Human Rights Day 2020: Stand Up For Sex Workers Rights In Africa

2020 Theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights

On the 10th of December 2020, the world celebrates the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) , the day is also known as Human Rights Day. The Human Rights Day was formally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. This was the first-ever global document on human rights which outline the fundamental rights of all human beings that need to be protected universally. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, this Declaration is a milestone document in the history of human rights.

The UDHR is a landmark document which declares the absolute entitlements- human rights which everyone including every sex worker is entitled to as a human being – in spite of race, color, religion, sex, language political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or another status.

The Human Rights Day also marks the end of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (GBV).

2020 theme is related to the COVID-19 pandemic and hinges on the need to re-construct better by ensuring that Sex Workers Rights are key to recovery efforts. Sex workers should not be left behind in the fight against COVID-19.

This International day is an occasion to educate the general public on human rights because they are of great concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global human rights violations, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of the promotion, protection and respect of human rights. The existence of this international day allows for UN and other human rights based organisations to embrace it as a powerful advocacy tool and a springboard for human rights awareness-raising actions.

ASWA has chosen to advocate for the decriminalization of all aspects of consensual adult sex-work in Africa- Sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation, or abuse. This is based on evidence and the real-life experience of sex workers themselves that criminalization makes them less safe.

Despite these milestones, Africa is still plagued by tragic sex workers’ rights abuses, including the oppression of sex workers.Sex workers in Africa experience extraordinarily high rates of violence. The ASWA study on the violence against sex workers in Africa concluded that violence pervades the lives of sex workers.

Grace Kamau, Regional coordinator for the African Sex Workers Alliance ASWA , said police in countries such as Uganda, Kenya Ivory Coast, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, were raiding brothels and bars, assaulting and arresting sex workers during the COVID 19.

In Kenya: Phelister Abdalla Vice-Chair NSWP -The Global Network of Sex Work Projects, also the National Coordinator of Kenya Sex Workers Alliance ( KESWA) said ’The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in violence, harassment, and abuse of sex workers. Here In Kenya, for example, incidences of violence against sex workers more than tripled during the first month of the pandemic, according to the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance’

In South Africa: Sisonke; ASWA Board Member, and Sisonke National Coordinator Kholi Buthelezi said ”A sex worker -Robyn Montsumi—died in the custody of police in April 2020. Sex workers in South Africa experience systemic human rights violations and outright violence, discrimination, and harassment at the hands of the police at an alarming rate.”

In Nigeria, the ASWA Board Member and the National Coordinator of Nigeria Sex Workers Association (NSWA) Amaka Enemo, during the Eid Mubarak holiday 2020, joined in a peaceful march to protest arrest and violence against women in Abuja Nigeria. She reported that several women including sex workers were dragged out of nightclubs, hotels, bars or arrested while walking home.#AbujaRaidOnWomen

In Uganda: Organisation For Gender Empowerment And Rights Advocacy (OGERA).In 2019,there were 76 incidents of violations of LBQ &Urban Refugees Sex workers’ which were identified out of  34 different cases.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): ASWA members HODSAS & UMANDE: From August 15 to September 17 2020, there were 97 cases of rape, 264 cases of sexual violence and one murder against sex workers were recorded in the city of Bukavu and Uvira.

In Cameroon: GBV was associated with inconsistent condom use with clients being offered more money for condomless sex, having had a condom slip or break, and difficulty suggesting condoms with non-paying partners (Decker et al., 2016)

In Lesotho. Criminalisation objectifies sex workers (Kale, 2018). Also, sex workers often don’t report violence to the police as it may open them up to abuse in that space.

In Kenya: Bar Hostess Empowerment Support Program (BHESP) Executive Director : Peninah Mwangi said ” We are supported to run HIV Clinics, yet our women have needs that are beyond HIV. Gender-Based Violence is a big issue with us.”

ASWA continues to fight these injustices on all fronts while calling on other sovereign African nations to respect the unalienable rights of the sex workers in their countries.

Under the generic call to action “Stand Up for Human rights”, ASWA aims to engage all to contribute to sex workers recovering better and fostering more resilient and just sex workers Community. ASWA’s call to action is to stand up for sex workers rights in Africa and tackle the entrenched, systematic, intersectional inequality, exclusion and discrimination of sex

Module 2 of Sex Workers Academy Africa ( SWAA) Curriculum depicts that Sex Workers’ Rights are 8 sex workers’ fundamental rights which have been recognised and ratified by most countries as fundamental human rights.They are as follows:

  1. The right to associate and organise;
  2. The right to be protected by the law;
  3. The right to be free from violence;
  4. The right to be free from discrimination;
  5. The right to privacy, and freedom from
    arbitrary interference;
  6. The right to health;
  7. The right to move and migrate; and
  8. The right to work and free choice of employment

All Sex workers are entitled to these fundamental rights and must be considered even in the post COVID-19 period.

ASWA urges all to respect,protect and promote all sex workers rights.



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