Sex Workers Denounce Apartheid Era Laws

SEX workers in Namibia have urged the government to repeal laws that criminalise their trade to help fight against HIV-AIDS.

Speaking during the commemoration of the International Sex Workers Day, which was celebrated under the theme “Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights” in Windhoek on Monday, Nicodemus Aoxamub, the executive director of Rights not Rescue organisation said some apartheid era laws of 1959 and 1980 make the fight against HIV-AIDS among sex workers very difficult.

“Sex workers plan to work towards zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths which UNAIDS calls for but despite global partnership, such goals will not be achieved due to discriminatory apartheid laws,” Aoxamub said at the commemoration attended by dozens of sex workers from all over Namibia.

“How can our government still have such barbaric apartheid era laws in an independent Namibia?” Aoxamub asked. Aoxamub praised Namibia’s founding president Sam Nujoma for his call on implementation of programmes to eradicate HIV-AIDS during his tenure.

Aoxamub said programmes have been implemented where sex workers serve on the technical committees and key population working groups which are headed by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

“These are the programmes that Nujoma spoke about and sex-workers are happy to be part of them,” he said.

Beside the government initiatives, national and international organisations such as UNAIDS, UNFPA and donors’ involvement in the fight against HIV-AIDS was also praised.

Rachel Gawises, the director of Voice of Hope Trust (VHT), said disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbaric acts which have outraged mankind. VHT is an organisation for sex workers based at the coast.

Gawises said sex workers do not have the right to equal protection under the law because authorities are preoccupied with criminalising the “world’s oldest trade”, and that this is a violation of the rights of all Namibians.

Gawises, who says sex work is a profession that feeds thousands of families, revealed that she started when she was 12 years old when growing up in a plastic shack at a rubbish dump at Walvis Bay.

The International Sex Workers Rights Day started in 2001 when 25 000 sex workers gathered in Calcutta, India for a sex workers’ festival.

“It was their dream that sex workers own the day and celebrate it in their respective countries as their own,” Deyonce Naris, director of Khaibasen Community Project from Keetmanshoop said.

Naris, a sex worker herself, said her community is also involved in the fight against HIV-AIDS contrary to beliefs that sex workers are only there to spread it.

All the sex workers’ organisations said they give out free lubricants and condoms to sex workers as well as advice on HIV-AIDS-related issues and the importance of protection.

Beside the challenges of HIV, sex workers also face police brutality, transphobia, sexism, poverty and discrimination.

During the commemoration, sex workers shared personal experiences and also lit candles in honour of their colleagues who were brutally murdered in Namibia.