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Statement calling for decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ by the Honourable Deputy Minister of Social Development, Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu Irresponsible

The Honourable Deputy Minister of Social Development, Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu was quoted in several media reports as having made a policy pronouncement calling for the “decriminalisation of sex work”. The ANC and the Government do not have a policy on the “decriminalisation of sex work.” It is irresponsible for ANC representatives in government to call for the decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ and give voice to an agenda that would oppress women, undermine gender equality and perpetuate patriarchy. The link between prostitution and organised crime is well established. Calling for its decriminalisation is tantamount to opening the flood gates for human trafficking, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime.

The ANC deliberated on this issue at its 54th Congress and passed a resolution calling for a high- level public dialogue that would determine the societal norm. The ANC also called for the protection of those bought, exploited and sold in the sex trade. Nowhere has the ANC called for the protection of sex buyers, pimps and brothel managers, which is what the decriminalisation of the system of prostitution would do.

Resolution 2.28 states:

“The calls to decriminalise Sex work must be subjected to a high-level discussion and engagement with relevant multiple stakeholders, and to continue to engage society on this to determine the societal norm. Sex workers must be protected.”

The call for the protection of “sex workers” by the ANC must not be confused with the call to decriminalise the whole sex trade, including pimping and brothel keeping, which is implied by the call for the “decriminalisation of sex work.”

There are many other resolutions from the ANC conference that show the ANC would not support total decriminalisation. Patriarchy perpetuates prostitution and prostitution entrenches patriarchy. The ANC has always maintained that patriarchy divides society and must be combatted in all its forms. The ANC has called for gender-stereotyped socialisation of girls and boys to be addressed to build social cohesion.

Language

The term ‘sex work’ does not appear in any South African legislation. ‘Sex work’ is a term invented by the ‘sex work’ lobby to normalise an exploitative, oppressive industry designed to normalise the oppressive system and persuade people to regard it as work. It is a slight of hand to opportunistically introduce an idea that has not even been debated in the country.
The South African Law Reform Commission specifically deals with the issue of language and has concluded that this is a matter of policy. It therefore recommended the continued use of the “prostitution”, which is the term in our law.

Referring to the prostitution system as “sex work” is an attempt to normalise an exploitative and coerced transaction, where the buyer is exercising power and money to gain access to another’s body for their own sexual gratification.

Prostitution is neither sex nor work, but coerced consent and exploitation. While some may argue it is consensual, the fact is that it is coerced by the money and it is therefore not free or mutually fulfilling. It does not fit the ILO definition of decent work, as it is exploitative and often violent. The seller has to numb and disassociate themselves to survive the pain and repeated bodily invasion.

Prostitution is inherently harmful. It cannot be made safe.

The oppressive system of prostitution

The ANC-led Government is developing policy and legislation through the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) which has completed its final report on Project 107 Sexual Offences Adult Prostitution and submitted it to Cabinet, after lengthy research and inputs through public submissions. The report was released by the Minister of Justice and the SALRC for public comment on 26 May 2017.

The report dismissed the total decriminalisation of adult prostitution as a policy option for South Africa, and presented two options, with two draft bills:

Option 1 was partial decriminalisation which decriminalises those who sell sex and retains the criminal sanctions on those who buy sex, as well as those who exploit the women – the pimps and brothels.

Option 2 retained the total criminalisation system of prostitution and provides options for diversion and exit from the system.

It is important to note what the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Adv. Mike Masutha the recommendations in the Report. He, said: “We are convinced that the legislative proposals contained in the report will improve the present system as it applies to adult prostitution and ease some of the complex realities faced by South Africans engaged in prostitution, such as socio-economic marginalisation of women and the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

He also said: “Our government has a constitutional responsibility to promote the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

We are also obligated to observe several international legal instruments, including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979 towards the combating and, ultimately, eradication of violence against women.”

The Equality Law

Embrace Dignity welcomed the release of the SALRC Report Project 107 and in particular the recognition of partial decriminalisation in Option 1. This legal option is also known as the Equality Model. In the beginning, it was called the Swedish Model.

It promotes equality by diminishing the privilege of the powerful to exploit and holding them accountable for a change and by raising the status of the violated by recognizing that they are not criminals.

Equality belongs to all peoples, as this model does.

At Embrace Dignity we commissioned research and consulted with our allies in countries that have implemented the abolitionist Equality Law, also known as the Swedish model or Nordic model. We developed a Policy Brief and Draft Bill to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development for consideration.

The abolitionist Equality Law, pioneered in Sweden as part of a set of laws and other interventions, such as providing support for exit, promotes gender equality and addresses gender-based violence and patriarchy – breaking the cycle of oppression.

It has been adopted and adapted by a number of countries, including Iceland (2009), Norway (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015) France (2016), Ireland (2017) and Israel (2018). Hopefully South Africa will be the first country to adopt the Equality Law in Africa and the ninth in the world.

The Equality Law is a creative third way in its own right with a clear purpose and a coherent strategy to ultimately abolish the oppressive system of prostitution, rather than promote it.

