Sex workers have been fighting for the right to work freely in South Africa and feel safe while doing so.
Artist and activist Nomsa Mazwai joined forces with organisations SWEAT and Sisonke to bring the plight of sex workers to the forefront in a bid to decriminalise sex work.
Through her organisation #FunkItImWalking, Nomsa aims to make the streets safer for women to walk at any time of day in any condition.
On 27 May, she will be walking with women who are not afraid to say they are sex workers in Johannesburg central.
“On the day, we will gather at 11am and walking together in solidarity for 3km in heels,” Nomsa says. Men and women who believe that South Africa should be safe for all who live in it will walk together and make a call for the decriminalization of sex work.
At the end of the walk, there will be a mini-market and a few performances.
"As we walk, we will meet each other, share ideas and listen, we need to engage each other on practical solutions that will build our nation,” Nomsa adds.
While the Constitution does not specifically refer to sex work, sections 10, 12, and 22 of the Constitution state that everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected; the right to bodily and psychological integrity, including the right to security in and control over their body; and the right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely.
“Sex workers in South Africa cannot be denied these rights, regardless of any ‘moral or religious position,” Nomsa says.
“Some take on sex work to access education, some to put food on the table, and some have done it to buy the latest Gucci bag and a pair of Red Bottoms. I think what one does with one’s body is one choice, but in the case of the friends and colleagues I saw engage in sex work to access education and for survival," she adds.
“I think we need to find solutions to the extreme levels of inequality and poverty in this country. For those who do not make this choice out of their will, but out of necessity brings into focus the extreme levels of inequality and poverty in South Africa as this profession is not easily accepted by the community.”
Nomsa believes sex work is work and sex workers should be afforded the rights and responsibilities workers in SA get.
“Sex workers experience disproportionately high levels of physical and sexual violence at the hands of clients, intimate partners, and police officers; stigmatisation that not only contributes to the violence sex workers experience but also creates barriers to access justice, health, and other public services.”
Her organisation #FunkItImWalking is taking back the power of the streets for women.
“We are demanding safety for sex workers and any woman who is walking to work, the store, or exercising in a country where femicide is one of the biggest concerns and women are not safe,” Nomsa adds.
The protest walk aims to raise awareness about the safety of sex workers and the challenges sex workers face when reporting cases of assault, abuse, and rape.
“I want the country to learn that our safety is all our responsibility and that safety is valuable. You think you are not safe because you are poor? You are poor because you are not safe. Let's change the future of this country by making sure that it is safe. Safety is the only real game-changer for South Africa and the real gateway to a better life for all.
“Sex workers are everyday people; we are mothers, fathers, daughters, and caregivers. South Africans need to understand the plight of sex workers. A country’s population cannot stand by while the human rights of a key population are being violated. The criminalisation of sex work gives license for the continued abuse, harassment, and murder of sex workers. It is important to show support for sex workers so that it puts pressure on the government and the justice department to decriminalise sex work.”
Nomsa believes every human being should be allowed to choose their occupation.
“I think it's a person’s decision what they do with their own body. I also think that our choices are greatly impacted by the opportunities that are available to us,” she says.
“I am not sure women choose to be sex workers only out of desire. I do think sometimes this choice like most working choices is made out of necessity. Not all of us love our jobs, but we do them to put food on the table. I don't think sex work is different," she says.
"Of course, there are, as in all professions, those who are happy doing what they are doing in life. I think in South Africa an enabling environment should be created for entrepreneurs and SMME's to thrive, I think we should be empowered to be able to be the dreams we see for ourselves. We should all be doing what we love, and not what we are forced to do to survive.”
Should her children consider the oldest occupation in history, Nomsa would be supportive.
“What my child chooses in life will be her choice, and whatever that choice is, as I mother I'll have to accept it,” she says.
“My job as a mother is to paint horizons for my daughters, show them what is available out there in the world. The paints I have chosen for my daughters and the painting I am painting for both of them are of endless possibilities, of boundless capabilities. My daughters must know that they can be anything they imagine. My only hope is that my country is led by a government who do not, through pillage, plunder, squander, and folly, take this painting and place it in a cage,” Nomsa says.
With the increasing HIV/AIDS rate, Nomsa believes people should be taught about safe sex instead of having sex work be made a taboo.
“Sex workers are not the cause of the increasing HIV/AIDS stats. We need to have a conversation about why people are not condomising,” she says.
“The answer is toxic masculinity and patriarchy where too many women cannot say no if their partners do not want to use condoms,” Nomsa says.
“In many cases, rape is the reason, and we also have old men with money having sex with young women, luring them with money, clothes, groceries for their families. Substance abuse and reckless behaviour also contribute to the increasing number and not sex workers. This topic is layered and requires us to engage, and we wish to do this in the platform," Nomsa adds.
Nomsa advises people, whether sex workers or not, to continue using protection at all times.
“If you can work hard, you should be able to do anything you dream, In South Africa, that is not the case. One’s success depends on which family they were born to, where they were born, who they are connected to, and the colour of their skin. Everyone should be able to access opportunities., good education, jobs, and health facilities. That is not currently the case, and because not everyone can access opportunity, people have to make difficult choices to survive,” Nomsa says.