Decriminalise commercial sex work!

Gertrude Pswarayi
Posted March 12, 2009 from Zimbabwe

Commercial Sex Workers and organisations advocating for their rights called for governments to decriminalise commercial sex work and homosexuality in a bid to advance human rights for all. This call was made by over 200 delegates who attended the 2009 two-day Conference organised by Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) in February that sort to create an Alliance that advocated for sex workers rights. The main themes to be addressed by the Alliance are decriminalisation of adult sex work, documentation, monitoring and reporting human rights violations, recognition of sex work as work, free, friendly universal access to health care, building solidarity and mobilising sex workers and building the alliance ensuring participation, representation and leadership of sex workers at all levels within the Alliance. The conference brought together sex workers, sex worker organisations, advocates, and supporters from across Eastern, Western and Southern Africa to share their knowledge and expertise on specific sex worker issues that cut across African countries and other regions. During the conference, delegates from countries such as South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Nigeria deliberated on issues ranging from change in legislation, to accommodation and safe housing, to police harassment, to the behaviour of clients, to 2010 and the alliance. In her presentation during the conference, the Director for the Sexual Rights Centre, Mrs Maseko talked about the different human rights violations that sex workers in Zimbabwe experience. “Commercial sex work is a crime in Zimbabwe. The chances of commercial sex workers being arrested are increased by the crime of ‘loitering’. This penalises women that are considered by the authorities to be loitering on the street (with or without the intention of engaging in commercial sex work). This legislation is misogynistic and discriminatory and often leads to the arrest of commercial sex workers,” she said. Commercial Sex Workers working with the Sexual Rights Centre said they are frequently arrested and illegally detained. Many of them are forced to have sex with police officers to secure their release. Many NGOs in Zimbabwe view commercial sex work as a social and moral ill that must be addressed and abolished. This perspective increases stigmas and reduces commercial sex workers’ access to facilities, information and resources. The Sexual Rights Centre is the only organisation in Zimbabwe with a programme dedicated to working with commercial sex workers to advocate for their rights.

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