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Embrace Dignity proposes a coherent, rational solution to a fatal flaw in the Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Femicide

This op-Ed was written by our Founder Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

There is a fatal flaw in the proposed National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide released by the government in May 2020. The flaw is the implied recommendation for the decriminalisation of “sex work”, which we prefer to call the system of prostitution as it forms part of systems of oppression, including patriarchy, classism, sexism and racism. As outlined in the statement made by UN Undersecretary and Executive Director of UN Women, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “those who buy (sexual) ‘services’ are perpetrators of violence against women, and this is who the law should hold accountable. We agree with UN Women that prostitution is one of the worst forms of men’s violence against women.

We strongly assert that to include the decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ in the call to “revisit and fast track all outstanding laws and bills that relate to GBV and Femicide” is fatally flawed for the following reasons:

  •  There is no law or Bill on our statutes that deals with the decriminalisation of ‘sex work’. The term ‘sex work’ was invented by the sex industry as a way to try and normalise prostitution. The use of the term is just a slight of hand to opportunistically introduce an idea that has not even been debated in the country.
  • The call seems to have been made opportunistically at the end with no discussion, consultation and consensus on this issue in the process of drawing up the strategic plan.
  •  Referring to the prostitution system as “sex work” is opportunistic and an attempt to normalise an exploitative and coerced transaction, where the buyer is exercising power and money to gain access to another’s body for their own sexual gratification.
  • Prostitution is neither sex nor work, but coerced consent and exploitation. While some may argue it is consensual, the fact is that it is coerced by the money and it is therefore not free or mutually fulfilling.
  •  It does not fit the ILO definition of decent work, as it is exploitative and often violent. The seller has to numb and disassociate themselves to survive the pain and repeated bodily invasion.
  • Prostitution is inherently harmful. It cannot be made safe.

What to do about Prostitution

What to do about prostitution is a controversial issue, sometimes referred to as a wedge issue because it divides all parties and sectors. This explains why political parties avoid doing something about it. The lives of arguably the most marginalised members of our society, the ’sex workers’, are daily put at risk at the hands of men who abuse their power to buy their access to women’s bodies, and corrupt law enforcement officers. Fortunately this issue has come to the fore following the Presidential Summit held in November 2018 and the publication of the National Strategic Plan to End Gender Based Violence and Femicide by our government in May 2020.

While we agree that the bought, sold and exploited must be decriminalised and assisted to find alternative forms of employment, we totally disagree with the call to also decriminalise the sex exploitation industry as a whole. Those exploiting the position of vulnerability caused by factors such as poverty, childhood sexual abuse or abandonment or race and gender inequality should remain criminalised. Focusing on ending the demand and supporting exit from prostitution as part of a comprehensive strategy to abolish the oppressive system is the only effective strategy for addressing the violence inherent in the prostitution system.

Prostitution is a complex issue. While some see prostitution as a harmless transaction between consenting adults, others consider It to be inherently harmful and exploitative. Dealing with prostitution is not simply a matter of morality. It is an issue of human rights. Prostitution is one of the oldest forms of oppression, targeting the most marginalised in society.

The debate on prostitution needs to be wide-ranging and informed by considerations of what’s best for our country and in line with our constitutional and international obligations. We need to build national consensus and put aside our personal preferences on the issue, in the same way we have dealt with other controversial social issues, like the choice on termination of pregnancy or smoking in public places. We need to engage, not just those who are directly affected. We need to approach it with cool heads. We need to engage from an informed position and not simply from a knee jerk reaction to unemployment and poverty, or a laissez faire approach of commodification of everything that sells. We need to look at the socio-economic drivers of prostitution as well as the research on the harms of system of prostitution and learn from the experience of countries that have gone before us in dealing with this issue. We must relate this debate to the context of high unemployment, high levels of violence against women and girls, gender inequality and poverty. The debate must involve those with direct experience of the lived reality of the harms of the system of prostitution, whose voices have been missing in the debate so far. We have much to learn from their lived experience of the harms and trauma they have survived in the prostitution system.

Embrace Dignity is fully behind this unprecedented national thrust to eliminate gender based violence and femicide, a societal problem of unimaginable proportions, and a national disaster. We would in fact wish for the President to have declared a state of disaster, considering that the rapes and killing of women in South Africa is one of the highest in the world. Catharine MacKinnon (1993, 1994, 2006) a leading legal scholar, author and campaigner for women’s rights has equated the harm of rape to torture and genocide.

The Declaration makes overarching commitments focusing on the underlying factors that contribute to gender based violence. Commitment 10 states: “A targeted, social behaviour change programme to address patriarchal values and norms and structural drivers of gender-based violence …targeted at all sectors, including individuals, families, communities, civil servants, religious and traditional leaders, the private sector, the media community and others that are strategically placed to influence attitudes, behaviours and practices, supported by an effective, resourced communication strategy” (Declaration of the Presidential Summit Against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide). The South African Law Reform Commission has produced a report of a review of the current laws on adult prostitution and has released a report with two draft bills, which must still be tabled and debated in our parliament.

The SALRC report dismissed total decriminalisation as a policy and legislative framework and said this would be disastrous for our country with our levels of violence against women, high unemployment and poverty. The decriminalisation of “sex work” would be counter-productive as it would lead to the expansion of the exploitative industry, which is already getting out of control.

