The SolidariTea Mother’s Day event and launch of the Sex Worker Super Hero film gathered on Friday, May 6, 2016, to commemorate Mothers Day for sex workers with children.
The event, hosted by Mothers for the Future (M4F), a programme that supports mothers who do sex work, was attended by 60 guests from organisations working with women, children and sex work, including 13 mothers who were sex workers themselves, according to Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) media officer Lesego Tlhwale.
Duduzile Dlamini, event organiser at Sisonke, a sex workers’ movement, said mothers who did sex work faced a lot of challenges: “In our support group, they come every day with a whole host of problems.”
Dlamini says some of the mothers lose their children because they are taken away from them by authorities under the assumption that they cannot care for their children and are bad mothers.
A lot of the mothers do not feel ready to tell their children about their occupation, according to her. However, community members take it upon themselves to reveal to the children what their mothers do without the mothers’ permission.
“They do not tell them in a way that the children can respect their mothers after that. The children are told in a way that they should hate their mothers in the end,” she says.
The children are given a hard time at school by both their peers and teachers and are teased for having mothers who are sex workers.
Dlamini explains it is not easy for the children that their mothers are sex workers because of the stigma perpetuated by their communities. She sees the outcome of this as damaging to the bond between their children and the mother.
She recounted a story that exemplified the difficulties of being a mother in sex work.
One of the mothers who left her child with a nanny has a brother who raped the child one day when the mother was gone. When the mother found out her child was raped, she appealed to the community and police for help, but the perpetrator denied the allegations and the community readily believed him on the grounds that the child and mother could not trusted, as the mother was a sex worker and engaged in “immoral” behaviour.
Dlamini felt this was a deep injustice, especially where the mother’s capacity to care for her child was questioned.
“She paid the nanny every day to look after her child because she was not going to just leave her child alone.”
“Expecting mothers in sex work face several obstacles, particularly when they are homeless, as they are not able to produce proof of address when seeking help from medical establishments,” she said.
“I heard of one of the mothers who was pregnant and HIV positive died under a bridge when the others who shared the living space under the bridge with her were gone for the night, and she went into labour during that time and was found dead the next morning.”
M4F describes itself as a “powerful example” of the efficacy of sex-worker-led interventions and how providing holistic support to mothers can result in better overall health outcomes for their children.