South Africa 31.8.2015 09:00 am

United to legalise sex work

Picture: AFP

Picture: AFP

The call for decriminalising sex workers in South Africa has been strengthened with a newly formed coalition, which aims to put an end to horrifying situations being faced on a daily basis because of non-regulation.

More than 17 organisations have mobilised to create the coalition in order to challenge issues relating to human, legal and health rights.

The Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work in South Africa brings together activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, sex workers and academics. Asijiki is the isiZulu word for “No turning or looking back”.

The coalition is made up of participants from a cross-section of society and who work towards safeguarding the human rights of sex workers everywhere.

It brings together the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, Women’s Legal Centre, the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sonke Gender Justice.

“We now have a solid platform to raise issues on how to go about strengthening our call for decriminalisation without fear of stigmatisation and prejudice,” Sisonke’s Kholi Buthelezi said.

“The coalition will be able to challenge the negative stereotyping of sex workers and also build the capacity to challenge issues relating to our human, legal and health rights.”

It will conduct advocacy to highlight the impact of criminalisation on sex workers’ health, human rights and limited access to services, and specifically lobby for law reform for the decriminalisation of sex work.

Cherith Sanger, Sweat’s human rights defence and advocacy manager, added that the coalition aimed to strengthen a collective national response to “promote, protect and defend the human rights of sex workers to fight against long-term and high levels of human rights violations experienced by sex workers”.

Stacey-Leigh Manoek, an attorney from the Women’s Legal Centre, said the South African Law Reform Commission has been investigating legal models for sex work for 15 years, but has released no concrete recommendations Marlise Richter of Sonke Gender Justice added that “every day that South Africa continues to criminalise sex work is another day that sex workers experience abuse, discrimination and hardship”.

The Commission for Gender Equality, following a consultative dialogue on legislative reform, concluded that the current “legal regime in South Africa” has failed sex workers. “It is not only difficult to implement and enforce, but has also failed to reduce the levels of sex work and violence against sex workers,” it has said in its report on the matter.

“The current legal regime harms the interests of sex workers by denying them their human and constitutional rights to protection as well as preventing access to legal assistance and enjoyment of their labour rights. However, the current legal context has led to harassment and abuse of sex workers at the hands of the police.”

The South African Law Reform Commission and the Justice Department will be key advocacy targets of the coalition.

Quick facts

  • South Africa has foundational rights expressed with clarity and force in its Constitution. These rights apply to all who live in the country.
  • As per the the Constitution, all are afforded human dignity and the right to have their dignity respected.
  • Freedom and security of the person: Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to security in and control over their body.
  • Freedom of trade, occupation and profession: Every citizen has the right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely. The practice of a trade, occupation or profession may be regulated by law.


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