SA: The stigma of sex work – To be ‘blessed and slaying’

SA: The stigma of sex work – To be ‘blessed and slaying’

Date: June 12, 2018
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By Yolanda Dyantyi

Johannesburg, 12 June 2018: Over the last couple of years, a “new” of type of sex work has populated much of social media under the name of “Blesser Lifestyle”. This has been glamourised by young women who post pictures on Instagram of the benefits received through this line of work using the hashtag #Blessed. This has sparked a lot of controversy around whether or not it is a desirable lifestyle for women. Debates centre around whether this ‘Blesser Lifestyle’ should be accepted in our communities or shamed as it is not a legitimate form of making money and living.

Gender organisations and movements have been fighting for the legalisation of sex work in the constitution since 1994. Collectively they have been fighting for the decriminalisation of this industry whilst advocating against the stigma aligned with being a sex worker. They have also embarked on various projects, which aim to educate society on why it is important to decriminalise the industry in attempt to promote women’s human and sexual rights.

Recently social media has been in a heated debate about entertainment socialites Faith Nketsi and Innocentia Morolong after being exposed for allegedly “pimping” out young women under the disguise of being models signed to their scouting agencies. The news broke out after a series of conversation screenshots in which identified and unidentified women were confirming transactions between male clients who were willing to pay between R5 000 up to R15 000 for sexual activities with the women. What further ignited the allegations was a report by woman recruited by Nketsi through her ‘model’ agency Feline Management who came forward anonymously claiming that she was paid off to keep quiet about a gang rape incident that occurred while ‘on duty’.

This social phenomenon has also seen women calling themselves ‘slay queens’ because of the exotic overseas travel destinations, fancy cars coupled with expensive food, clothing and hair, paid for by wealthy older men. Many in society have bashed this calling it prostitution. The ideological contestation around this line of work comes in the fact that society has double standards on what freedom of choice and bodily autonomy means for women, and stigmatising women who are making the choice to be sex workers. Gender advocacy centres around empowering women (and people in general) to live their desired lives and have ownership over the choices they make with their bodies without being type casted or stereotyped solely because they are women, and have supposed traditional, religious and societal ‘values’ they have to abide by.

It is important that we recognise the demand for sex work services that mostly come from men who are willing to pay for sexual pleasures. This is why gender organisations have been working on mobilising and educating citizens about the importance of decriminalising sex work to eradicate the stigma. Patriarchal societal attitudes, contribute to the vulnerability of women who find themselves in violent situations committed by clients who feel entitled over the sex worker’s body, as she is a prostitute. Sex workers who find themselves violated in their workspaces by clients in the form of rape or physical assault are not able to report these crimes to relevant authorities as sex work remains criminalised in South Africa. This position also assumes that the women are ‘asking for it’ as they already were performing sexual activities as a form of work, completely overlooking the issues of consent, contractual agreements and basic human right violations by government who views sex work as something morally wrong.

It is important to note that terminology used to describe individuals who work in this line of industry indicative of the perpetual stigma that claims sex work is a societal ill. By referring to sex workers and ‘slay queens’ as prostitutes and whores forms part of stigmatisation that has been proven through research to contribute to being a fundamental cause of social inequality.

If there is any truth to Faith Nketsi having paid off one of her employees to remain silent about her rape, then that should be questioned. She becomes part of the problem and not the solution in ending violence against women Pimping or the employment and managing of sex workers should not result in the employers being complicit to a violation of human rights and a rejection of their employees’ bodily autonomy.

However, in the context of how sex work remains criminalised in South Africa, one can understand why there is denial from ‘slay queens’ accused of being sex workers. Women remain stigmatised yet no one takes in the reality that this industry would probably not even exist if there was no demand of it by mostly male clients.

Photo courtesy of Sonke Gender Justice

– Yolanda Dyantyi is the Young Women’s Alliance intern at Gender Links SA.

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