New sex workers’ alliance formed

Date: July 15, 2010
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Parliamentarians in Mozambique are currently facing a challenge by an advocacy group new to the country’s political scene, on an issue most people are unwilling to even talk about – sex work. The newly formed Mozambique chapter of the Pan African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) are pressing parliament to recognise the rights of sex workers, especially to ensure their health and security.

Laila Matsinhe, one of the two co-ordinators of ASWA said in a recent interview that the objective of her organisation was to organise sex workers so that they understand their rights. Questioned on what they wanted parliamentarians to do, Matsinhe was blunt, posing a challenge that may kick off debates on possible decriminalisation

“We want the government to look at us as just any other worker. And if they legalise the profession we can pay taxes,” said Matsinhe. In a country where sex work is highly stigmatised, Matsinhe said ASWA is holding two public meetings each week in places where most of the sex workers are.

Sandra Odete, another ASWA coordinator said most sex workers face physical abuse from police officers, customers and even thieves who robbed them on the streets. “What we want is for the sex workers to understand their rights and be able to denounce cases of abuse and refuse to be forced to have unsafe sex,” said Odete. “We want them to be organised.”

However, public opinion may not be very easy to sway. In a snap survey conducted by this reporter after the interview with ASWA, several people said they would not accept the legalisation of sex work in Mozambique.

ASWA is a project housed at the Sex Worker Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), a non-governmental organisation based in Cape Town, South Africa that has been active since 1996. SWEAT advocates for human rights for sex workers and seeks to decrease the incidence of HIV infection and sexually transmitted infections amongst the sex working population of Cape Town through advocacy, education, counselling and support.

The alliance gained momentum after a February 2009 event that brought together regional and global partners to participate in the first-ever African sex worker conference held in Johannesburg. ASWA was formed to help fight human rights violations perpetrated against sex workers and advocate for access to services, especially health care.

Currently ASWA is collaborating with organisations such as Pathfinder International, Population Service International (PSI), United Nations Population Service (UNFPA), Mozambican Human Rights Organisation (known as Liga Mocambicana Dos Direitos Humanos), and the Lurdes Mutola Foundation.

“We are in the phase of looking for partners to work with us so that we can reach out to the sex workers through out the country so that they are aware of their rights and to fight HIV/AIDS,” Matsinhe said.

Gabriel Fossati-Bellani, deputy director at the Lurdes Mutola Foundation said SWEAT approached his organisation and the others to help steer the formation of the sex workers’ organisation in Mozambique. “Supporting high risk populations in HIV prevention and the protection of their right to life by exercising their work safely is an essential to the reduction of HIV in Mozambique,” said Fossati-Bellani. “The Lurdes Mutola Foundation stands proudly with the ASWA Mozambique for these rights.”

Fossati-Bellani also pointed out that of the groups designated as “high risk,” sex workers are by far the best informed about safe sexual behaviour and HIV prevention. However, access to services and vulnerability to violence can make exercising that awareness difficult.

Fred Katerere is a Maputo based freelance journalist. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.


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