Sex workers have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to include them in the plan to help those that won’t be able to work during the lockdown as their livelihoods will be affected as well. The S.e.x Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sisonke, a movement of sex workers, said they had noted “with concern” how s.e.x workers were missing from the general conversations about support for workers throughout the pandemic and 21-day national lockdown.
“Since the outbreak, s.e.x workers have recorded a drastic decrease of their clientele which has put many of them in dire financial straits that further pushes them to the margins and exposes them to risky sexual behaviour and violence.
“We are not sure who exactly will be prioritised in the plans laid out by the president as he says “we are going to support people whose livelihoods will be affected”. On Monday, the president declared that as of midnight March 26, South Africa will be under lockdown for 21 days in order save citizens from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from Covid-19.
As of Thursday, over 700 South Africans had tested positive for Covid-19. SWEAT’s Media Officer Megan Lessing said the “drastic decision” comes with many uncertainties for unskilled workers in the country, including s.e.x workers. Lessing said sex workers remain the most marginalised of all workers and whose work was not recognised as work in South Africa.
“Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, s.e.x workers have been the first group of workers to be affected financially by the spread of the virus. According to a study we conducted in 2013, South Africa has about 158 000 s.e.x workers – the majority being female s.e.x workers who support up to seven dependants with the income they make through s.e.x work.
“The loss of income due to the coronavirus outbreak has meant loss of shelter, inability to access food, healthcare, medications and other basic necessities for s.e.x workers and their dependents. The President has said that there is a proposal for a special dispensation for companies that are in distress because of Covid-19. Through this proposal employees will receive wage payment through the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme, which will enable companies to pay employees directly during this period and avoid retrenchment.
“However, we are questioning the inclusivity of the proposal. Will it include s.e.x workers? S.e.x work is currently criminalised in South Africa and s.e.x workers are considered criminals – not workers. And as the hardest-hit group of workers by the global pandemic, they will most likely not qualify for the ‘Temporary Employee Relief Scheme’.
Lessing said s.e.x workers working in brothels, street corners or strip clubs were unable to register themselves for Unemployment Insurance Fund due to criminalisation, stigma, and discrimination., In emergency situations such as the 21-day lock down where they won’t be able to work, she said, they can’t claim for any financial aid from the government.
“We would like to remind the president that during this adversity that we find ourselves in – it is important to listen to the vulnerable and respect the wishes of s.e.x workers in South Africa and heed their call for the decriminalisation of s.e.x work.
“The criminalisation of s.e.x work excludes s.ex. workers from accessing basic human rights including labour rights. We call on the president to make urgent provision to the ‘Temporary Employee Relief Scheme’ to include s.e.x workers, because s.e.x work is work and they too need help as their livelihood has been disrupted.”
In other news – DJ Tira follows Somizi’s footsteps, buys street vendor’s fruits & veggies before the lockdown – Watch
Some few days ago radio and TV personality Somizi Mhlongo shared a video in which he encouraged people to support street vendors by buying their stocks before the lockdown as they will be greatly affected, than the supermarkets that will be able to survive.
This seems to be received a vibrant response as people including our favourite celebrities are falling through and supporting street vendors. Producer and musician DJ Tira has also played his part as he shared a video of himself fulfilling the pledge made by numerous media personalities to support local street vendors, ahead of the 21-day lockdown. Read more