Sex sells

Prostitution is a lucrative ‘industry’. There are huge profits made by the sex industry. A research report conducted in 2014 estimated the sex markets in the United States to be worth anywhere from $40 million to $290 million (close to R5 billion) in seven cities profiled in the government-sponsored report by the Urban Institute.” As they say, sex sells. A survey by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates that sexual exploitation rakes in $99 Billion globally and accounts for 66% of the human trafficking industry, of which forced labour accounts for 28,7% and Domestic servitude, 5,3%. (Source ILO Human Trafficking Centre). The prostitution system is one of the worst forms of violence, that some women and girls face at the hands of men who buy them for sex and those who take advantage of the position of vulnerability, caused by a toxic combination of systemic oppression and patriarchy. The system of prostitution – sometimes opportunistically referred to as “sex work” – is driven by patriarchy and men’s feelings of entitlement to women’s bodies, and the system in turn perpetuates patriarchy – a vicious cycle.

A comparison of the different legal frameworks

There are three legal approaches to regulating prostitution. Prohibition, Legalisation/Decriminalisation and Abolition. These approaches are completely different and depend on national policy and the expected outcome.

  • Prohibition refers to the legislative framework where all aspects of the prostitution system are criminalised, including the buying and selling of sex, pimping and brothel keeping. This is the status quo in South Africa and most of the world. As we have seen in our country, prohibition has not successfully curbed prostitution. In fact all indications are that it is growing, especially under our conditions of high unemployment, poverty, patriarchy and gender based violence. Prohibition has not examined the fundamental socio-economic factors that drive prostitution. Instead, it punishes those that are already victimised by poverty, childhood abuse and homelessness, as well as unequal gender relations.

  • Legalisation/Decriminalisation refers to a spectrum of legal approaches including regulation. The buying and selling or sex are not a crime. Legalisation imposes certain limitations, including the requirement for registration of all those providing sexual ‘services’ and defining ‘red light zones’ – specific areas where prostitution is allowed. Decriminalisation refers to an approach where there are no laws restricting the buying and selling of sex except for regulating its activities .

  • Abolition recognises prostitution as a system of oppression and puts measures in place for its eradication.

Total decriminalisation has not worked in New Zealand, the only country that has adopted such a legal framework and policy. In New Zealand, brothel-keeping, living off the proceeds of someone else’s prostitution, and street solicitation are legal in New Zealand and have been since the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) 2003 came into effect. It is important to note that the PRA was passed by 60 votes to 59 with one abstention. No other country has followed the New Zealand experiment, and as Melissa Farley has pointed out, in New Zealand decriminalisation has not stopped the violence, stigma, prejudice, and more importantly under-age prostitution has increased.

As shown in countries that have chosen the legalisation route, like Germany, The Netherlands and some states in Australia and the United States of America, one of the consequences of legalisation or total decriminalisation is the significant increase and extent of the prostitution system, as well as an increase in organised crime and human trafficking.

Germany, which passed a law legalising prostitution in 2001, has seen a massive growth in the sex industry, as documented in an article published by the Economist. In a report titled: “Prostitution in Germany: A giant Teutonic brothel: Has the liberalisation of the oldest profession gone too far?” the Economist compares Germany and Sweden’s legal approaches.

Since 2001, prostitution is legal in Germany, but different states and cities enforce different limitations on where and how it can happen. The law in Germany aimed to remove the stigma of prostitution by for example, giving those selling sex full rights to health insurance, pensions and other benefits.

According to the law Germany those selling sex are required to register with the government and undergo regular health checks. However, according to DW news, only about 33,000 of those selling sex have officially registered in Germany, out of a government estimate of 400,000. This shows that legalisation has not removed the stigma. It is not clear whether the promise of better health has materialised, especially as exemplified by the real danger of contracting the Corona virus in addition to sexually transmitted infections and physical and mental trauma related to the sex, where the levels of post and ongoing traumatic stress are recorded as very high.

Two years before Germany went the legalisation route, Sweden pioneered a different approach, known as the Swedish model, Nordic Model, Sex buyer law or Equality model. The Sex Purchase Act in 1999, was part of a basket of legislative measures for tackling gender based violence. The Equality Model is a form of partial decriminalisation that decriminalises only those selling sex (mostly women) and gives them a right to safety and bodily integrity. Simultaneously, it criminalises those buying sex (from men) and those who profit from the exploitation of the vulnerability of others. Since 1999, the Equality Law has gained traction and has been adapted and adopted by a number of countries, including Norway (2009), Iceland(2009), Canada(2014), Northern Ireland(2015), France(2016), Ireland(2017), and Israel(2018).

The Equality Law is the only clear and coherent strategy for reducing the demand for prostitution. It would be in our country’s interest to consider the Equality model adapted to our context of high levels of violence against women, high unemployment and high levels of inequality. Fortunately we are half-way there. In 2007, parliament amended the Sexual Offences Act and criminalised the buying of sex. Section 11 of the 2007 Sexual Offences Amendment Act prohibits engaging sexual services of persons 18 years or older. What we need to do now is to decriminalise the bought, sold and exploited and support them to exit, while retaining the criminalisation of all the other aspects of the prostitution system.

