Who Are We

“What we are calling for is criminalising the system of prostitution with the exception of the person who sells. And this stems from the fact that we are saying that you should not be criminalised for finding yourself in situations or circumstances that pushes you into prostitution, therefore we are not judgmental, because criminalising you for selling sex as a means of survival means the we are criminalising you for being poor or for being in whatever situation the pushes you there in the first place.” – Founder of Kwanele survivor movement, survivor of prostitution and Advocacy Manager Mickey Meji

Embrace Dignity is a South African, feminist, abolitionist and human rights advocacy NGO that was established in 2010 by Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former Deputy Minister of Health and Defence, and Jeremy Routledge, a former Director of the Quaker Peace Centre. We set out to challenge gendered power inequalities that continue to oppress women and girls through prostitution, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. This is done by strengthening support systems for women and girls who want to leave prostitution, examining men’s demand for prostitution and by creating a social consciousness about the economic and social conditions of these women and girls through law reform and community advocacy programmes.

The NGO is committed to addressing the root causes of prostitution and strongly believes that prostitution is inherently exploitative, invariably damaging and inextricably linked to the ubiquitous problem of violence against women and children and human trafficking in a society that is essentially patriarchal. It sees its role as standing with survivors (adult women) who have been rendered vulnerable to prostitution by their economic and social status and to support their exit from prostitution. The organisation does this by providing prompt, appropriate and comprehensive support to survivors, raising public awareness about the harms of prostitution, supporting survivor leadership, and advocating for legal and policy reforms that focuses on demand by criminalising the purchaser and providing greater protection for survivors to exit.

We are advocating for a law based on abolitionist principles that has been implemented in the Nordic/Swedish/Sex Buyer model pioneered in Sweden (1999), Norway (2008), Iceland (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015), the Republic of Ireland (2017) and Israel (2018).

The laws and policies would:

  • Focus on the demand by criminalising the purchase of sex.
  • Support those who have been prostituted by decriminalising the sale of sex.
  • Provide support for those in prostitution to increase their skills and options for employment.
  • Criminalise third parties that exploit and benefit from income made from prostitution.

We provide support to those who wish to exit prostitution mainly through referrals to counselling, skills training, small business development opportunities and education providers; by supporting survivor initiatives; and by building a survivor network. We are currently evaluating our Exit Programme so we can draw on our successes and failures and implement what works and share that information with others.

Our Public Education programme is aimed at creating awareness of the harms of prostitution and how communities and organisations can support survivors and prevent more persons from being prostituted into this system of commercialised sexual exploitation.

“We believe that prostitution is exploitative, that it damages those being prostituted and that It is closely linked to violence against women and human trafficking.” – Embrace Dignity

Through our Law Reform Advocacy, Public Education, and Exit programmes we are able to:

  • Pursue legal and policy reforms that focus on demand by criminalising the purchasing of sex
  • Support survivors by decriminalising the selling of sex
  • Address prevention by raising public awareness about the real harms and dangers of prostitution
  • Provide prompt, appropriate and comprehensive support to those who wish to leave prostitution.

In addition, our Exit Programme will empower survivors through various interventions that develop their emotional and vocational skills and help them become self-reliant. We partner with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) International (http://www.catwinternational.org/); the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP) International (http://www.cap-international.org/);  Equality Now (http://www.equalitynow.org/) and SPACE International (http://spaceinternational.ie/), which are international organisations working against prostitution and trafficking.

Our Vision

Our vision is to contribute to a South African society that embraces the dignity of all people as enshrined in our Constitution and opposes commercial and sexual exploitation of those made powerless and vulnerable by poverty or the absence of choice. We envision a society where law reform is used to reduce demand and supply of prostitution, government support is provided to empower survivors with skills to transform their lives and where public attitudes concerning prostitution are based on a proper understanding of the various ways in which people become prostituted or trafficked.

Our Mission

Embrace Dignity challenges power inequalities based on gender, class and race that lead to the oppression of vulnerable people through prostitution, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse by using a three-pronged approach focused on:

  • advocating and achieving law and policy reforms that decriminalise the victim and address the demand by criminalising the purchaser
  • shifting public attitudes from the blame of prostituted women and girls, towards an understanding of the conditions that lead to their vulnerability, a recognition of their inherent dignity and an improved public awareness of the harms and oppression of prostitution.
  • providing and campaigning for increased employment options for prostituted persons with the aim of enabling their exit from prostitution, and therefore reducing the harms they are exposed to.

Historical factors like racism, migrant labour, the denial of socio-economic opportunities, unemployment and the unequal power relations that still exist between men and women in South Africa, also inform how we address prostitution and sex trafficking in this country.

Our Values

We believe that all people have inherent dignity and deserve to live lives free from exploitation. By supporting victims of prostitution, addressing inequality and challenging patriarchy, racism, sexism, homophobia and all kinds of oppression, we are working towards an economic order and society that does not exploit and oppress any human being based on their economic status, social exclusion or marginalisation. While we assist all persons in prostitution, we predominantly work with women.

We believe that calling prostitution sex work legitimises it and disguises its inherent violence and harm. While women in the industry experience different degrees of abuse, coercion and violence, all of them are physically and psychologically harmed. There is no denying that prostitution and trafficking are intertwined, based on the commodification and objectification of human beings and sex. We refer to the exploitative industry as prostitution and the people exploited as prostituted people. The women we work with choose to be referred to as Sisters.

“We have responded by saying that they easily could be our sisters, and in fact they are our sisters.” – Embrace Dignity

Our core values inform everything we do at Embrace Dignity and are focused on:

  • promoting the human rights of all persons,
  • showing respect to others,
  • being open and honest in our dealings with our beneficiaries and supporters,
  • being inclusive and thus diverse,
  • encouraging the participation of both staff and beneficiaries to inform the work we do, and
  • promoting equality, dignity and justice for persons being prostituted or trafficked.

These values are based on the fact that while the South African Constitution guarantees the basic human rights of all persons, in a society like ours, women are often still the victims of violence. Power also traditionally resides within the hands of men and women’s rights to freedom from violence, to work, and a life of dignity still need to be realised.