Sex workers are extremely vulnerable in South African society, largely because of the criminal status of sex work, currently under review. They experience physical and sexual abuse, victimisation and discrimination from a broad range of stakeholders, and are unable to seek protection or justice because of their illegal status.
Recent disturbing incidents in the Glenwood/Umbilo area have highlighted their vulnerabilities and exposed the lack of understanding that exists in relation to the situation and rights abuses of sex workers. Local residents, already beset by crime in the area, have complained at the presence of sex workers in their suburbs, and at unwanted behaviours of some sex workers. Sex workers have in turn reported harassment and victimisation at the hands of residents and members of local community safety forums, alleging verbal abuse and harassment, being sprayed with pepper spray and pelted with eggs and water-filled condoms.
Sex workers operating in this area experience further abuse at the hands of pimps, local drug lords and clients, but do not feel safe to report any instances of abuse to the local police station. Made vulnerable by current laws criminalising sex work, sex workers attempting to report instances of abuse or sexual violence allegedly face further brutality and abuse at the hands of local authorities, including threats of arrest and demands for sexual favours.
The Commission for Gender Equality is an independent statutory body created under Chapter 9 of the Constitution, with the mandate to promote and protect the attainment of gender equality in South Africa. To this end, the Commission on Gender Equality Act No. 39 of 1996 gives the CGE the power to monitor and evaluate policies and practices of a broad range of public and private entities to promote gender equality, receive and investigate complaints of gender discrimination, conduct public outreach and awareness, research and advise Parliament on gender equality matters. The CGE has recently tabled in Parliament its position paper calling for the full decriminalisation of sex work, to protect and ensure the attainment of constitutional, labour and health rights of sex workers, and is currently investigating complaints of systematic abuse experienced by sex workers.
The CGE is partnering with the Umbilo Community Policing Forum, and Sisonke Sex Workers’ Movement, to convene a public forum of residents and community safety watch groups, sex worker advocacy groups, municipality stakeholders and other state institutions, to deliberate on sex work in the Glenwood and Umbilo communities. The intention is to create a platform for all participants to air their views on the topic, bringing in a diverse set of perspectives, with a view toward generating solutions moving forward. The dialogue will be facilitated by an independent mediator, and details are as follows:
Date: Tuesday, 18th March 2014
Venue: Glenwood High School, 1 ZK Matthews Drive (Nicholson Road), Glenwood.
All are welcome