is also criminalised.Organising or managing sex work is also criminalised. e.gBrothel-keeping and living on the earnings are criminalised.
On 3 May 2021, the Ugandan Parliament passed the Sexual Offences Bill 2019, which criminalises engaging in “prostitution”, “engaging in a sexual act with a prostitute” and operating a brothel. This criminalises all aspects of sex work. On 3 August 2021, President Museveni refused to sign the bill into law and sent it back to Parliament for further consideration. The new parliament has not re-tabled it yet.
In Liberia, selling, buying sex and organising or managing sex work is criminalised.
In Angola, selling and buying sex is not criminalized.
In the new Penal Code, which came into force in February 2021 Article 189 contains an offence of pandering/procuring – “Whoever, with intent to profit, promotes, encourages or facilitates the exercise of repeated practice of prostitution or sexual acts with another person, taking advantage of economic need or situation of the particular vulnerability of the victim or to constrain her to that exercise or practice, using violence, threat or fraud shall be punished with imprisonment of 1 to 6 years. If the offender takes advantage of the mental incapacity of the victim, the penalty is imprisonment from 2 to 10 years.” It is unclear whether this law could be used to criminalise all third-party relationships or only those that involve exploitation or coercion of some kind.
In Kenya, selling sex is legal in Kenya although there are laws that criminalise soliciting, including “every common prostitute behaving in a disorderly or indecent manner in any public place” … “every person who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes; shall be deemed idle and disorderly persons, and are guilty of a misdemeanor”. The counties also have the mandate to make and enact their own by-laws which are related to sex work most of which criminalise sex work or soliciting.
These violence cases come amid sustained continuous attacks against sex workers across Africa.The murder in Uganda, rape in Kenya and other violence cases in Angola are not isolated incidences, but a horrific example of a large rising tide of violence against sex workers in Africa.
Any violent attack on sex workers is an attack on their healthcare which is a violation of International Humanitarian Law. The right to health & access to health services must be protected. Sex workers must never be targeted. This targeted violence demonstrates that sex workers in Africa are disproportionately impacted by structural and systematic violence which is ignited by punitive laws and policies.
Anti sex work legislations promote and encourage dehumanization and hate towards sex workers, labeling them as undeserving and unworthy of rights and protection. Sex workers are often framed as criminals just for existing and for the work they do. Anti-sex worker policies are often punitive, harmful and dangerous to sex workers’ physical safety, resulting in continued law enforcement targeting sex workers and third parties.
The criminalization of sex work has provided corrupt authorities and unscrupulous third parties with multiple avenues for exploitation and extortion. When being treated unfairly or exploited, other workers can appeal to the Office of Labour Protection and Welfare, the Department of Employment, the Department of Social Security and the Ombudsman. Sex workers are effectively unable to report crimes or exploitation or fully access protection or justice from law enforcement without facing penalties of arrest, public shaming and, for migrants, the added risk of deportation.
The dignity of sex workers is not harmed by sex work – it is harmed by sex workers being treated as criminals and the denial of their rights as workers.
We continue to call for respect, dignity, rights and protection of sex workers in their diversity since their rights are infringed upon due to sex work, gender/sexual identity, and immigration status among others. Their lives and livelihoods must be protected. This demand for dignity does not include increased policing or enforcement, recognizing that more policing has often exacerbated harms and has failed to demonstrate a commitment to protect and advance the rights of sex workers in their diversity.
We further urge authorities in Uganda, Liberia, Kenya, Angola and other African countries to ensure that sex workers’ rights are not violated consistently with the countries’ Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
We also ask for the full decriminalization of sex work as it is the only legal option that protects the dignity and rights of Sex Workers. This is our consistent demand for years and it is incumbent on all to support that call.
ASWA, therefore, calls on the Governments, lawmakers, law enforcers, and communities to:
- Immediately stop the ongoing raids and arbitrary arrests of sex workers in Tanzania, stop the exposure of sex workers, LGBTIQ and People living with HIV on social media in Liberia, and stop rape and other violence cases against sex workers in Kenya and Angola.
- To ensure that there is prompt, transparent, effective, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of sex workers rights violations in the mentioned countries and Africa at large.
- Avail sex workers whose rights have been violated to have unhindered access to remedies, compensation and legal assistance.
- Repeal existing laws and refrain from introducing new laws that criminalize or penalize directly or in practice the consensual adult sex work.
- Refrain from the discriminatory enforcement against sex workers of other laws, such as those on vagrancy, loitering, and immigration requirements.
- Ensure the meaningful participation of sex workers in the development of law and policies that directly affect their lives and safety.
- Ensure that sex workers have equal access to justice, health care and other public services, and to equal protection under the law
- Ensure that there are effective frameworks, services and support that allow sex workers to leave sex work if and when they choose.
- Refrain from the discriminatory enforcement of other laws such as those on vagrancy, loitering, and immigration requirements against sex workers.
- Ensure that sex workers are entitled to equal protection under the law and access to justice, and are not excluded directly or in practice from the application of anti-discrimination, labour, health and safety, and other law
- Enforce a legal framework that ensures social protection for sex workers.
- Decriminalise private and consensual adult sexual behaviours, including same-sex sexual acts and voluntary sex work.
- Combatting structural discrimination and social exclusion of sex workers community.
- Include Sex work and sex workers in the Labour terminology and meaningfully engage sex workers in the discussions of Decent Work.
- Foster structural empowerment in sex work environment/work place that ensures that sex workers have access to information, resources, support, opportunities to learn and grow, and can participate in collective organizing.