Sex workers project South Africa

We believe that the end of AIDS is possible if there is more focus on key populations. Our project in South Africa addresses barriers faced by the sex worker community related to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Driven by community champions, we work to realize a strong sex workers movement that holds the government to account; decriminalization of sex work; safe working conditions; visible sex workers that participate in the community without fear; and integrated, accessible and quality health and legal services for sex workers.

Criminalisation, violence and sexual abuse

South Africa is considered a newly industrialised country, being ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank. Despite having the seventh highest per capita income in Africa, poverty and inequality are widespread. South Africa’s constitution is known to be the most progressive in the world. Still, sex work in South Africa is illegal. Sex work has been explicitly criminalised by the Sexual Offences Act (No. 23 of 1957) and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and related matters) Amendment Act (No. 32 of 2007). Provincial municipal by-laws also contain provisions that prohibit sex work such as ‘importuning any person for the purpose of prostitution’ and ‘soliciting. Sex work is widespread, particularly in the large cities and in mining and border towns. Sex workers report poor treatment by clients and are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by police and border guards. The HIV prevalence among female sex workers is estimated at between 34 – 69% depending on the geographical region. Sex workers are considered immoral and as a result they are often regarded as easy targets for harassment and violence. They are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Sex workers in South Africa report poor treatment at the hands of clients with cases of physical abuse, threats with fire arms, (gang) rape, forced unsafe sex and refusal of payment.

Sex workers claim a right-based HIV and SRHR response

Bridging the Gaps works with a Theory of Change approach. A Theory of Change is a description of a list of events that is expected to lead to a particular desired outcome. It is a visualization how change is believed to happen. In 2016, representatives of the sex worker community developed a Theory of Change that consists of short-,medium, and long term outcomes. The specified Theory of Change of the sex worker project in South Africa describes how we plan to realize a strong sex workers movement that holds the government to account; decriminalization of sex work; safe working conditions; visible sex workers that participate in the community without fear; and integrated, accessible and quality health and legal services for sex workers.

Through innovation and by building on previous work, we will strengthen civil society organisations’ ability to:

1. We facilitate community development

  • Mobilizing members to increase representation of sex worker communities.
  • Supporting sex workers to meaningfully participate parliament sessions.
  • Translating, printing and distributing user friendly information and education materials on human rights and health.
  • Providing information and advocating for the implementation of new treatment developments, such as PreP and PeP.

2. We advocate for the continuously strengthening of services and upholding human rights

  • Conducting collaborative research on access to legal services and its relation to human rights violations and violence.
  • Conducting evidence-informed advocacy on the link between violence and HIV.

3. We deliver inclusive, rights-based and gender sensitive services

  • Enhancing greater awareness of specific stigma and discrimination barriers faced by key populations and key populations living with HIV when accessing services.
  • Promoting greater community demand for and integration between HIV, sexual and reproductive health services for key populations.
  • Reporting and documenting human rights violations and providing access to legal services.

4. We foster global and in-country process and partnerships that reinforce results

  • Developing a toolkit for activism in collaboration with the ASIJKI Coalition, a coalition for decriminalization of sex work.  

Our partners

Our project builds on the strong advocacy work of our partners SWEAT (including SISONKE and Women’s Legal Centre), EPOC and NAPWA to put sex worker health issues on the political agenda and provide rights-based health and legal services. Their work is internationally supported by Aidsfonds.

Our other projects in South Africa

Bridging the Gaps also has a LGBT people project and a people who use drugs project in South Africa.