Esw: Sex workers must not be left out of anti GBV actions

Esw: Sex workers must not be left out of anti GBV actions

Date: December 9, 2021
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By Sifiso Nhlabatsi

Mbabane, 9 December 2021: Following the outbreak of COVID-19 sex workers around the country claim that there has been an increase in cases of harassment and discrimination by members of the armed forces. The sex workers claim that they are always harassed for being found in the streets at night. They are told that they are breaking the curfew rules.

As the world commemorates 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence they have revealed that they are left behind when it comes to being protected from abuse. Sex workers expressed that when it comes to getting assistance when they have suffered abuse it is not easy to get help because of the nature of their work.

Lungile Khumalo Executive Director of Voice of Our Voices  a non profit organisation fighting  for sex workers rights in the country has stated that sex workers in the country have been under trauma for so long.

Khumalo however noted that the abuse directed to sex workers and the speed in which they receive help is slowly changing in the country. She said with the introduction of instruments which seeks to protect not only women but everyone from being exposed to any form of abuse including Gender Based Violence the country is slowly improving.  The Executive Director said the trauma that sex workers have been exposed to has led to them being perceived as people who are hard to deal with.

Khumalo explained that with the introduction of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act they noted a lot of change in terms of how sex workers are treated. She said in the past sex workers faced discrimination even from law enforcement officers and as a result could not report their cases of abuse freely. She said however that has changed as sex workers are now able to report their cases with the police and other organisations that deal with victims of abuse. Khumalo said Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse has been very helpful when it comes to assisting sex workers who have fallen victims to gender based violence in Eswatini.

She  explained that there is still a great need to unpack the SODV Act for everyone to understand clearly. Khumalo said she understands that sometimes the country’s laws can be complex and hard to understand.

SWAGAA’s Communications Officer Sakhile Dlamini said as an organisation which offers services to victims of abuse they do not discriminate as they assist anyone who comes to them including key populations. She said there are case officers who deal with victims and ensure that confidentiality is maintained.

Worth noting is that in a bid to ensure that the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act otherwise known as the SODV Act of  2018  is effectively implemented, the country is planning to put in place measures that will ensure the realisation of Eswatini’s obligations to prevent and effectively respond to gender-based violence in terms of international human rights law and standards.

Harassment and discrimination directed towards sex workers in the country will come to an end if the commitments made by the Minister of Justice Pholile Shakantu during the 69th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights are anything to go by. The Minister stated that the African Charter states that every woman shall be entitled to respect for her life and the integrity and security of her person. She went on to explain that all forms of exploitation, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited. “States parties shall take appropriate and effective measures to enact and enforce laws to prohibit all forms of violence against women, including unwanted or forced sex whether the violence takes place in private or public,” the Minister stated.

Interventions to be made by government according to the Minister range from programs involving changing societal norms and values, social and behavioural change and other protection programs,”. She said  the Government acknowledges that there is need for better investment and technical support in these prevention programs

A report submitted by the International Commission of Jurists before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights during the same 69th session where the Minister of Justice was present indicated that authorities have consistently breached their obligations in respect of the African Charter and the Maputo Protocol and have failed to effectively implement the SODV Act  or otherwise ensure the realization of Eswatini’s obligations to prevent and effectively respond to gender-based violence in terms of international human rights law and standards.

According to the submitted report under international law, and regardless of questions of State responsibility and of individual criminal culpability, both of which need to be separately assessed, domestic violence therefore always amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and very often to physical or psychological torture.

The report explains that the Government of Eswatini acknowledges that sexual violence, physical and emotional violence remain high in Eswatini. The government further states that it has prepared a strategy for the implementation of the SODV Act 2018 in relation to GBV survivor support. According to the report even though the law in Eswatini protects women’s rights to dignity, in practice, these rights are systematically violated and women in Eswatini do not fully enjoy this right.

Sifiso Nhlabatsi is a journalist from Eswatini. This story is part of the GL News and Feature Service  Sixteen Days of Activism News series.

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