African Sex Worker Conference and formation of ASWA

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1 Feb

In February 2009 about 153 delegates from across 10 African countries descended on Johannesburg (South Africa) for the first ever sex worker-led African Sex Worker Conference. The conference brought together sex workers, sex worker organisations, advocates, and supporters from across Eastern, Western and Southern Africa to share their knowledge and expertise on specific sex worker issues that cut across the continent.

These issues included:
- definitions and understandings of sex work,
- stigma and discrimination of sex workers’ human rights,
- criminalisation and structural violence,
- access to health care services and facilities, and
- diversity, representation, and collectivisation.

The conference took a rights-based approach to these sex work issues and advocates that all sex workers are human rights defenders. From the start of the three-day conference the tone was clear, “We want rights, not rescue”, a young Kenyan woman declared, reading from a communique on behalf of the participants.

“In Uganda, sex workers are treated like dogs”, Daisy Nakato (27) who sells sex on the streets of Kampala, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. Nakato said she had lost count of the number of times she's been arrested for “idling”, sometimes after denying a police officer free sex.

"Sex work has always been around, and will always be around. That's the reality," said Eric Harper, director of the Cape Town-based Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).

Citing Africa's political liberation movements as a source of inspiration, the conference culminated in the formation of the African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA). ASWA is a sex work movement/network established to empower sex worker leaders, activists and organisations who support the rights of sex workers, and publically denounce the stigma, discrimination and criminalisation of sex work.

"The alliance is about listening to what sex workers are saying. They're saying: 'Let us decide for ourselves'", Harper added.



African Sex Worker Conference report PDF version
‘We want rights not rescue’: (news article)
5 February 2009
By IOL News

SWEAT: African Sex Worker Conference: (media advisory)
27 January 2009
By the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT)

New sex workers alliance formed: (news article)
13 July 2010
By Fred Katerere

African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA): (website)

African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA):  (NSWP profile)

Additional/related resources:

E-tv news interview with then Director of SWEAT - Eric Harper, and current ASWA Regional Coordinator - Daughtie Ogutu about the African Sex Worker Conference: (video)
25 June 2009
By E-tv News/ e-Channel News

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