“We are not extra-terrestrials; we are just human, just like you”, was a message from one of the sex workers at an event where South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, launched the ‘National Sex Worker HIV Plan’.
The ground-breaking new interventions are aimed at addressing the high HIV infection rate among sex workers, which includes the distribution of the pre-exposure prophylaxis drug to sex workers.
These antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are used by people who are HIV-negative to prevent them from acquiring HIV explained the deputy president as the chairperson of the South African National Aids Council (SANAC).
“We are launching this plan, because this plan is about human rights, it is about the rights of ordinary people, it is also about affirming the equal worth of every person, sex workers, every South African, all of us included – this is about affirming our rights as well,” said Ramaphosa.
“We are happy that it is going to be rolled out and available to sex workers, we want it to be a part of a comprehensive package of services, it can’t be divorced from other services that sex workers need,” said Sally Shackleton, Director of Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force.
“We don’t want people to think that just giving sex workers a pill is going to solve the problem, there are many structural barriers to accessing services, there is violence that needs to be addressed and those are really important aspects to include in our approach to sex work,” she adds.
The launch also presented an opportunity to raise awareness around sex worker’s health and human rights issues.
“Sex workers being criminalised affects us a lot because most of the people tend to use that criminalisation to violate our rights and should it be decriminalised, I think it is going to help us a lot because I think government can also make brothels that are also safe for sex workers because working on the street base is not safe at all,” said one of the sex workers.
Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Deputy Minister of Social Development however did emphasise that a process to decriminalise would not be quick.
“That will be followed by a lot of consultations and dialogues in terms of which is the better choice, do we legalise or do we decriminalise and that is a dialogue every South African will have to participate [in] – depending on whatever South Africans are saying, that will then determine whether South Africa decriminalises or legalises sex work.,” said Bogopane-Zulu.