Sex workers march in Africa

Sex workers marched in Cape Town to mark International Sex Workers Rights Day. About 100 sex workers, some wearing masks to avoid identification, and human rights activists, march through the city on March 3, 2011 in Cape Town. Thousands of people worldwide took to the streets to march for decriminalization of prostitution. Groups marked the day in seven African countries: Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Rodger Bosch

Did you know that today is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day?

Sex workers calling for the decriminalization of prostitution marched in Cape Town to the offices of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, according to South Africa's Eyewitness News.

Police led the small group down the busy Keizersgracht Street in central Cape Town.

Many of the shouting participants wore colorful masks to obscure their faces, while others wore bright red clothing to show their support for efforts to legalize prostitution. One woman said it is unfair for sex workers to be labelled as criminals, since many are forced into the profession to put food on the table. She said the municipal vice squad is largely to blame for the sense of oppression suffered by sex workers.

Sex workers also demonstrated in nine African cities in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The event marks the day in 2009 when sex workers from Southern, Western and Eastern Africa came together to form the African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA) to lead the fight for sex workers’ rights in Africa. So far the group has members in seven African countries: Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

“We call for access to health services and the ending of sex workers’ human rights violations. When we dare to be powerful, to go onto the streets and make our voices heard, we know there are those who will try to shame and ridicule us, with the hope that we will be isolated and silenced. But this won’t be the case!” said ASWA Regional Coordinator, Kyomya Macklean.

In Johannesburg South Africa, recently, members of the Sisonke Sex Workers Movement were shocked and saddened by the death of a colleague who was too afraid to report a serious assault by a hotel manager in Hillbrow.

“We visited her in December and encouraged her to lay a charge, in February we heard she was dead,” recalls Kholi Buthelezi, National Sisonke Coordinator. “We are marching in Hillbrow to make sure that this does not happen again and to remember the life of Itumeleng.”

Sex workers in Limpopo province of South Africa called on the police and society to respect sex workers means of survival, and recognize sex work as work. “We will no longer be silenced – human rights are for everyone” said Mickey Meji, the African Sex Worker Alliance’s South African coordinator.

In Zambia, sex workers complained of police harassment and did not march. Some Zambian sex workers appealed to relevant authorities to help stop police harassment, according to Zambian Watchdog. The sex workers told a local TV station, Muvi, that police officers often harass them by arresting and charging them.

Police Service spokesperson Ndandula Siamana responded by saying that any immoral act is against the Zambian laws. Ms. Siamana explained that the police will not allow lawlessness in the country to be the order of the day.

International Sex Workers Rights Day is celebrated around the world.

On March 3, 2001 thousands of in India took to the streets with their friends and families, protesting the violence and condemnation they often experienced. Their actions eventually lead to the creation of International Sex Workers Rights Day, according Victoria Bekiempis writing in the Village Voice. To celebrate, New York advocacy groups organized festivities all week — from potlucks to dramatic performances — capped by a special "No justice, no piece" reading.

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