The chairman of one of the administrative regions in Tanzania, Simon Tyosela, has called for recognition of sex work as work.
During a meeting to discuss the region’s 2019-2020 budget this month, Tyosela asked fellow leaders to consider sex work as a business that could generate income for the regional government. He proposed that there should be a policy put in place to tax sex work to boost the revenue of regional governments.
His call was a reaction to an earlier threat by the Provincial Commissioner that the administration would initiate a crackdown to arrest sex workers in the region.
“The regional government should consider allowing sex workers to operate and tax them like they do other businesses,” said Mr Simon.
He suggested that all sex workers in the region should be registered and those unable to pay disqualified.
However, other members of the provincial administration opposed the call citing religious standings.
Sex workers are cautious because the government is known to crackdown on them. They say it is common for police officers to arrest, beat them up, demand for bribes or sex in exchange of freedom.
There is also concern because it is not clear if the call envisions legalisation or decriminalisation of sex work. It is not immediately clear if Tyosela will pursue further the agenda to recognise sex work.
“I don’t know what informed the leader’s support for sex work. I think he needs to elaborate how his suggested taxation is expected to be enforced,” says a sex worker.
“It is encouraging to hear a politician calling for recognisition of sex work. However, I wish he provided a broader explanation to his view,” says another sex worker.
Sex workers say the other reason they are cautious is because this could be a trick to expose and arrest them.
Last year in November, several sex workers were arrested with some reporting that police officers broke into their houses.
Tanzania is among the many countries in Africa that criminalise sex work. The Tanzanian Penal Code criminalises sex work and prescribes hefty fines and jail term for ‘harbouring prostitutes’ and ‘living off the earnings of prostitution’.
The current regime, which came to power 2015, has been criticised for stifling human rights and has through laws attempted to control the work of the civil society.
Late last year, a minister ordered for the arrest of gay people and asked members of the public to report to the nearest police people suspected to be in same-sex relationships.
The directive was criticised by international human rights organisations with donors threatening to withhold aid to Tanzania.
The government also revised the Non-Governmental Organisations Act of 2001 and imposed strict penalties and deregistration of NGOs that would ‘misbehave’.