Successful 15th Session of Sex Workers Academy Africa

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Africa Regional Correspondent

The Sex Workers Academy Africa (SWAA) has held its fifteenth session, with eighteen activists from different countries graduating at a ceremony held in Nairobi in October 2017.

Launched in 2014, SWAA is run by the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). ASWA is a sex work movement and regional network that supports the rights of sex workers, and publicly denounces­ the stigma, discrimination and criminalisation of sex work. SWAA is a learning programme for community empowerment and capacity building, led by and for sex workers. It is implemented by Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) in Nairobi, Kenya, on behalf of ASWA (KESWA is also a member of ASWA).

SWAA brings together national teams of sex workers from across Africa to develop organising skills, learn best practices, stimulate national sex worker movements, and strengthen the regional network. The project aims to strengthen the sex workers’ rights movement across Africa, through building the capacity of sex workers to influence policy and develop and implement programmes, and through strengthening sex worker led organisations and national sex workers’ networks. To date, more than 200 activists have attended and graduated from SWAA.

Since 2014, the SWAA team has changed and learned from experience, said Bradley, Programme Officer for KESWA. “We have new modules that have evolved from the sex workers’ experiences and sharing in the Academy.”

“Sex workers being meaningfully engaged in all aspects of sex workers programming, planning and running of activities” is a highlight of SWAA, Bradley said. The SWAA curriculum combines learning and practical experiences, and the effort continuously devotes energy to developing the capacity of Academy faculty members. “Sex workers are thirsty for their rights and many of them are starting campaigning, advocacy and lobbying [activities] for decrim, to see some of the [damaging] laws and policies around sex work abolished.”

As in previous sessions, participants at this year’s SWAA visited two sex worker-led organisations – Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP), and Health Options for Young Men on HIV and AIDS (HOYMAS). “The Academy was an eye-opener for the participants seeing how Kenyans engage so well with the government and health bodies such as NASCOP [National AIDS & STI Control Programme] and NACC [National AIDS Control Council],” Bradley said. 

The main goal of the Academy is to strengthen sex worker-led organisations and communities across Africa. It does this through learning opportunities for faculty members, developing demonstration sites, and combining learning and practical experiences in the curriculum. It also aims to grow the pool of country teams of Academy graduates from across Africa, who have acquired the skills to build national sex workers’ rights movements and built relationships for creating cohesion within national movements.

At this last SWAA, ZIMSWA and Pow Wow, two organisations in Zimbabwe created by sex workers who graduated from the second SWAA in 2014, “shared how they are slowly engaging their government with supporting groups of sex workers and including them in their strategies for health, among other committees on health and human rights,” Bradley said.  

Learning is an ongoing process for SWAA participants. Bradley said that “Zimbabweans [who attended the fifteenth SWAA session] will continue spreading the Sex Worker Implementation Tool, and work with other implemented to adapt and use the SWIT in their programmes for sex workers”.  The way learning is used by organisations who attend SWAA also varies based on local culture and context. “In Ethiopia sex work is not permitted from a religious perspective, “but since [sex workers] attained a lot of knowledge in the Academy, Ethiopian sex workers promised to work closely with both cultural and religious leaders in their country,” Bradley said. “The sex workers will also seek dialogue with some government officials in health to support their agenda and try to change their attitudes and beliefs around sex work.”

More information about the SWAA is available in this NSWP case study