Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Health And Welfare Life Style

Embrace dignity deems Ministers sex -work decriminalisation statement as “irresponsible “


The Honourable Deputy Minister of Social Development, Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu was quoted  in several media reports as having made a policy pronouncement calling for the  “decriminalisation of sex work”. The ANC and the Government do not have a policy on the  “decriminalisation of sex work.” It is irresponsible for ANC representatives in government to call  for the decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ and give voice to an agenda that would oppress women,  undermine gender equality and perpetuate patriarchy. The link between prostitution and  organised crime is well established. Calling for its decriminalisation is tantamount to opening the  flood gates for human trafficking, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime.

The ANC deliberated on this issue at its 54th Congress and passed a resolution calling for a high level public dialogue that would determine the societal norm. The ANC also called for the  protection of those bought, exploited and sold in the sex trade. Nowhere has the ANC called for  the protection of sex buyers, pimps and brothel managers, which is what the decriminalisation  of the system of prostitution would do.

Resolution 2.28 states:

“The calls to decriminalise Sex work must be subjected to a high-level discussion and  engagement with relevant multiple stakeholders, and to continue to engage society on this to  determine the societal norm. Sex workers must be protected.”

The call for the protection of “sex workers” by the ANC must not be confused with the call to  decriminalise the whole sex trade, including pimping and brothel keeping, which is implied by  the call for the “decriminalisation of sex work.”

There are many other resolutions from the ANC conference that show the ANC would not  support total decriminalisation. Patriarchy perpetuates prostitution and prostitution entrenches  patriarchy. The ANC has always maintained that patriarchy divides society and must be  combatted in all its forms. The ANC has called for gender-stereotyped socialisation of girls and  boys to be addressed to build social cohesion


The term ‘sex work’ does not appear in any South African legislation. ‘Sex work’ is a term  invented by the ‘sex work’ lobby to normalise an exploitative, oppressive industry designed to  normalise the oppressive system and persuade people to regard it as work. It is a slight of hand  to opportunistically introduce an idea that has not even been debated in the country.  The South African Law Reform Commission specifically deals with the issue of language and has  concluded that this is a matter of policy. It therefore recommended the continued use of the  “prostitution”, which is the term in our law.

Referring to the prostitution system as “sex work” is an attempt to normalise an exploitative  and coerced transaction, where the buyer is exercising power and money to gain access to  another’s body for their own sexual gratification.

Prostitution is neither sex nor work, but coerced consent and exploitation. While some may  argue it is consensual, the fact is that it is coerced by the money and it is therefore not free or  mutually fulfilling. It does not fit the ILO definition of decent work, as it is exploitative and often  violent. The seller has to numb and disassociate themselves to survive the pain and repeated  bodily invasion.

Prostitution is inherently harmful. It cannot be made safe.

The oppressive system of prostitution

The ANC-led Government is developing policy and legislation through the South African Law  Reform Commission (SALRC) which has completed its final report on Project 107 Sexual  Offences Adult Prostitution and submitted it to Cabinet, after lengthy research and inputs  through public submissions. The report was released by the Minister of Justice and the SALRC  for public comment on 26 May 2017.

The report dismissed the total decriminalisation of adult prostitution as a policy option for South  Africa, and presented two options, with two draft bills:

Option 1 was partial decriminalisation which decriminalises those who sell sex and retains the  criminal sanctions on those who buy sex, as well as those who exploit the women – the pimps  and brothels.

Option 2 retained the total criminalisation system of prostitution and provides options for  diversion and exit from the system.

It is important to note what the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Adv. Mike  Masutha the recommendations in the Report. He, said: “We are convinced that the legislative  proposals contained in the report will improve the present system as it applies to adult  prostitution and ease some of the complex realities faced by South Africans engaged in  prostitution, such as socio-economic marginalisation of women and the impact of the HIV/AIDS  pandemic.”

He also said: “Our government has a constitutional responsibility to promote the values of  human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and  freedoms.

We are also obligated to observe several international legal instruments, including the United  Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979  towards the combating and, ultimately, eradication of violence against women.”

The Equality Law

Embrace Dignity welcomed the release of the SALRC Report Project 107 and in particular the  recognition of partial decriminalisation in Option 1. This legal option is also known as the  Equality Model. In the beginning, it was called the Swedish Model.

It promotes equality by diminishing the privilege of the powerful to exploit and holding them  accountable for a change and by raising the status of the violated by recognizing that they are  not criminals.

Equality belongs to all peoples, as this model does.

At Embrace Dignity we commissioned research and consulted with our allies in countries that  have implemented the abolitionist Equality Law, also known as the Swedish model or Nordic  model. We developed a Policy Brief and Draft Bill to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional  Development for consideration.

The abolitionist Equality Law, pioneered in Sweden as part of a set of laws and other  interventions, such as providing support for exit, promotes gender equality and addresses  gender-based violence and patriarchy – breaking the cycle of oppression.

It has been adopted and adapted by a number of countries, including Iceland (2009), Norway  (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015) France (2016), Ireland (2017) and Israel (2018).  Hopefully South Africa will be the first country to adopt the Equality Law in Africa and the ninth  in the world.

The Equality Law is a creative third way in its own right with a clear purpose and a coherent  strategy to ultimately abolish the oppressive system of prostitution, rather than promote it.

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