There are indications of growing support for the Equality Model in South Africa.

  •   In December 2017, the ANC adopted a resolution at its 54th Elective Conference calling for a process to determine the societal norm on this issue. Resolution 2.28 states: “The calls to decriminalise Sex work must be subjected to a high level discussion and engagement with relevant multiple stakeholders, and to continue to engage society on this to determine the societal norm. Sex workers must be protected.”
  • In June 2018 the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) unanimously adopted the Embrace Dignity Petition Report and the Study Tour to Sweden Report and called on the Minister of Justice to study the reports and consider the Swedish Model for dealing with prostitution. This was in response to the Embrace Dignity petition. In 2014 Embrace Dignity petitioned parliament to set up a multiparty ad-hoc committee of both houses to investigate the harms of prostitution and legislative frameworks that would address these harms.
  • The High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change Report Recommendations calls for: “Parliament should use its powers to introduce the following legislative changes to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007 with regard to protecting those who sell sex. The Act should be amended to decriminalise prostitution in order to remove the unintended consequences arising from the criminalisation of prostitution for those who sell sex. Other legislative provisions contained in national, provincial and municipal legislation criminalising prostitution for those who sell sex or making it an offence should also be amended. 
  • The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) Report includes partial decriminalisation (a form of the Equality Model) as one of the two legal options in their report. The SALRC completely dismissed total decriminalisation.
  •  Minister Masutha said: “Looking at it of course from a South African perspective, looking at where we have high rates of poverty and looking at all these factors and what would be best suited to South Africa and they are essentially finding that decriminalisation is not suited or the best ideal for South Africa.”

Minister Masutha called for a national dialogue on this complex issue. The lack of clarity on national policy on prostitution has resulted in confusion within the criminal justice system. The release of the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) Report released in May 2017 by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Adv Michael Masutha, and the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery gives us an opportunity to debate policy on adult prostitution from an informed understanding of all the issues involved. Often people pronounce on this issue from gut feeling or other reasons, without the relevant information and research, which we now have at our disposal.

The aim of the investigation by the SALRC was to “review the fragmented legislative framework of all statutory and common law sexual offences.” The statutory provisions under review are contained in the Sexual Offences Act 23 of 1958 (The Sexual Offences Act). The secondary aim was “to consider the need for law reform in relation to adult prostitution and to identify alternative policy and legislative responses that might regulate, prevent, deter or reduce prostitution.”

The SALRC indicated that “as there are a range of legal responses to prostitution in open and democratic societies, it is essentially a matter of policy to decide which legislative model accords with governments‘ goals and strategies.

After considerable consultation and research, the SALRC presented its report to the government in 2015. The South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) report on adult prostitution was released during a press briefing held in Pretoria on 26 May 2020. The report carries two legislative recommendations. The first option which is the Commission’s preferred option is to retain a totally criminalised legal framework. This option is coupled with an opportunity for people in prostitution to divert out of the criminal justice system so that they can access supportive resources and systems in order to exit prostitution if they should choose to do so.

The second option favours the partial criminalisation of adult prostitution. This option criminalises all role-players engaged in prostitution with the exception of the person providing the sexual service.

The first option is also known as prohibition. This is the present law in South Africa. As we all know, prohibition has not worked, even with diversion. Its main flaw is that it does not address the underlying socio-economic drivers of prostitution. Instead, it punishes the victims while those exploiting them are left off the hook.

Reflecting on the drivers of prostitution Masutha said: “The report also notes that the prevalence of prostitution in our society and the inherent exploitation associated with it are primarily social phenomena, which reflect deep-seated economic and sexual inequalities. This situation is perpetuated by the limitations in the laws that are supposed to deal with these social issues. For this reason, the report contains both legislative and non-legislative recommendations” (Masutha, 2017: Media briefing on Adult Prostitution Report).

Also known as partial decriminalisation, the second option is preferable, as it shifts the burden of criminality and stigma from those selling sex out of desperation and it gives them an opportunity to leave the exploitative prostitution system. It targets on eliminating the demand by criminalising the purchase of sex and the profiteering by third parties such as pimps and brothel keepers. Embrace Dignity has modified the bill along the lines of the Equality Model, suitable for South African conditions, which we have shared with the government, and we are ready to make submissions when the government tables the bill in parliament.

The Equality Model is the only coherent strategy for addressing prostitution and its harms. As stated by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, the law should target those buying sex or profiting from the exploitation of women. As she puts it, they are the perpetrators of violence against women. In relation to commitment 17, we are most concerned that the broad brush approach of decriminalising the whole ‘sex work’ industry, is counterproductive and will perpetuate patriarchy, and increase violence and the objectification of women. By passing a law that targets the demand, Sweden has shown us that it is possible to change public opinion and behaviour. They have twenty years of experience to prove it. Having passed the Sex Purchase Act in 1999, Sweden has seen a reduction in both street prostitution and human trafficking. The law has shifted the stigma and accountability from the bought, exploited and sold, to the exploiters and perpetrators. It is no longer cool to buy sex in Sweden. We urge our government to adopt the Equality Model as part of effectively dealing with gender based violence a fatal blow.

