Creating A Global Footprint

Engaging With India And The United States To Form Global Alliances Abroad

Over the last three months Embrace Dignity engaged with various international organisations fighting against prostitution and sex trafficking across the globe by attending two conferences hosted in India and the United States.

CAP (Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution) International’s The Last Girl First: Second World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls was held in New Delhi, India, from 29 to 31 January while the United Nations’ (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61 2017) was held in New York in the United States from 13 to 24 March.

More than 400 civil society representatives, leaders and decision makers from 30 countries and five continents attended, including survivors of prostitution and representatives of the most marginalised women and girls – this includes indigenous, low caste, migrant and minority women as well as women of colour. In addition, a number of youth, and representatives from various student movements, trade unions, the new technologies sector, and members of parliaments from various countries were present.

“The purpose of the congress was to discuss various ways to end sexual exploitation and trafficking of marginalised women and girls across the world. Throughout history these women and girls have been the most systemically disadvantaged groups and have formed the largest group of persons to be sexually exploited and prostituted,” said Madlala-Routledge, who attended the congress along with Embrace Dignity staff members, Pumla Qambela, Grizelda Grootboom, and volunteer Morven Magari from the United Kingdom.

“This Congress helped to further strengthen the transnational movement of organisations advocating to put the last girl – a reference to those who are marginalised and often thought of last – first in their respective countries.” 

A month later, Madlala-Routledge, Grootboom, and another Embrace Dignity staff member, Mickey Meji, attended the sixty-first session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which took place at the UN Headquarters in New York. Representatives of the UN Member States, entities, and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)-accredited non-governmental organisations  from all regions of the world attended the session. The theme of this year’s session was Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work.

“This theme was of particular interest to us as we believe that to address women’s economic empowerment is fundamental to their economic freedom and to preventing their commercial sexual exploitation.”

There has been an ongoing discussion, within the UN and elsewhere, about whether or not prostitution should be viewed as a profession. For this reason, the term sex worker is often used in these discussions. During a panel discussion which was held by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and titled Wanted: Economic Empowerment and Equality, Not the Sex Trade – Women from the Global South and Indigenous Communities Speak Out, Embrace Dignity staff members, Mickey Meji and Grizelda Grootboom, who also served as panellists, spoke out strongly against this notion of prostitution.

“The inherent harms of prostitution and its perpetuation of gender-based violence make it impossible to recognise it as a form of work and all the speakers were in agreement about this.”

Speaking at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Trafficking in Persons in Conflict Situations: forced labour, slavery and other similar practices, Åsa Regnér, the Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality in Sweden stressed the importance of not creating legal markets for human traffickers. She said: “Swedish policy on this issue is clear. Prostitution can never be regarded as a job; prostitution is always exploitation. Sweden urges more countries to consider legislation that targets the person who buys sex and offers support to the person being exploited – thereby shifting the criminal focus and guilt from the person being exploited to the exploiter. Knowledge about one’s own rights, including about sexual and reproductive health and rights, is crucial.”

While the first and much anticipated official abolitionist side event, When victims matter: ending demand for prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes, was cancelled at the last minute, Madlala-Routledge , together with Mickey Meji and Grizelda Grootboom attended a side event at the Permanent Mission of France to the  UN which also included Åsa Regnér, the Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality; Laurence Rossignol, the French Minister for Families, Children and Women’s Rights, and Per-Anders Sunesson, Sweden’s Ambassador at Large for Combatting Trafficking in Persons in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs During this event, CAP members, which include Embrace Dignity, provided short introductions on the situations in their respective countries and on their work.

“We concluded our visit to New York with a strategic meeting at the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN where we met with Ms Margot Wallström, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs. This meeting was arranged by CAP International and Donor Direct Action and provided Embrace Dignity with a great opportunity to share our vision, mission, and our activities in South Africa to have the Equality Law enacted.”

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We March To Parliament To End Prostitution

Embrace Dignity takes call to Parliament to end prostitution in South Africa


On Wednesday, 26 April, a day before South Africans across the country celebrated Freedom Day, Embrace Dignity marched to Parliament to deliver a petition to President Jacob Zuma to demand freedom for those still enslaved through prostitution and sex trafficking in this country.

During Embrace Dignity’s #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom march, the organisers handed over a petition that calls on the President to release the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) final report on Adult Prostitution and enact the Equality Law to end prostitution and sex trafficking in South Africaa.

The Equality Law model (or partial decriminalisation) will decriminalise prostituted individuals and support them in exiting the sex trade, while penalising those who purchase sex and those who profit from the exploitation.

“We intentionally marched on the eve of Freedom Day to demand that the freedom of women, girls and other marginalised persons in prostitution is realised, protected and promoted,” said Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

The Equality Law is the only legal framework that does all of the following:

  • promote and protect gender equality and human rights;
  • promote exit and offers support;
  • mandate the government to provide prostituted individuals with comprehensive medical services, economic and educational opportunities, and alternative livelihood programmes;
  • address the demand by holding those who purchase sex accountable for the harm they cause and educating them that women’s bodies are not for sale;
  • challenge patriarchy and inequality as the underlying factors that drive prostitution; and
  • educate society about the structural causes of prostitution.

