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By Kate Forbes, BBC News

Will prostitution ever be decriminalised in South Africa? The women's league of the governing African National Congress party hopes so and it has claimed a victory which takes the country one step further towards legal soliciting, writes the BBC's Kate Forbes in Johannesburg.

Lilly, 32, has been working as a prostitute in Johannesburg for six years.

She puts her coffee cup down gently to avoid drawing attention, as she explains to me in a low voice what life is like as a prostitute on the city's very mean streets.

"I know of women caught on the streets by police who have been the victims of horrific humiliation," she says.

"Like spraying pepper spray on a woman's private parts, or forcing her to stand naked while they take photos.

"You can't make a complaint because you'll be arrested and prosecuted for being a sex worker. You have no rights."

Lilly and her peers embody the argument for decriminalising prostitution in South Africa.

A conservative society and unsympathetic police force leave women and men in the sex industry with few rights when things go wrong.

However, the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) has just won a key victory to change things for men and women like Lilly.

The principle of decriminalisation was adopted at the recent ANC's policy conference, which sets it on track for approval when the party meets again to decide national policy in December.


Unexpected move?
Hlengiwe Mkhize, the group's treasurer and South Africa's deputy minister of economic development, laughs when asked if this is a new direction for the women's league.

The ANC Women's League treasurer and Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Professor Hlengiwe MkhizaHlengiwe Mkhize says money spent harassing sex workers could be better spent retraining them

They are working hard to shake off a sometimes unfair reputation for being benign church-going ladies who let the rest of the ANC do the talking.

"Yes, it may be seen as an unexpected move from us, but we have seen that there is a need to protect women, and that this agenda is not being addressed," she says.

"We made a decision that [prostitutes] are women too, and need protection.

"There is no context here that protects women's rights; there are no special laws, we don't have shelters for vulnerable women and there isn't a network of help for them."

It is the women's league's aim to help women "reclaim their dignity", she says.

"The money we spend harassing and criminalising them could be spent retraining or re-orienting them."

So does the decriminalisation debate show that women in South Africa are becoming more able to steer the political debate?

Before the first free elections in 1994, the ANCWL was told that it should not be campaigning for women's rights but focus on the national liberation struggle instead.

After 1994, the group has achieved victories such as the creation of a ministry for women, but the political landscape remains one dominated by men.

For a nation reborn on the principle of equality, South Africa has found it difficult to make that equality a reality for women.

Women earn less, have fewer opportunities and suffer high levels of rape and assault.

South Africa is traditionally Christian and conservative, and so the argument over supply and demand of sex workers is key to the debate here, as are concerns over the trafficking of women.

A friend of Lilly's, Sarah, also a prostitute, says that she thinks twice before reporting underage or trafficked women to the police.

"I don't want to get taken in by the police for soliciting," she says.

"It is really risky, so it's difficult to report. Sometimes you just mind your own business."


'Encourage demand'

But for trade union group Fedusa, which represents workers across the racial spectrum in South Africa, decriminalisation misses the point.

"We think that decriminalising prostitution will encourage supply, which will in turn encourage demand," says Dennis George, the union's general secretary. Close-up image of Lilly's handsSex workers like Lilly and Sarah may one day be able to work legally

"If there is bad policing let's tackle that," he says emphatically, speaking to the BBC as he runs between meetings.

"We know it's an industry as old as the mountains but that doesn't mean we have to live with it."

Trade unions are hugely influential in politics in South Africa, and so Fedusa's opposition is important.

However, an even bigger union grouping, Cosatu, has lent its support to the women's league on this issue, and so the months leading up to December will see fierce debate on whether prostitution will eventually become decriminalised.

Change for women like Lilly is on the horizon, although it may not be soon.

"We have strengthened our position and we're going to use that to strengthen the position of women who are some of the most disadvantaged in our society," says Ms Mkhize.

"We are on track for change".

[This news article was sourced from BBC News: Will South Africa make prostitution legal?]

Published in News

By Kgomotso Matsunyane and Oratile Moseki

It is time to move on and consider the evidence on sex work. We are disappointed to note that the ANC Women’s League has decided to retract what appeared to be support for the decriminalisation of sex work, stating that “more engagement” on the issue was needed.