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Embrace Dignity applauds UN Women progressive statement with regards to prostitution

Embrace Dignity is delighted by the most recent and progressive statement made on the 10thJuly 2020 by Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, which supports our abolitionist position and long held view that prostituted persons are victims of gender based violence.   She further viewed the sex trade as undermining the right to dignity, a constitutionally guaranteed right in South Africa.

The webinar might be published in the coming days. Click on the link below for a video record of excerpt of Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s statement: https://we.tl/b-xknJotK4Rj

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“I support the Abolitionist Equality Law because I don’t want to end up dead in a ditch” by Mampho

The article is part of our Kwanele Survivor Speak series where Kwanele survivor movement members share their lived experience of violence and exploitation in the system of prostitution. 

My name is Mampho I am 25 years old from Free State. I am a second born at home. I have three brothers and my mom passed away when I was in Grade 4 and I was 10 years at the time. I ran away after 2 years of staying with my dad and stepmother because my dad was very abusive. My dad was a monster who always highlighted our naughtiness and we would sleep outside for days as he was not home as he worked at Doornkop mine in Johannesburg. I fled to Johannesburg at the age of 13 years.

Life was hard in the streets so I had to make a living. I had to make sure I survived. I know how it feels to go to jail just for a meal and a safe place to sleep. I was homeless and I stayed in the railway at Lenasia till 16 years then I started selling my body. Due to my age I did not ask much, the men were telling me what they want and often refused to use condoms and diverted from the agreements we would normally have before sex. I then found out that I am HIV positive and had to hide it from the other girls fearing that they will tell “clients”.

I started taking ARVs medication but that didn’t help because Metro Police often chased us all over the city and my medication would get lost. I tried going to adult school but I could not do my matric cause I do not have an ID. I have looked for jobs till this day but there’s absolutely nothing. I am now staying at the nearby informal settlement and make a living by selling atchaar, bunny chow and cigarettes. I support the Abolitionist Equality Law because I don’t want to end up dead in a ditch somewhere nor do I want any women to go through that. A lot of prostituted women have been killed by the after effects of cold weathers in their bodies as we used to sleep outside. We also roam with violent truck drivers from point A to B. Lastly the sex buyers are violent and they kill us without any mercy it’s like we are not human. Majority of us do not even have identity documents although we are South African. We are a forgotten population and most organisations only serve us with condoms and lubricants and encourage to keep this violent inhumane lifestyle.

I need a dignified work and opportunities so that I can go back to the Free state. As a result of rape on the streets, I have a daughter now. I cry every day at the thought of her falling into a trap that is the system of prostitution. I have been raped, beaten up and called names. I have also explored with drugs and have landed in jail for petty crimes just to run away from the cold and cruel street life. I do not want the decriminalisation of the system of prostitution and I do not want prostitution to be called “sex work” as it is not work at all. The sex buyers have no respect for us as women. I exited the system of prostitution after I was beaten to a pulp by a white sex buyer for refusing to blow job him without a condom and it was only because I had mouth sores and I wanted to protect us both. I got kicked and beaten up by big boots and I was afraid of that man he was heavy and he told me the police will not believe me because I’m just a whore.  I am still traumatized by that to this day. 

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Our 2020 achievements to date

In the first half of the year, Embrace Dignity has been involved in a range of activities and have reached a number of milestones as well.

EMBRACE DIGNITY ATTENDANCE AT KEY STRATEGIC ENGAGEMENTS

Embrace Dignity has attended and participated in the following key strategic engagements:

  • A webinar on Cross-Linkages between Human Trafficking and Pornography: Myth or Reality? which was organised by the OSCE office for democratic institutions and human rights and moderated by Tatiana Kotlyarenko, ODIHR Adviser on anti-human trafficking issues on 4 May 2020.
  • The virtual roundtable of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) which was held on 30 April 2020 and brought together survivor leaders from Argentina, the Netherlands, South Africa and the USA to discuss the effects of the global health crisis (COVID-19) on women in the sex trade. Mickey Meji was part of the panel and she spoke about how COVID-19 has affected prostituted women in South Africa.
  • On 13 March 2020 Embrace Dignity was part of the stakeholder consultation group on the National Gender Machinery Framework Consultation before the framework’s submission to cabinet for approval.
  • From 29 February to 2 March 2020, Embrace Dignity attended the CSW64 Consultation Meeting: Generation Equality in Boksburg to prepare the delegates for the main meeting in New York.
  • Embrace Dignity attended the Consultative Conference on Beijing +25-Pre CSW 64: Peaceful Societies, Access to Justice and Freedom from Violence from 10-12 February 2020 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Bellville. The event was hosted by Ilitha Labantu. Embrace Dignity partook in a panel discussion and facilitated a discussion group on the achievements by government and challenges with regards to the rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.
  • Embrace Dignity was part of the Generation Equality Task Team and participated in the drafting of the addendum on the South African Report Pre-CSW 64.