“We recognise that the issue of how to deal with prostitution is contested. That is why we particularly want the government to release the final report of the South African Law Reform Commission on Adult Prostitution so that the public can engage with the issue and find a solution for the better common good,” added Madlala-Routledge.

In 2009, in response to  the need to address the harms of the sex trade, the SALRC published a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution and handed over their final report emanating from this paper and engagement with general society (refer to detailed background below) to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services in November 2015.

The four major legal models they identified are:

  • total criminalisation of adult prostitution (the status quo in South Africa currently);
  • total decriminalisation of adult prostitution, including pimping and the purchase of sex;
  • legalisation or regulation of prostitution, including pimping and the purchase of sex; and
  • partial decriminalisation (referred to as the Equality Law model by Embrace Dignity).

An evaluation of these frameworks along with recommendations was also included in the report, which will be published by the Minister after it has been considered by the Cabinet.

“The march to Parliament was therefore also to urge the government to release the report on prostitution in order to open up public debate on a lingering and growing form of oppression in the world and this country and enact the Equality Law,” said Madlala-Routledge.

According to the organisation, while the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic is often used to justify the call for total decriminalisation of the sex trade in South Africa, survivors they have assisted to exit such as Grizelda Grootboom and other prostituted individuals report that the ability to negotiate condom use is a myth, given the power and control imposed on them by buyers and pimps.

“By enacting the Equality Law, the South African government will affirm that women, girls and marginalised persons are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those purchasing sex. We encourage the South African government to affirm that the lives of women, girls and marginalised persons matter and to become the first African country to adopt a law that will solely decriminalise prostituted persons and curb the demand for prostitution.”

Background To The Equality Law Model

Discussions around how to legislate Adult Prostitution in South Africa has been an ongoing one which started in 1998 with the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) expansion of an issue paper (a short essay on a specific topic) on Sexual Offences By and Against Children to include “all sexual crimes by and against adults”. This paper led to a review of “all common law and statutory sexual offence crimes” and an investigation, which was further expanded by the then Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. Named the SALRC Project 107: Sexual Offences and with a sub-project focused on Adult Prostitution, the SALRC decided to divide its investigation into “four separate offence papers”, “dealing with the substantive law, the procedural law (both to the exclusion of adult prostitution), adult prostitution and pornography”. This process would take the form of an issue paper followed by a discussion paper which would culminate in a report and, where necessary draft legislation.

Between 1999 and 2001, discussion papers on the Substantive Law (rules that determine the rights and obligations of individuals and collective bodies) and the Procedural Law (practices and procedures that courts and lawyers for example must follow to properly try a case) was published, with the latter culminating in a Report. By 2004, a bill was tabled and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 known as the Sexual Offences Amendment Act was passed.

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Building on our 2016 successes

We were involved in a range of exciting initiatives in 2016 and accomplished much in last year. Along the way we learned many lessons as we strived towards the goals we set at the beginning of the year alongside fellow staff and Board members, Sister Survivors, stakeholders and friends all over the world. We will continue to apply these lessons as we build on what we have learned in 2017.

In March 2016, our former Executive Director, Soraya Mentoor, was invited to serve on a panel organised by the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International) at the Commission on the Status of

We were involved in a range of exciting initiatives in 2016 and accomplished much in last year. Along the way we learned many lessons as we strived towards the goals we set at the beginning of the year alongside fellow staff and Board members, Sister Survivors, stakeholders and friends all over the world. We will continue to apply these lessons as we build on what we have learned in 2017.

In March 2016, our former Executive Director, Soraya Mentoor, was invited to serve on a panel organised by the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International) at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60), held in New York City in the United States. Mentoor, along with Ruchira Gupta (Founder and President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide in India) and Zoya Rouhana (Founder and Director of KAFA in Lebanon) shared the extent of sexual exploitation of women and girls in their respective countries and regions during this trip.

In the months that followed, we successfully completed the last phase of our Exit Programme. We are currently in the process of collating all the data, which will inform the comprehensive Exit Model we are creating. The Model is a tool that can be used as a reference or guideline for other organisations or government departments aiming to implement exit strategies for women in prostitution or sex trafficking. We plan to share the Model with our government with the hopes that an Exit Programme will be incorporated into the legislation governing Adult Prostitution, no matter what model is implemented in this country.

After our mid-year review in June 2016, we embarked on our new Strategic Plan, which guides Embrace Dignity in its quest to become the leading voice in South Africa advocating for the Equality Model to be adopted by our President, Mr Jacob Zuma.

In this regard, we have:

  • Secured dates to train members of parliament in the four different legal frameworks in late February 2017.
  • Held meetings in Parliament with the Chairperson of the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus to introduce the Equality Model Law.

In early November 2016, Embrace Dignity and Equality Now Kenya hosted a four-day conference to look at emerging legislative measures to combat sex trafficking. This was held at the Lagoon Beach Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. This unique gathering brought together professionals and activists from eight African countries working to end sex trafficking and prostitution in Africa.

