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.