On June 2, 1975 Église Saint-Nizier in Lyon was occupied by more than a hundred sex workers to draw attention to their exploitative working conditions. Since that day, June 2nd has been set aside to commemorate International Sex Workers Day. The day is observed to honor sex workers and increase measures towards addressing violence, stigma and discrimination faced by the sex work community.

Sex workers around the world continue to face a wide range of barriers to accessing justice, both as victims of crime and when charged with crimes. Since sex work is widely criminalized, most sex workers are denied access to the benefits and rights afforded to other workers under labour laws and face the risk of detention, deportation and legal sanctions.

Although sex work is not illegal in Botswana, sex workers experience high levels of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) morbidity, violence and discrimination due to laws criminalizing aspects of sex work such as solicitation, living off the proceeds of sex work and brothel keeping; as well as other provisions of the law that have been used to target sex workers such as public disorder, vagrancy and loitering. These sections of the law are used to target and prosecute sex workers all the while fueling stigma and discrimination that leads to violence against sex workers.

According to a study conducted by AIDS Fonds, 66% of sex workers report having experienced some form of violence. “In Botswana, violence takes different forms and is perpetrated by different actors, meaning that sex workers are confronted with emotional, physical, sexual and economic violence on a regular basis.”[1] Abuse experienced originates from the family, community and from law enforcement . According to the study “[a]lmost half (48%) of respondents […] were arrested in the past 12 months. On average, respondents were arrested six times and stayed in jail for four days. Specific grounds for arrest were: being a sex worker (43%), getting caught in a police raid (41%), carrying a condom (33%), soliciting clients on the street (27%). During arrest, almost half of sex workers (49%) experienced violence, including physical violence (35%), and beatings (28%), or money (28%) and condoms (23%) being stolen. Twenty-six percent of sex workers were forced into sex during arrest.”[2]

Furthermore, UNAIDS and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects- (NSWP) highlight the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic exposes and exacerbates “existing inequalities and disproportionately affects people criminalized, marginalized and living in financially precarious situations and often outside social protection mechanisms”.

As a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, sex workers with underlying conditions such as HIV/TB have experienced difficulties in accessing services; HIV prevention activities are limited due to the period of extreme social distancing and resulting regulations preventing gatherings. This has affected sharing of information on self-testing, Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), consistent and correct condom use, alcohol and drug abuse, active community HIV testing and GBV active case finding and support. Furthermore, people are of the view that sex workers are responsible for the spread of COVID-19 due to the nature of their work and as thus they continue to face rights violations from communities.

Sisonke Botswana Organization and BONELA would like to remind Batswana of the plight of sex workers and difficulties they continue to face as a result of their profession. We therefore call on the Government of Botswana to take immediate action, as guided by human rights principles, to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of sex workers through:

  • Decriminalization of aspects of sex work to ensure the protection of sex worker’s rights and contribute to Ending Violence Against Sex Workers
  • Ensure access to national social protection schemes including income support during COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Stop unlawful harassment and detention of sex workers by law enforcement officers and agencies
  • Meaningful engagement and involvement of sex worker communities and sex worker led organizations in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating programming geared towards addressing their needs and challenges

Sisonke Botswana Organization and BONELA remain committed to support Government and other partners in the implementation of the above recommendations.

#SexWorkIsWork #EndViolenceAgainstSexWorkers

For more information, contact: BONELA : Tebogo Gareitsanye at tebogog@bonela.org or +267 73297509 Sisonke Botswana Organization : Mandla Pule at mandlapule@gmail.com or +267 72923214

[1] AIDS Fonds, Sex Work and Violence in Botswana: A Needs Assessment Report, 2016

[2] Ibid