“One of the objectives of the meeting was to identify ongoing law reform initiatives in different countries regarding sex trafficking and prostitution, and to foster collaborations and partnerships between participants with the aim of identifying shared objectives to address sex trafficking and prostitution in select countries in Africa,” says Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.

The most visible accomplishment of 2016 was the launch of our Survivor Initiatives. Through this initiative, we were able to support Sister Survivor, Grizelda Grootboom, who completed and launched her book, EXIT!, in early February. EXIT! has been well-received by the public with Grootboom’s story shared on and in various media (TV, radio and print). During 2016 she also completed a contract with the Gauteng Department of Health where she was involved with their 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign.

Mickey Meji, an experienced activist who previously worked for SWEAT, is also being supported by Embrace Dignity while she establishes her non-profit organisation, Survivor Empowerment and Support Programme (SESP). At the same time, Meji is in the process of also initiating a survivor movement called Kwanele, which will be spearheaded by Sister Survivors. To this end, she facilitated a four-day workshop to mobilise Sister Survivors and to educate them about the four different legal frameworks which are: total criminalisation (the status quo in South Africa), non-criminalisation (also known as total decriminalisation), legalisation and partial decriminalisation (pioneered in Sweden and also known as the Nordic or Equality Model).

A third Sister has launched an online funding initiative for a much-needed Dignity House which will serve as a transitional shelter for people wishing to exit prostitution. She has also secured a contract with the City of Cape Town to conduct workshops to raise awareness about prostitution at various Cape Town schools in 2017.

On 25 November, Embrace Dignity hosted an event which included a panel discussion focused on the ongoing trauma experienced by women wishing to exit prostitution. Val Kadalie, CEO of City Mission, and Madlala-Routledge were joined by Nomathamsanqa Thema Tsilite (Survivor) and Sibusiso Banda (a former inmate who now heads up City Mission’s Ex-Offender Programme) in this discussion.
Vera Qwesha, the author of My Journey: From Grass to Grace also shared her own exit journey. Her book has been hailed as an ‘inspiration and a warning’ by Independent Online (IOL) and tells the story of her transformation from a life of prostitution and drugs to that of a motivational speaker and successful businesswoman.

On the same day, we also launched our new website, which will help us to engage more effectively with all our stakeholders, and unveiled our more modern-looking logo. This is the logo that you will now see on all our branded materials in future.

Following Mentoor’s departure, Madlala-Routledge returned to Embrace Dignity in October to once again take the lead at organisation.

“We ended off the year by launching our #IAmNot4Sale campaign as well as garnering support for changes to the laws governing prostitution through a petition which we will handover to President Zuma as soon as we have gathered enough support,” explained Madlala-Routledge.

“With the success of our Exit Programme, and the launch of various new strategies, projects and initiatives in 2016, last year proved to be a truly successful year for Embrace Dignity. As we look at all the exciting things we have lined up for 2017, we are positive that we will have yet another successful year in which our efforts to positively change the lives of people in prostitution will reap great returns again.”

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Meet our volunteer: Movern Magari

Embrace Dignity volunteer, Movern Magari, recently joined our team to assist with our Survivor Initiative Programme. Magari completed a degree in Women’s Studies and Independent Studies at Lancaster University in London. She has recently been involved with organising the Feminism in London conference, which advocates for equality for women, with particular emphasis on survivors of prostitution. Magari believes passionately in the rights of women to lead a free and equal life in the eyes of the law, and works consistently and conscientiously to this end. Before becoming a mother, Magari worked in catering and hotel management. She has experienced firsthand the prejudice and unfair treatment of mothers seeking custody orders and the removal of parental rights when sexual abuse is not believed or taken seriously by the courts. Magari has also worked as a personal assistant to people living with spinal injuries and other disabilities.

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Meet our Board

Embrace Dignity held our first board meeting of the year on the 17th of January and at the same time welcomed the newest additions to our Board. They have already started boosting the work we do and we are excited to introduce you to them. Below are some of our old and new board members at the January meeting: From the left are Ms Marthe Muller, Ms Akuol De Mabior, Dr Despina Learmonth, Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and Ms Micheline Muzaneza. Unfortunately some of our Board members, Mss Nandi Vanqa-Mgijima and Nozipho Dube, were unable to join us for our first meeting.

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Embrace Dignity shares expertise on activism to end prostitution

On the 9th of January 2017, the Embrace Dignity staff returned to the office ready to continue their work to increase activism to end prostitution and to work with other feminist organisations focused on law reform advocacy and public education aimed at eliminating prostitution, human trafficking and violence against women and other marginalised people. To act on these objectives, we co-hosted a delegation from Iona College in the United States with the Edmund Rice Justice Desk in Cape Town. Iona College has a strong tradition of social involvement which, amongst others, includes immersion experiences for their students in other countries. During this session, which allowed us to strengthen our international relations with a higher education institution, Embrace Dignity spoke to the delegation about the work we do, followed by a question and answer session.

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