While respecting their decision, SWEAT and our decriminalisation supporters say it’s about time the controversies plaguing the issue were dealt with.

There is a shift in focus towards evidence that supports total decriminalisation, and we say that at the heart of these issues are sex worker voices, choices and needs.

This information is supreme in that it comes from the experiences of the sex workers themselves.

It is a little known fact that the ANC first seriously considered options to legalise sex work 18 years ago in 1996, when “decriminalisation” or alternatively “legalisation of sex work” was discussed. si sex workers

The issue proved too controversial to decide upon and has evolved into a call for the “dignity of women” as articulated in the ANC gender discussion document.

Controversies around women’s issues, gender and economic inequalities are not uncommon and come with the territory.

They should not be feared by the ANCWL.

In all such cases strong and brave leadership is needed to defend women’s rights and will be needed here in order to move beyond the impasse of 1996.

The ANCWL has such leaders: during Cosatu Gender Conference deliberations in March, Women’s League President Angie Motshekga spoke out on radio and in session saying women must discuss the issues that affect them, no matter how controversial they are.

The ANCWL has come one step closer to empowering women by acknowledging that criminalising sex workers does not work.

Now is the time to move beyond that. We can’t afford to wait another 18 years.

Yes, we agree with the ANCWL that it is time to engage. It is time to engage sex workers who can and do speak for themselves and are completely capable of knowing what is in their best interests, and of making decisions about their lives.

This is a fundamental right that we build our argument on. Sex workers are family members, parents, churchgoers and community leaders.

Partial criminalisation, in which the client is criminalised and not the sex workers, is a law reform which is based on the assumption that women are incapable of making decisions about their lives; that they need to be “rescued”.

It is a law reform option that totally objectifies women, while completely disregarding their agency. In this sense it is worse than criminalisation, where although considered a crime, at least the law acknowledges that sex workers are capable of choosing to do it. Taking the views of the sex workers out of the equation provides the most demeaning legal view of women and reinforces patriarchal control of women’s choices and bodies.

If the ANCWL wants to empower women, to challenge patriarchy, to show that women are just as capable as men of designing and deciding their own destinies, it certainly should not support partial criminalisation.

Criminalisation of sex work, which has been in place for 55 years and is founded on “moral” values with little evidential support, has crippled any traction on the issue.

In an interview recently, Motshekga admitted their reluctance has been as a result of league members not knowing what the implications of law change would be (The Star Monday June 18, 2012, “Searching for Common Ground”).

Moral views without any basis in fact are dangerous and South Africans know this first hand from our experience of apartheid, for instance, which was a policy decision rooted in morality and beliefs without basis. We have moved on from there, and have since made decisions in spite of the controversy surrounding them.

So, what is the evidence?

Let us consider two common concerns to illustrate our point.

The first is the belief that decriminalising sex work will lead to an increase in the numbers of sex workers, particularly of younger women. There is no evidence to show that decriminalising sex work has any effect on the numbers of sex workers.

In fact, no legal system at all has been shown to do this.

Research in Australia, where in some states sex work is legalised, in another it is criminalised and in one other decriminalised, there is no difference in the percentage of sex workers in relation to the general population. Research from New Zealand shows that after sex work was decriminalised in 2003, there has not been a significant increase in the numbers (Basil Donovan, et al., The Sex Industry in Western Australia: A Report to the Western Australia Government vii, 6, 9 [2010]).

The other common fear is that decriminalising sex work will lead to higher rates of trafficking.

This too has been shown not to be the case. Firstly it must be said that sex work and trafficking are not the same thing. Sex work is adult, consensual and done in private.

Trafficking has to do with forced work and exploitation. A five-year review of decriminalisation in New Zealand has shown no evidence of an increase in trafficking, or of more under-age sex workers (New Zealand Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003’, May 2008.)

Other such research also exists.

The fact is, sex workers don’t want crime just as much as the next person, and by decriminalising it, sex workers can openly report crimes such as trafficking and child sexual exploitation without fearing prosecution.

In no other legal system is the opportunity for sex workers to expose crime as great as it is in decriminalisation.

