Buoyant mood at Sisonke’s national meeting for decriminalisation of sex work

For three days; Sisonke members, sex workers and supporting organisations converged at Gender Links Cottages and Conferencing, Johannesburg for its 8th annual national meeting to discuss strides achieved by the movement and challenges constantly experienced by sex workers in South Africa.

The meeting starting on 17-20 September 2018 attracted sex workers from all nine provinces, social activists, ambassadors acting as the movement’s volunteers’ and an invitation was extended to partners providing much needed health care services including; Lifeline Northern Cape, TB/HIV Care, Wits Reproductive Health Institute, Free State’s Qholaqwe, Humana, Centre for Positive Care, Oasis, Amaqhawe, Hlokomela, Sex Worker Education & Taskforce, Sotho, Munnandinnyi?.

With sex work remaining criminalised in South Africa, attendants also discussed; lack of accessibility to quality health and human rights, government and public support for sex workers, constant stigma and discrimination and the creation of referral networks to assist sex workers.

Sisonke National Coordinator, Kholi Buthelezi believes; “The national meeting reminded us the importance of Sisonke’s existence as the leading organisation in South Africa fighting for sex workers’ rights, accessibility to health services and link them to referral networks. The meeting strengthened partnership relations and with members with members and partners”.

“Sex workers live the unfortunate experiences with current law and it’s urgent that sex work is decriminalised as lot of lives are at stake,” she said.

The meeting also served as an opportunity for 44 new members to join Sisonke adding their much needed voice for sex workers’ daily struggles through indignities of continued violation of human rights and injustices in most cases perpetrated by law enforcement agencies like South African Police Service.

*Hazel Joubert who attended the national meeting for the first time and a professional sex worker felt “this meeting is affording us sex workers to feel respected, Sisonke is supporting us and hopefully government can finally respond to our call for decriminalisation of our work”.

Sisonke and 81 attendees, a growth from last year’s 60 were in unison calling for South African government to decriminalise sex work which will afford sex workers an opportunity to operate in a free and just environment and accessing healthcare services.

Mother For The Future’s Dudu Dlamini said; “This meeting gave Sisonke an opportunity to interact with members, sex workers and other organisations from different provinces, shared experiences and challenges sex workers face every day. We strategized new ways on our continued fighting for decriminalisation and appreciate the contribution funders make to Sisonke to remain resilient in our advocacy work”.

With support from South African National Aids Council (SANAC), COSATU, Asijiki Coalition, Sonke Gender Justice and many other organisation supporting the call for accessibility to primary health care service, as an organisation Sisonke is ready for a robust public debate with government and all relevant parties to forge a way forward better the lives of sex workers and ordinary South Africans.