- Sex workers protested in Cape Town against what they believe is a review of the Commission for Gender Equality’s position on the decriminalisation of sex work.
- Sex work advocacy groups claim they have been excluded from consultations in the review process.
- However, the commission claims the review is simply to ensure its policies are relevant.
Sex workers protested in Cape Town on Thursday, claiming the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) is planning to revoke its support for the decriminalisation of sex work.
The Asijiki Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Sex Work embarked on the protest action, claiming that the CGE had established a committee to review its policy on the decriminalisation of sex work.
In 2013, the CGE adopted an official position in support of the decriminalisation of sex work.
Asijiki spokesperson Constance Mathe said the organisation, along with Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sonke Gender Justice, had approached the CGE for clarity after hearing rumours of the committee.
The advocacy groups say they are baffled as to why they had not been included in the discussions.
"How can you have a committee about sex work with no sex workers on it? We’re demanding to have sex workers' voices involved," Mathe added.
Mathe claimed that the committee was "planning to destroy our campaign to decriminalise sex work".
She added that Asijiki believed the decriminalisation of sex work was the only way to ensure sex workers were protected by law, and enjoy their freedom and human rights.
The committee was a symptom of the "increasing influence of individuals within the CGE who are using their positions to impose their personal moral views on issues such as sex work".
Sweat spokesperson Megan Lessing said the organisation was concerned over the lack of transparency around the establishment of the committee.
They are demanding that the CGE share the minutes of the meeting in which it was decided to establish the committee, as well as what prompted the establishment of the committee, the process that was followed to establish it, and its ultimate purpose.
"If the information that has been provided to us is correct, the committee consists of members who are strongly biased against the decriminalisation of sex work based on their very strong personal moral convictions. We placed on record our official objection to the composition of this committee as we believe that it is not impartial as required by the Constitution," Lessing said.
"We asked the CGE to confirm the names of the members of the committee, the rationale behind their selection as well as the process that was followed in their selection and appointment," she added.
Lessing said she believed the commission had already "made up its mind" to change its position and was embarking on a "box-ticking exercise" in its engagements with sex worker advocacy groups.
Lessing added that Sweat had invested resources into considerable research over its 25 years of existence, but had not been allowed to share this with the committee.
However, CGE spokesperson Javu Baloyi said the move to review the policy was simply to assess its relevance.
"It is not true that the review process is about changing the position of the commission. Any institution does review its policies from time to time to see if they are relevant or not," he said.
"The message that is being used out there suggests the commission has gone ahead and has decided a position that is different to the current one. It is not true."
Baloyi said the CGE had engaged with sex work advocacy groups and would continue to do so.
"The commission has communicated with the various organisations. We acknowledge that letters were sent to us as far as this matter is concerned. As the commission, [we will] engage with these institutions and other like-minded institutions to find an amicable solution."