SWEAT encourages policymakers to use five key criteria when considering any sex work law or policy. We believe we can agree on these.

The first thing to consider when reviewing a possible law is whether it protects sex workers from police abuse. Secondly, does the law make sex workers vulnerable to labour exploitation?

Thirdly, does it make it difficult for sex workers to exit the industry freely? Fourthly, can sex workers access respectful health care and other services?

And finally, can the police tackle real crimes like trafficking and child exploitation effectively, and can sex workers report them?

There is more evidence, and a lot of experience in the area to guide our lawmakers.

There is no better time than now.

Matsunyane is a SWEAT Board Member and Moseki is Advocacy & Human Rights Defence Manager at SWEAT

[This news article was sourced from IOL News: SWEAT wants women's league a stand]

Published in SWEAT Press Releases
Tuesday, 19 June 2012 15:19

Searching for common ground

By Janet Smith, The Star

Sex workers have a champion in ANC Women’s League president Angie Motshekga. But that doesn’t mean decriminalising their activities will be on the table at the party’s national conference in December.

Reports have suggested the league would make a strong case for tax-paying prostitutes at Mangaung, but Motshekga says this is not necessarily so.

Instead, decriminalising sex work will stay on its radar, but cannot be taken forward until everyone agrees – and the league is “not there yet”.

At the moment, says Motshekga, they would “not be able to fight successfully for it”, even though it’ll be up for discussion at the party’s policy conference at Gallagher Convention Centre at the end of the month.

The issue of sex work popped up, quite surprisingly, in the league’s gender policy discussion document released last month, which was prepared for Gallagher.

Proposals taken up at that gathering are expected to be confirmed at Mangaung in December, so it’s serious business.

But Motshekga emphasises that prostitutes weren’t given more than “two paragraphs”.

“It’s not something we would commonly discuss, but it was strengthened by us showing an interest because of concerns raised around women and health. Our understanding was deepened when Sweat (the Cape Town-based Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce) said, ‘We see you have taken an interest’, and the women’s league said: ‘We do, but we do not have the depth.’ They gave us that depth.”

The SA Law Reform Commission has been investigating what to do with prostitution for an astonishingly long time, but there have only ever been three choices. Sex work can stay illegal as it is now, or it can be regulated or decriminalised. The league doesn’t pitch one way or the other, but says it’s looking to “embrace the dignity of women”.

“What I expect at the policy conference is a huge reaction from the men and women from the ANC,” says Motshekga.

“But so far we know that even the women have been taken aback – our own women. Many of them are not ready, because they say they are not sure of the implications.

“They want to be assured that we would not be creating another form of decadence. Those who don’t want this would argue that we supported termination of pregnancy, and now it’s creating problems.

“There are no parallel support programmes, so the women in the league are using this to say: ‘Yes we’ll take it up, but we do not think it will win.’”

It may sound as if the president of the league is taking the route of least resistance. But Motshekga – who survived President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle last week as the minister of basic education – sounds buoyant.

She explains the democratic processes of the league and laughs lightly as she imagines ANC “senior officials being worried and asking: ‘Where does this come from, and why are you raising it?’”

Prostitution has been illegal in SA for more than 50 years. But, ultimately, “there hasn’t been enough time to canvass adequately for (decriminalisation)… there’s not enough groundwork to say what is the alternative”, Motshekga says.

“We might say, ‘Yes we agree with you on principle’, but there are those who feel worried. Would we not be encouraging young girls to become interested in sex work?”

The issue of decriminalising prostitution has shifted the league a little more into the spotlight – a place it hasn’t occupied for years, possibly since the rape trial of President Jacob Zuma six years ago. He was acquitted.

And even if its motives were, perhaps, misunderstood on that one, now is a crunch moment for the league, which has been criticised for seemingly refusing to take the party to task on difficult issues. It’s just been too quiet for too long.

Motshekga agrees. She feels the time is now ripe to step up. Even she is growing weary of the women’s voice being hushed within the party. And after the league’s national executive committee meeting in Boksburg last month, she spoke about “the elephant of patriarchy” being “all over”.