ENDORSEMENT OF OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA

Embrace Dignity endorsed an Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for support for NGOs during this COVID-19 pandemic which was organised by Marc Lubner, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Smile Foundation and CEO of Afrika Tikkun, Hedley Lewis, CEO of the Smile Foundation, Kelly du Plessis, CEO of Rare Diseases South Africa NPC, Lauren Pretorius, CEO of Campaigning For Cancer and Apex Leader at Community Constituency Covid-19 Front, and Cassey Chambers, Operations Director of the South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

APPOINTMENT OF NEW BOARD MEMBERS

The key role of the Embrace Dignity Board is to control and manage the affairs of the organisation. Embrace Dignity currently has 12 Board members.

The following Board members recently joined the Embrace Dignity family: Ms Linda Nodada (Chairperson of the Board), Dr Marcel van der Watt, and Ms Pam Ndaba. You can visit our Board members page to see their bios there.

CAPA UPDATE

The ultimate goal of the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution in Africa (CAPA) is to abolish the system of prostitution through the enforcement of the Abolitionist Equality Law in African countries as part of the global abolitionist movement. To date the CAPA charter has been signed by 350 individuals, with 129 signatures obtained online and 221 at events.

COVID-19 RELIEF EFFORTS

As an organisation, Embrace Dignity is committed to providing support to prostituted persons who have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Embrace Dignity has provided support through the distribution of food assistance parcels to help prostituted persons, partner organisations and other members of civil society, including students in tertiary institutions who have no financial support or income during this challenging time.

STAFF MOVEMENTS

We bolstered our capacity by appointing a Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Ursula Kotelana, effective from 4 May 2020. We are excited about this appointment and we look forward to the contribution she will make in growing our organisation.

EXIT SUPPORT

Embrace Dignity is currently working on a full database of exit service providers to further strengthen our Exit Programme.

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Message from our Executive Director

Embrace Dignity, like many other NGOs, currently finds itself in the middle of a worldwide health crisis that requires organisations to manage change and also draw on hope and the opportunities that has been unveiled by this crisis. 

When we started the year, we had no idea of the looming crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted on all of us globally. We have had to adapt our plans in response to the new conditions of working remotely and to ensure that operations continue. 

For us, this is a time of transition and change. As the founders of Embrace Dignity, Jeremy Routledge and I have taken the decision to retire and exit an organisation that we established and nurtured over many years. Embrace Dignity is an expression of our love for our fellow South Africans made tangible.

In 2017, the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) Final Report (Project 107) on Adult Prostitution was published. Click here to read more about the history of the SALRC Report. The Report proposes two draft bills: Partial Decriminalisation (where only those selling sex are decriminalised) and Total Criminalisation (the status quo in South Africa under prohibition).

Despite strong opposition calling for the total decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ as they call it, the international trend is towards the Abolitionist Equality Law, which targets the demand by criminalising the purchase of sex while those selling sex are decriminalised and supported to exit. We are proud to be driving efforts to see the passing of this law.

We are also delighted to see that government is listening to the calls to end all forms of gender-based violence, of which the system of prostitution is one of its worst forms. It has been shown beyond any doubt that the demand for paid sex drives sex trafficking. Our efforts to end sex trafficking will not succeed if we do not remove one of its key drivers – the system of prostitution.

All these efforts will continue under the incoming leadership. In January 2020, the Embrace Dignity Board appointed Advocate Phumla Dwane-Alpman as the Executive Director Designate. Having joined Embrace Dignity as a Board member in June 2019, Dwane-Alpman served as the Chairperson of the Board for six months before becoming the Executive Director Designate. She brings her much-needed legal mind and expertise to ED at this critical stage when government is finally on the road to amending the law on adult prostitution.

Sqhelo Tom was appointed as Chief Operations Officer in January 2020 and has proved to be a great asset for Embrace Dignity in his management of operations, finance and human resources, and in his role as Board Secretary. Ursula Kotelana was also appointed this year as our Parliamentary Liaison Officer to boost our work and engagement with parliament.

We have strengthened our Board with demographically representative members who bring a diverse set of skills to Embrace Dignity and originate from various regions in our country. The Board is led by our newly elected chairperson, Linda Nodada.

Embrace Dignity has also served as the incubation organisation for Kwanele (meaning “enough”), a movement of survivors of the sex trade, which was founded by Mickey Meji in 2017. Kwanele has brought an important voice to the public debate on the system of prostitution from the lived experiences of prostituted women from various regions in South Africa. Kwanele is currently restructuring itself and has established an interim steering committee to lead that process and prepare for our Annual General Meeting in June 2020.

We are also excited to announce the launch of the Kwanele Survivors Speak to provide an authentic voice from the trenches of the abolitionist movement. Hilda Tlou and Babalwa Puthumo launches the series in this issue of our newsletter. I invite you to give us feedback on the series by engaging with Kwanele National Coordinator, Thuli Mbete.

Last year, Embrace Dignity and Kwanele launched the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution in Africa (CAPA) Charter. The ultimate goal of CAPA is to abolish the system of prostitution by advocating for the adoption, successful enactment and enforcement of the Abolitionist Equality Law in African countries. In closing, I’d like to invite you to join this growing movement by signing the charter online and helping us promote the adoption of this law.

