“Everyone is talking on behalf of sex workers inside there and not talking about the voices of sex workers (themselves),” said Gita November, who has been a sex worker for 19 years.
November was speaking to Daily Maverick on the sidelines of an adult prostitution summit held in Parliament on Monday, convened by the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus.
Conversations surrounding sex work often focused on research, not the lived experience of sex workers, which frustrated sex work advocacy groups.
“Consultations must be made with us,” said November amid discussions taking place about decriminalising sex work in South Africa.
This decision should not be made for sex workers, but through more rigorous dialogue between the government and sex workers, said November.
“Go back to 1994, how did you feel when you were oppressed by apartheid? That’s how I’m currently feeling now in South Africa,” said November, who appealed for sex work to be decriminalised.
“I’m being opposed because you are making decisions on behalf of us,” said November.
Sex advocacy group members shook their heads in disagreement during a presentation to the summit made by the South African Legal Reform Commission. The presentation about reforming the legal framework around sex work had been delayed since 2016.
The commission’s report, released in 2017, makes the following recommendations:
The EFF was dissatisfied with the Legal Reform Commission. Speaking to Daily Maverick, EFF MP Veronica Mente said the report on the decriminalisation of sex work has been dragging on before Cabinet since 2016, “without a response”.
Mente said advocacy group Sweat had told the EFF that the report was still outstanding and they then investigated it further.
In 2017, a question was posed to then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, responsible for government business in Parliament.
“Only then everyone took it seriously,” said Mente.
The EFF is in full support of decriminalising sex work, placing emphasis on sex work involving consenting adults and distinguishing it from forced sex work or children being forced into sex work.
Attempts by presenters during the summit to make sex work a moral issue were not correct, said Mente.
“When we get to sex work, let’s not use a moral question. Let’s not use human trafficking, let’s not use child pornography. Let’s not use coerced sex workers … Now we are talking about a group of society who has made a decision on trading (in sex work) – our Constitution allows this,” she said.
Another speaker at the summit, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, Vice Chairperson: Sexual Health & Reproductive Justice Coalition (SRJC), said morality should not play a part in the discussion, asking “whose morality is it?” Mofokeng said society was inherently anti-black and anti-woman and that decriminalisation would remove stigmas associated with sex work, including the stigmas faced by sex workers seeking healthcare.
“Society cannot be trusted, the law must regulate sex work,” said Mofokeng.
Various organisations have called for the full decriminalisation of sex work. It is argued that in this case, both sex worker and buyer would be legally protected.
“We support the decriminalisation of sex work,” said Matthew Parks from Cosatu. Parks said the decriminalisation of sex work would help to protect sex workers and ensure their rights and dignity.
Cosatu is pushing for government departments to play an active role in supporting sex workers and their rights; with the police ministry ensuring safety for sex workers, the department of social development providing social security and grants to sex workers and the labour department to ensure labour rights and UIF.
During the ANC elective congress in December 2017, the ANC made a policy to decriminalise sex work.
“We had plans to host the summit before the governing party elective conference,” said chairperson of the Women’s Multi-Party Caucus, Masefele Story Morutoa.
Morutoa reiterated that the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus was mandated to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work, and has been on the agenda for “such a long time”.
Even though the caucus was in support of the decriminalisation of sex work, Morutoa said “this was not my decision”.
Monday’s summit was an opportunity for stakeholders involved in the sex industry to make input on the content contained in the commission’s report. Advocacy groups including Sweat, Sonke Gender Justice, The Triangle Project, Cosatu, the Women’s Legal Resources Centre and the Commission for Gender Equality made presentations on the contents of the report, which was released last year.
Daily Maverick previously reported on the reaction by advocacy groups who are against the report’s recommendation that sex work should not be fully decriminalised. It is available here. DM
Photo: Sex workers and supporters protest for better laws and working conditions outside the 2016 International Aids Conference at the International Conference Centre in Durban, South Africa, 20 July 2016. Photo: EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND
"Each man believes on his experience" ~ Empedocles