This morning, nearly 200 sex workers and activists from Sonke Gender Justice, SWEAT (Sex Worker Education Advocacy Task Force), Sisonke Sex Worker Movement and the Treatment Action Campaign handed over a petition to the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) demanding CGE action on sex worker human rights. In November 2012, a complaint by sex workers and sex worker advocates was submitted to the CGE asking them to investigate systematic sex worker human rights violations which include police harassment, abuse of their rights and non-protection from sexual assault, rape and murder.
This demonstration followed a number of brutal sex worker murders over the past weeks. Our organisations wrote letters to the CGE on Monday and Wednesday and did not receive an adequate response. After a march to the CGE offices in Cape Town this morning to hand over the petition of our demands, the CGE finally responded – just 30 minutes later – with a 22 page reply.
The letter positively dealt with most of our demands and included the following:
- an apology from the CGE for the negative impressions that have been created and an assurance that the sex worker human rights complaint is being dealt with “the utmost priority”
- the scheduling of a meeting with SWEAT, Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, Sonke Gender Justice and the CGE on 9 September, 2014
- a draft terms of reference for the steering committee that will oversee the CGE public hearings into sex worker human rights violations
- a copy of a recent CGE letter to the SA Law Reform Commission (SALRC) asking for a meeting [which we asked the CGE to do in our complaint in Nov 2012], and a response from the SALRC that a report on the adult prostitution law reform project was submitted to the Minister of Justice – something which the SALRC failed to notify sex workers and advocates about. Sex worker advocates have been putting pressure on the SALRC for more than a decade to move forward on the law reform project on sex work legislation. The SALRC released their Discussion Paper in 2009 and the next step should have been for them to have made their recommendations to the Minister of Justice. Sonke feels that this should have happened at least four years ago, and that while they dragged their feet, sex workers have suffered assault, abuse and been murdered.
Today’s reply from the CGE and its positive response to our demands was a huge success for activists. If the CGE does not continue to move this process forward expediently, we are prepared to take further action. In the meantime, we are celebrating a successful mobilisation, showing sex worker solidarity and honouring the lives of murdered sex workers. We are happy that this demonstration and our written appeals this week have galvanised the Commission, who should have urgently attended to systematic abuse of sex workers and their rights!
In this video, Sonke’s Policy Development & Advocacy Specialist Marlise Richter talks about the petition handover while activists debrief and celebrate at Sonke’s office immediately after the march! After the interview, you can see some of the celebratory spirit in song and dance by the activists:
Video by Czerina Patel
Press Statement on today’s demonstration at the CGE here.
Dr Marlise Richter
Sonke Gender Justice
021 423 7088