Best wishes

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge
Executive Director

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Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

When the nationwide lockdown, due to the COVID19 pandemic, was announced and declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 26 March 2020, Embrace Dignity (ED) was forced to close its offices to adhere to the lockdown regulations. As a result, this affected ED’s operations and required ED staff to start working remotely.

Presently, communication with the staff and the relevant stakeholders is being maintained through the use of technology such as social media platforms (WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) and other communication channels. Apart from continuously posting on platforms about the realities and harms of the system of prostitution and the need to enact the Abolitionist Equality Law in South Africa, we have also posted articles about how COVID-19 has affected prostituted persons.

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have exacerbated the conditions of prostituted women, especially those who are on chronic medication and have dependents that rely on them for financial support. ED has been working tirelessly to make sure that it offers support and that the human rights of prostituted persons are protected during this crisis.

There have been some interventions from government to provide rapid relief which has required partnerships with civil society to deal with the current crisis.  In order to find sustainable solutions, ED has been part of the following engagements with government and NGOs.

  • A webinar on COVID-19: A gendered perspective was hosted by the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities on 15 April 2020. The Minister in the Presidency: Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana Mashabane; Deputy Minister in the Presidency: Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize; and UN Women Representative, Ms Anne Githuku-Shongwe on behalf of the UN Gender Leadership Team, unpacked how the global COVID-19 pandemic affected women.
  • The South African National AIDS Council had a virtual roundtable discussion on 22 April 2020 on reducing the impact of COVID-19 on people living with HIV and TB.
  • On 23 April, we participated in a National Freedom Network (NFN) conference call with different stakeholders to discuss support, collaborations and partnerships.
  • The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) had a virtual roundtable on 30 April 2020, gathering survivor leaders from Argentina, the Netherlands, South Africa and the USA to discuss the effects of the global health crisis (COVID-19) on women in the sex trade. Ms Mickey Meji from ED partook in the panel discussions and spoke about how COVID-19 has affected prostituted women in South Africa.
  • A webinar on Cross-Linkages between Human Trafficking and Pornography: Myth or Reality? was held on 4 May 2020. It was organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and moderated by Tatiana Kotlyarenko, an Adviser on Anti-Human Trafficking Issues from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights  (ODIHR). Speakers included Swedish Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons, Per-Anders Sunesson; Rapporteur for Human Trafficking and Slavery of the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid at the German Bundestag, MP Frank Heinrich; Adviser on Children’s Online Safety at the office of the Vice Prime-Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation in the Ukraine, Anastasiya Dzyakava; and Founder and Vice President of Mentari and survivor leader, Shandra Woworuntu.
  • We endorsed an Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for support for NGOs during this COVID-19 pandemic organised by Marc Lubner, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of the Smile Foundation and CEO of Afrika Tikkun; Hedley Lewis, CEO of the Smile Foundation; Kelly du Plessis, CEO of Rare Diseases South Africa NPC; Lauren Pretorius, CEO of Campaigning For Cancer and Apex Leader at Community Constituency Covid-19 Front; and Cassey Chambers, the Operations Director of the South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

We have also collaborated with NGOs and some political officials from the City of Cape Town, such as Councilor Sumaya Taliep, to provide short-term food security relief in the form of food parcels to prostituted women and their families in disadvantaged communities in Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and Mfuleni townships.

ED has also applied for funding to provide relief during the lockdown period for Kwanele members and has thus far received a positive response from the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID). Kwanele is a survivor-led movement of survivors of the system of prostitution advocating for the successful enactment and implementation of the Abolitionist Equality Law in South Africa. Approximately 250 food parcels were dispatched to the ED offices on 8 May 2020 and will be distributed to the Kwanele members in the Western Cape, ED partners, and other relevant stakeholders within civil society.

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Responding to EFF MP Naledi Chirwa’s “sex work is work” statement By Babalwa Puthumo



I am a survivor of the system of prostitution and I know for sure that the system of prostitution is a form of gender-based violence. The sexual violence and abuse I experienced are the reasons that I will never see prostitution as real work but rather as a means of survival especially in South Africa where we have high levels of poverty and unemployment.

This is why I think EFF Member of Parliament Naledi Chirwa’s “sex work is work” statement is not only dangerous but uninformed. It’s honestly disappointing to hear such statements, especially as a person who has lived experience of being prostituted. I’m interested to know whether the Facebook views expressed by Chirwa, that promotes the commodification of women’s bodies, are solely hers or that of the EFF? Is the EFF promoting gender-based violence? Is it promoting human trafficking for sexual exploitation? Does the economic freedom in our lifetime include prostituted women as well? Or is our economic freedom going to be in the hands of pimps and sex buyers?

We were confident that the EFF, with its predominantly young leadership and members, would focus on uplifting the economy for every black person and not to get political credentials at our expense. 

The Abolitionist Equality Law is the only solution as it exposes the system of prostitution for what it is. Chirwa clearly speaks from a point of privilege. She asked people on social media to pick a side between decriminalisation and criminalisation, but there is a new strategic third way called the Abolitionist Equality Law where prostituted people would be protected and the people who drive this system of prostitution would be held accountable. Buyers must be arrested. Period! The main focus should be on making sure that we, as prostituted women, regain our dignity and womanhood.