She told journalists after that meeting: “As women, especially women in the ANC, which is very powerful and can shape the thinking of government, we need to push boundaries to ensure women’s issues are thought about at every level.”

The organisation itself, says Motshekga, needs to be pushed.

“We have been having capacity problems, and we need to sort that out to be able to go and report what has happened immediately after things happen. We inherited a very weak structure for what we wanted to do. We wanted to build solid structures in every ward so that we would be able to take up women’s battles at grassroots level, so we have now been spending lots of time going to provinces, assessing, building proper branches which are functional to do that essential below-the-radar work.”

And it is that below-the-radar work that is most critical. It was all very well, says Motshekga, to see members in their women’s league uniforms at The Spear protest outside the Goodman Gallery, but that’s “not really the point”.

The gender policy document captures the degree of trouble for SA, hardened by a fresh report on women in the world that shows that we are the fourth-worst place for women to live.

Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and France are the top five in a perceptions poll of 370 gender specialists conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. At the other end were India, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Mexico.

It makes sense, then, that the league’s document is not at all happy about how little progress has been made here towards the gender equality envisaged in 1994. The league’s constituency is deeply unhappy.

At least 28 percent of women are unemployed and women earn less, while a mere 10 percent of CEOs and board chairs are women, with less than 20 percent in executive management.

The league wants government job creation to aim at least at a 50/50 split. It wants women to get 50 percent of contracts from the state and for this, it insists upon proper training – even an institute that will give women the edge they so desperately need.

From Motshekga’s point of view, this is all very well, but it’s not only about the law. Women struggle even at home, which is why she’s so insistent on breaking down the patriarchy that saw us nudged into such a uncomfortable position on that latest poll.

“It is a very tedious exercise to get the branches going and to get everyone in those branches to buy in, but we’re finding it does pay dividends and some have been successful. If there’s a case of rape, our women will be there. If a mother has passed away and her family have been struggling alone for three months, we expect our branches to be there.

“Especially in Mpumalanga, we’re finding that women within wards are taking up those kinds of daily battles, whereas in North West, we have had setbacks because we just didn’t have branches which could take up any campaign reports. “The information we were receiving was not very truthful, and there was a huge fallout with leadership in the provinces, so that kind of thing means it takes a lot to re-establish a structure.”

The policy conference has helped the league to focus.

“We know we must keep clear on broad issues about policy, advocacy and governance, but sometimes our relationships with other organisations have been a bit ad hoc because of capacity. It actually helps us to work with other organisations because then we do not have to invest lots of resources. Campaigns can be led by others and then we can do our part.

But Motshekga is worried that the league is not attracting highly skilled women. That, she says, has got to change.

Perceptions have got to be “fixed up” so that professionals – “lawyers, economists, such like” – are not put off by a women’s agenda that seems too closely tied to the mother party. “We know that the economic empowerment of women is just not getting off the ground. The skills revolution is not happening. And we could also see how much more powerful women could be when the skilled stood up for them, like it was around the Traditional Courts Bill.

“We needed those independent thinkers and women in law who said: ‘Please wake up, there’s a problem here.’

“We should be able to work above our political divides to really raise alarm bells. It’s not about party politics. It’s about women. And we know that because we’re in the ANC, in the majority in government, we can push for something to be taken to cabinet and be urgently prioritised. That’s our advantage.”

[This news article was sourced from IOL News, Searching for common ground.]

Published in News

By Leanne Farish, The Big Issue

The call to decriminalise prostitution in South Africa by the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) could lead to a more effective clampdown on human traffickers supplying the local sex trade, advocacy groups argue.

This follows the ANCWL’s mid-April confirmation that they will present an argument for the decriminalisation of prostitution at the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung this December.

Some opposed to the decriminalisation of prostitution have argued that such a move will lead to an increase in human trafficking into the sex trade. But according to several South African women’s rights organisations, this is not the case.

“Decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa will not result in an increase in sex trafficking or child sex work, based on evidence from New Zealand [which decriminalised prostitution in 2003],” says Stacey-Leigh Manoek of the Women’s Legal Centre. Manoek points to research which shows that decriminalisation in New Zealand did not lead to any increase in sex trafficking or under-age sex work.

