Chi Mgbako and Laura A. Smith, Sex Work and Human Rights in Africa, 33 Fordham Int’l L.J. 1178 (2011).
Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol33/iss4/2
This Article serves as the first law review essay to engage the feminist debates regarding sex work and human rights in the African context. This Article surveys “antiprostitution” and “pro-sex-worker” feminist arguments and activities in the sub-Saharan Africa; explores the debate surrounding the legal frameworks of legalization, decriminalization, prohibition, and abolition of prostitution in a number of African countries including Senegal, where prostitution is legal and regulated, and South Africa where prostitution remains illegal despite civil society advocacy for decriminalization; and calls for the empowerment of African sex workers by arguing for a human rights-based transformation in African governments’ legal and policy posture towards sex work. Part I of this Article explores both the feminist arguments against prostitution and in favor of sex workers’ rights. Part II traces the development of the distinction between forced and unforced prostitution in international law and argues that the international human rights system creates a foundation for the realization of sex workers’ rights in Africa. Part III explores the debates regarding the criminalization of prostitution in a number of African countries and includes case studies from Senegal and South Africa.
Scorgie, F. Vasey, K. Chersich, M. Nakato, D. Akoth, D. O. Netshivhambe, M. Chakuvinga, P. Nkomo, P. Phelister Abdalla, P. Sibanda, S.(2013) Human rights abuses and collective resilience among sex workers in four African countries: a qualitative study BMC International Health and Human Rights 9:33.
Sex work is a criminal offence, virtually throughout Africa. This criminalisation and the intense stigma attached to the profession shapes interactions between sex workers and their clients, family, fellow community members, and societal structures such as the police and social services.
We explore the impact of violence and related human rights abuses on the lives of sex workers, and how they have responded to these conditions, as individuals and within small collectives. These analyses are based on data from 55 in-depth interviews and 12 focus group discussions with female, male and transgender sex workers in Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Data were collected by sex worker outreach workers trained to conduct qualitative research among their peers.
In describing their experiences of unlawful arrests and detention, violence, extortion, vilification and exclusions, participants present a picture of profound exploitation and repeated human rights violations. This situation has had an extreme impact on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of this population. Overall, the article details the multiple effects of sex work criminalisation on the everyday lives of sex workers and on their social interactions and relationships. Underlying their stories, however, are narratives of resilience and resistance. Sex workers in our study draw on their own individual survival strategies and informal forms of support and very occasionally opt to seek recourse through formal channels. They generally recognize the benefits of unified actions in assisting them to counter risks in their environment and mobilise against human rights violations, but note how the fluctuant and stigmatised nature of their profession often undermines collective action.
While criminal laws urgently need reform, supporting sex work self-organisation and community-building are key interim strategies for safeguarding sex workers’ human rights and improving health outcomes in these communities. If developed at sufficient scale and intensity, sex work organisations could play a critical role in reducing the present harms caused by criminalisation and stigma.
Sex work; Prostitution; Violence; Human rights; Resilience; Kenya; South Africa; Uganda; Zimbabwe
Richter, Marliese (2013): Characteristics, sexual behaviour and access to health care services for sex workers in South Africa and Kenya (PhD dissertation; Available here)
Across the globe, many people make a living from supplying sexual services for reward. This
is in spite of the heavy tolls that sexual moralism, religious fervour, criminalisation, harsh health
services and abusive security services extract from them; sex work is hard and the dangers
numerous. Many women, men and transgender people in Sub-Saharan Africa have few or no
other choices available to earn an income, while others weigh up the risks and benefits of sex
work, and decide that that the risks are worth it in the short- and/or long-term.
Of the various hazards that sex workers face, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and
other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been a major focus of health research and
concern. Frustratingly, little of the knowledge generated about what is effective and necessary
to make sex work and sex workers safer, has been translated into practice, or brought to
sufficient scale. Evidence indicating the need for the decriminalisation of sex work has not
transformed the much outdated legal and policy landscape associated with the criminalisation of
sex work that is characteristic of most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite a growing body
of evidence and improved programmatic responses to sex work, the political will, the necessary
funding and the urgency needed to implement an effective response to the context of sex work
in Sub-Saharan Africa are mostly absent. It is hoped that, as the voices of sex workers and sex
worker advocates become stronger and as sex workers are supported to engage with policy
makers, law enforcement agencies, and health service providers, the changes needed to make
sex work safer will be made.
Dewey, Susan/Kelly, Patty: Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective, New York University Press 2011.
Mónica waits in the Anti-Venereal Medical Service of the Zona Galactica, the legal, state-run brothel where she works in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico. Surrounded by other sex workers, she clutches the Sanitary Control Cards that deem her registered with the city, disease-free, and able to work. On the other side of the world, Min stands singing karaoke with one of her regular clients, warily eyeing the door lest a raid by the anti-trafficking Public Security Bureau disrupt their evening by placing one or both of them in jail.
Whether in Mexico or China, sex work-related public policy varies considerably from one community to the next. A range of policies dictate what is permissible, many of them intending to keep sex workers themselves healthy and free from harm. Yet often, policies with particular goals end up having completely different consequences.
Policing Pleasure examines cross-cultural public policies related to sex work, bringing together ethnographic studies from around the world—from South Africa to India—to offer a nuanced critique of national and municipal approaches to regulating sex work. Contributors offer new theoretical and methodological perspectives that move beyond already well-established debates between “abolitionists” and “sex workers’ rights advocates” to document both the intention of public policies on sex work and their actual impact upon those who sell sex, those who buy sex, and public health more generally.