It’s often dubbed the world’s oldest profession, yet for some reason lawmakers insist on deeming it illegal and punishing those who eke out a living in this way.
That might be about to change around these parts though, as South Africa may become the first African country to decriminalise sex work.
Not that everyone is on board with the new laws, the topic remaining a hotly contested issue. More below from Newsweek:
While moral conservatives call for the status quo to remain, others describe “prostitution” as non-consensual and advocate for partial decriminalization [sic] and exit strategies for women. Lined up against them are calls for full decriminalization based on respect for sex worker rights and public health grounds. The balance at present seems to be weighted towards decriminalization, but major differences remain that reflect wider debates within the global feminist movement on sex work and decriminalization.
Whilst prostitution was largely tolerated under the Apartheid regime, 1994 saw sex work completely criminalised. The South African Law Reform Commission has since looked into that decision, although those results have not yet been made public.
The opposing forces at play:
Decriminalization would help reduce these multiple rights violations. It would enhance the ability of sex workers to work without interference. It will make it easier for them to seek services and redress. This view is advocated by organizations such as the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce and Sonke Gender Justice, as well as the Commission for Gender Equality. Even the African National Congress Women’s League has nailed its colours to this mast.
Opposing these views are radical feminist claims that “prostitution” is never a choice, but rather an instance of exploitation of women. Women’s lack of agency in engaging in sex work should be recognized. Proponents of this view argue that women should be assisted to exit sex work.
The most significant step towards decriminalisation may have occurred in March, when deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa introduced the National Sex Worker Sector Plan of the South African National AIDS Council:
Citing research that found “HIV prevalence rates three to four times higher among female sex workers than in women in the general population of their age group,” he pledged an end to discrimination and violence against sex workers. He called for “sound policies and…progressive laws that promote the human rights of all.” The plan itself identifies the negative effects of criminalization and places law reform squarely on the political agenda.
Relegating sex workers to the rank of criminal does little more than make worse what are already tough circumstances, so it’s high time we aligned ourselves with progressive countries like New Zealand and Sweden and looked after those working in the industry.
Should make the folks over at Bree street restaurant The Nunnery happy, right?
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