To everyone who agrees with Chirwa’s sentiments, stop treating us as a one size fits all. We are also human beings. Speak to survivors of the system of prostitution. None of us grew up dreaming of being the best and highest paid “sex worker” ever. This was just for survival. It can never be a job! Women are not sex objects and people need to stop glamourising prostitution by calling it work. Those who are calling for the decriminalisation of the system of prostitution and its recognition as work are calling for the commodification of women’s bodies and paid rape.

How will decriminalising this system work? Yes, the police will stop harassing us, but who will stop sex buyers, pimps, and brothel owners from exploiting and killing us? Who will make sure that sex buyers stop raping us?

As a survivor of the system of prostitution, I believe the Abolitionist Equality Law is what we need to eliminate the demand for commercial sexual exploitation by holding sex buyers, pimps, and brothel owners accountable for the harm they cause.  Between me and you Chirwa, who has firsthand experience in the sex trade? Who has the right to speak on this? I suggest you meet with us, the Kwanele Survivor Movement, so we can educate you on this topic.

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“None of us grew up dreaming of becoming sex slaves” by Hildah Nompy Tlou

I am Hildah Nompy Tlou and I’m 36 years old. I was born in Witbank, Mpumalanga but I’m currently based in Mbombela. I am a Founder and Director of Impumelelo Yethu Foundation, a women’s empowerment initiative. Due to poverty, lack of education and unemployment I was introduced to prostitution by friends at the age of 22 years.

My life experience on the street was a living hell. I was abused (emotionally, physically, psychologically, sexually and financially) by sex buyers, brothel owners and pimps on a daily basis. The torture, trauma and abuse I went through was unimaginable. I became a prisoner in my own body because of sex buyers, pimps and brothel owners. I realised that I can’t make a living out of something that doesn’t have a job description and puts my life in danger.

The decriminalisation of the system of prostitution and its recognition as work is not a solution to our fight against unemployment, poverty, gender inequality, systematic oppression and patriarchy. As a survivor of the system of prostitution I’ve experienced and seen prostituted people becoming poorer while sex buyers, pimps, brothels owners, and sex traffickers become richer.

As a poor black woman who was once trapped in prostitution, stripped of my human dignity, labelled and humiliated by our society, I plead with our government to restore our womanhood and to not become a vehicle for promoting sexual exploitation, patriarchy, gender-based violence and gender inequality towards vulnerable women by decriminalising the system of prostitution and recognising it as work. We demand dignified job opportunities and the adoption and successful enactment of the Abolitionist Equality Law is the only solution. The Abolitionist Equality Law criminalises the sex buyers, pimps, brothels owners and sex traffickers and decriminalises those who are bought and sold into prostitution. It offers prostituted persons support to exit because none of us grew up dreaming of becoming sex slaves.

Decriminalisation of the system of prostitution and its recognition as work is mostly advocated by sex traffickers, sex buyers, pimps and brothels owners and other parties who are going to benefit from the commodification and sexual exploitation of poor vulnerable women while prostituted people die and some of us live to tell our stories of psychological, emotional, financial and physical trauma as well as an unhealthy and unhappy lifestyle in the system of prostitution.

I encourage our government to adopt the Abolitionist Equality Law now and make sure that no poor vulnerable woman falls into this inherently violent system.

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Support the abolition of prostitution in Africa

Embrace Dignity launched the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAPA) charter last year during the Kwanele Survivor Movement public forum. The purpose of the charter is to build a Pan African network that advocates for laws and policies based on the following abolitionist core principles which are:

  • Decriminalising prostituted persons and supporting persons who wish to exit prostitution.
  • Promoting and protecting the rights of survivors of prostitution and trafficking without stigmatisation, and targeting the demand by penalising the purchase of sexual acts.
  • Criminalising and ensuring no impunity for pimps, brothel owners and all other parties who profit from exploiting the prostitution of others.
  • Criminalising and penalising all forms of advertising for paid sexual services.
  • Resolutely and systematically opposing the trafficking in human beings.
  • Training professionals including police, social workers and health professionals on the nature of prostitution and how to provide services.
  • Implementing sex education and prostitution prevention policies, especially targeting schools and the youth.
  • Promoting awareness and conducting studies concerning prostitution and the trafficking in human beings, and harmonising data collection systems.

As part of the global abolitionist movement, the ultimate goal of CAPA in Africa is to abolish the system of prostitution through advocating for the adoption, successful enactment and enforcement of the Abolitionist Equality Law in African countries.

Embrace Dignity has been acting as the Secretariat for the coalition by promoting the CAPA charter on our social media platforms and during meetings and events we attend. We currently have a coalition membership of 350 members, of which 129 members were obtained online and 221 members obtained via events and meetings. The growing membership is comprised of civil society organisations, businesses, traditional and cultural organisations, faith-based organisations, women, youth, and men’s and community-based organisations from Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain, France and African countries like South Africa, Malawi and Uganda to name a few.

If you would like to promote CAPA or sign the charter, you can find more information on our website by clicking here.

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