'Sex work a patriarchal form of violence against women' - former sex worker

2019-04-18 05:27


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"All women in prostitution are marginalised and exploited, therefore, prostitution cannot be considered as work, as it is a structural economic and patriarchal form of violence against women."

These are the words of a former drug addict and sex worker, Vera Qwesha who says the sex work industry is not as glamorous as projected by those who lure people into it.

Now the author of the book titled My Journey from Grass to Grace, Qwesha is part of the Kwanele Sisters - a movement of survivors of the sex work industry. 

The movement is against the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa.

READ: Sex workers' rights group 'cautious' over ANC's decriminalisation decision

"There is untold economic, emotional and physical strife that prostituted women experience. Clients treat 'sex workers' like objects and consequently ill-treat them," she explains.

Qwesha says for her, entering prostitution was like slipping from one world into another as she saw many young girls losing all they had because of drugs.

Some women were brutally killed, raped and strangled while others died because of a drug overdose, she added.

On April 11, the movement gathered outside the Durban High Court where the murder case of a businessman accused of killing Durban North sex worker Siam Lee resumed.

'Prostitution is chosen for us by our colonial past and apartheid'

The group read out a letter written to president Cyril Ramaphosa seeking clarity on his support for the decriminalisation of the sex trade, as well as clarity on the ANC's policy on sex work.

The ANC made a decision to fully decriminalise sex work in South Africa during its 54th national elective conference in 2017.

"Dear Mr President, as women with first-hand experience of being prostituted in South Africa, we, the movement of the survivors of the system of prostitution - predominantly poor black women from disadvantaged backgrounds - wish to express our shock, concern and disappointment at your recent support of the full decriminalisation of the sex trade at the opening of the newly built court in Johannesburg," the letter reads. 

"Prostitution is chosen for us by our colonial past and apartheid, persistent structural inequalities, poverty, past sexual and physical abuse…"

Hailing from the Eastern Cape, another survivor, Zenande, says she entered the industry in 2011 when she needed money to go back to university. 

She says the first time she worked she was asked "uthengisa ngamalini? (how much are you selling for?)"

"I was so young and much in demand. Yet it was always difficult for me to price myself in terms of the services I offered. I came up with a plan to make it easier for me; I asked a veteran prostituted woman who was a roommate of mine to put up the prices and she did," she said.

'I paid so don't rush me'

Zenande says her heart would "throb" as she could not give in to "selling her soul to the devil" at a price. She added that no amount of money can compensate one for sex with strangers.  

"And then there's that gentle reminder with piercing eyes that says I have paid for having sex with you, therefore, submit yourself and let me finish 'ngikhokhile,ungangijarhi!' – meaning I paid so don’t rush me! I've also experienced being beaten up, raped and money taken back when I failed to fulfil the needs of these men," she says.

Zenande says she also battled to get Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (antiretroviral medicine after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected) at a clinic after one man did not want to use a condom during sex. 


"I had to pretend I was mugged and raped; it was easy because I had a blue eye and a broken rib from the struggle with that man so I got my PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis)."

The movement also marched to the Durban CBD police station where they demanded that an investigation be instituted into the brothels that were masquerading as massage parlours in Durban, particularly the one where Lee worked. 

"There are far too many brothels masquerading as massage parlours.  The time is ripe for South African women to become empowered to fully control their destinies. Kwanele! Enough!" Kwanele leader, Mickey Meji said. 

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Read more on:    anc  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  durban  |  sexual assault  |  sex workers

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