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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
Thursday, 12 April 2012 12:37

Call to decriminalise sex work in SA

By Avashnee Moodley, The Citizen Online

Major gender equality organisations are calling for sex work to be legalised. The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) and Cosatu’s national gender committee have called for legislative changes for sex workers. Prostitution is illegal in South Africa and has been so since 1957.

Several organisations have over the years attacked this legislation as oppressive and are advocating the decriminalisation of sex work.

The SA Law Reform Commission (SALRC) recently initiated legislative reform of the legal system with regard to sex work. CGE commissioner Janine Hicks said it was conclusive that the criminalisation of sex workers was not working.

“It is causing more violations of human rights with police officers being the main culprits. This is through bribery, asking for sexual favours and assault,” she said.

Hicks said they were looking at other countries’ approaches.

“Sweden is one of those countries that’s taken a different approach to the criminalisation of sex workers. It is the first country to criminalise the buyers of sex rather than sex workers.”

[This news article was sourced from The Citizen Online: Call to decriminalise sex work in SA]

Published in News
Thursday, 05 April 2012 12:44

COSATU and the CGE dialogue on sex work

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) together with COSATU convened a consultative dialogue on sex work legislative reform. The CGE and COSATU are mindful of the current legislative reform process being driven by the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC), and sought to engage with stakeholders in the sector to inform the development of their institution’s own policy responses to sex work.

Accordingly, representatives from a range of institutions researching and championing the rights of sex workers and addressing violations of their human rights, such as Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT), and representatives from Sisonke Sex Worker Movement itself, were invited to advise the CGE and COSATU on their responses to proposed legislative reform and arguments in favour of full decriminalization of sex work.

Participants noted firstly with concern the delays in the finalizing of sex work legislative reform, which has been before the SALRC since the release of its issue paper in this regard in 2002, and discussion paper in 2009. The SALRC is in the process of finalizing its report for consideration by the Commission, and thereafter for submission to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development for his consideration. Participants expressed concern at the fact that the SALRC is in fact still waiting on the Presidency to appoint new Commissioners to its structure, and therefore is unable to set any timeframes for the above process.

The CGE and COSATU were advised in no uncertain terms that the current regime, namely the full criminalization of sex work, namely criminalizing the buying and selling of sex-work, and all related activities, such as pimping and the running of brothels, has failed society in general, and sex workers in particular. The criminalization of sex work is difficult to implement and enforce, and has not resulted in the reduction of the levels of sex work, or violence against sex workers.

Speakers noted that in contrast, the criminalization of sex work harms sex workers and denies them access to the rights contained in our Constitution. Sex workers are subjected to numerous human rights violations, predominantly harassment and abuse at the hands of police officers, and are not able to access and exercise legal or labour rights, or social protections. As a result, sex workers employed by brothels are subject to numerous unfair and discriminatory practices and abuse, ranging from fining, bonding and coercion, and are denied access to legal remedies to challenge these, or to mobilizing and the forming of unions to support this process.

Participants called for the full decriminalization of sex work, stating that this is the only appropriate legislative response that is based on the human rights of sex workers, and will permit adult sex workers to engage consensually with their adult clients, without fear of police violence. By removing state control and policing of the sex work industry, this then shifts the police’s role to that of preventing harm to sex workers, and investigating and taking action against criminal instances of trafficking, coercion and child sexual abuse, which are fundamentally distinct from sex work. They stated clearly that sex workers are not victims needing rescue, but survivors calling for recognition and protection of their rights.

Persuasive research was presented on the model adopted by New Zealand, the first country to adopt the decriminalization of sex work, with supporting legislation in place to protect the human and labour rights of sex workers. New Zealand put in place a five year review mechanism to assess the impact of this legislation, and findings indicate clearly that decriminalization has not resulted in an increase in sex work, but rather that the attainment of the rights of sex workers has improved, and awareness on occupational and health rights increased.

Dialogue participants called upon the CGE and COSATU to call for the repeal of criminal law prohibiting adult consensual sex, and the promulgation of legislation to promote the rights of sex workers, and support the mobilizing and organizing of sex workers to champion their rights. The CGE in particular was requested to make use of its statutory powers to investigate systematic police violence against sex workers, and the use of state resources to harass and abuse sex workers.

COSATU noted that its National Gender Conference concluded on 29 March 2012 called for the full decriminalization of sex work. Gender structures within COSATU are now campaigning with affiliates and provincial structures to support the policy proposal in this regard to be tabled at COSATU’s 2012 Congress. The CGE confirmed that it would be finalizing its formal position on the decriminalization of sex work, drawing on the inputs from the roundtable and responding to the experience and human rights of sex workers, whereafter it would be engaging with relevant stakeholders to take this forward.

The CGE also noted that it would immediately develop legal opinion on existing legislative provisions in our criminal law in relation to sex work that appear to be in conflict with the Constitution, to take these up with the State. The CGE invited SWEAT to immediately and formally lodge a complaint in relation to police abuse of sex workers, for CGE investigation and action.

[This press release from the Commission for Gender Equality, on the 4th of April 2012. The original title read: 'Consultative dialogue on sex work']

Published in Decriminalisation
Thursday, 29 March 2012 14:32

Corrupt police abuse, exploit sex workers

By Zaheer Cassim, Corruption Watch

Sex workers are made extremely vulnerable by corruption in the police force, needing protection from officers who demand sex or money from them. This emerged from the 2012 Cosatu Gender Conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday 27 March, where the decriminalization of sex work was discussed.

Sally-Jean Shackleton, director of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) said police are the often worst offenders when it comes to the harassment of sex workers in Johannesburg.

“The women have to pay a R900 bribe to be released or not to taken into custody,” she said. Police also ask the women for sex in return for not being arrested. If the women refuse these demands, they can be thrown into jail for days without access to anti-retroviral treatment or food.

A similar situation in the Western Cape is made worse by police also deterring sex workers from using protection.

“We are finding in Cape Town that sex workers are being searched for condoms, which are then used as evidence against them,” said Shackleton.

A study by the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) revealed that more than a third of sex workers in the Western Cape don’t carry condoms on them because they fear police harassment and abuse. The study, conducted between September 2009 and June 2011, found that more than 70% of sex workers had experienced some form of abuse from police officers.

WLC attorney Stacey-Leigh Manoek said her organisation is working with Sweat to compile a list of officers and stations most culpable of this kind of abuse. The WLC has also filed five civil damages against the minister of police for unlawful arrests and detention amounting to R500 000.

But the police have said that unless sex workers are willing to come forward and lay a formal complaint themselves, nothing will be done.

Sweat and the WLC hope this year’s conference will create awareness of the problem and mobilise South African women behind the push to decriminalise sex work. Shackleton is also working with union group Sisonke to create a unit in the union specifically for sex workers and the protection of their rights.

[This news article was sourced from Corruption Watch: Corrupt police abuse, exploit sex workers]

Published in News