In fact, decriminalising prostitution could actually help law enforcement to identify and arrest traffickers, according to the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat).

“A key benefit of decriminalisation is a vast improvement in the relationship between police and sex workers, to the point that sex workers become key information sources in attempts to uncover human trafficking. Currently, sex workers are afraid to do so because they might end up being arrested,” says Sweat advocacy officer Ntokozo Yingwana.

“Also, decriminalisation will also bring into effect stronger laws against coerced sex work, trafficking and under-age sex work, all which are not forms of adult consensual sex work.”

[This news article was sourced from The Big Issue: ANCWL’s decriminalisation call may expose human traffickers]

Published in News

By Khuthala Nandipha, Daily Dispatch

The African National Congress Women’s League is officially backing calls for sex work to be legalised in South Africa.

The motion will be discussed at the ANC’s policy conference in June and national conference in Mangaung in December where the league hopes for a resolution to be passed. This follows the recent release of the league’s gender policy discussion document, which highlights the right for women to be sex workers without fear of the law and social stigma.

“We want a total decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa. The law treats prostitutes as criminals but does not treat their male clients with the same heavy-handedness.

“We want the ANC to support a position that will embrace the dignity of women,” said Hlengiwe Mkhize, ANCWL treasurer.

The move received support from former deputy minister of health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.

Currently the executive director of Embrace Dignity, an NGO addressing trafficking and sexual exploitation, Madlala-Routledge wrote in a recent article that while she doubted the ANC would call for total decriminalisation, there was merit in calling for the decriminalisation of selling, and not the buying, of sex.

“This position takes into account the underlying causes that drive women, mainly poor women, into prostitution …” she wrote.

Gender activists argue that criminalisation of sex work makes it difficult for sex workers to leave the industry because many have a criminal record which makes employers reluctant to give them work.

One 32-year-old East Londoner who became a sex worker 12 years ago, said women did not turn to sex work because they wanted to be aroused, but rather due to financial difficulties. The woman, who only has a Grade 11 education, is a divorcee and single mother to two children.

“All I have ever wanted was to go to school and become a social worker,” she said.

She is one of many women who turn to prostitution to make ends meet. Recent unemployment statistics show official unemployment among women stands at 28%. The woman said she made up to R1000 on a regular night and during the festive season or other holiday periods up to R3000.

She was married at 16 and moved to East London from the Transkei with her husband. But after three years of abuse and entrapment, she divorced him and got custody of her child who was just 11 months old.

She moved in with a friend. She had no idea that her friend was a sex worker until she followed her one night. A driver approached her and she learnt that in less than an hour she could make up to R150.

“The thought that by morning I could afford nappies, formula and vegetables motivated me throughout the gruesome process,” she said. “Of all the piece jobs I have done in-between prostitution , none have ever given me this much income.”

She has just received her Computer Literacy certificate and is currently studying for a certificate in Childhood Development. She plans to leave sex work soon and open a crèche in a rural area with the help of government funding and savings.

Considered one of the oldest professions in the world, prostitution was declared illegal in South Africa in 1957, but gender rights advocates maintain that if a person wants to buy or sell sex, this should be their choice.

In 2009, the Democratic Alliance’s Jack Bloom, spokesperson for DA Gauteng Health had said: “Decriminalising of sex work would be a grave mistake that would send the wrong signal to communities.”

However, the party has changed its tune. According to Mmusi Maimane, DA’s national spokesperson, the Alliance’s main concern is for every human being’s constitutional rights to be protected.

“Often prostitution is met with a lot of police brutality, so whatever needs to be done to end this violation, the DA is behind it.”

However, he added that the matter of decriminalisation should be resolved through public participation and in no other way. “People need to decide what kind of society they want to live in.”

Ntokozo Yingwana, advocacy officer for Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) said sex work was difficult, dangerous and not an easy decision to make. “So it’s not about making quick money, it’s about making a hard choice,” said Yingwana.

[This news article was sourced from the Daily Dispatch, 21 April 2012 edition. For a downloadable PDF version of this article, see below.]

Published in News