South Africa: SWEAT, Sisonke Launch ‘In Her Heels’ Toolkit For Sex Workers

SWEAT and Sisonke have launched the 'In Her Heels' toolkit on Women's Day (9th August), at the Artscape Women/Humanity Arts Festival.

‘In Her Heels’ is a sensitisation training tool that puts participants in sex workers' shoes – using story cards and different scenarios that are based on sex workers real life stories.

The narratives challenged the public to empathise and walk in the sex workers ‘high heels’ to reflect on stories of rape, abuse, shame.

At the launch participants were also asked to literally wear high heels (which were provided) before entering the 'In Her Heels' training space. Nearly a hundred people participated.

SWEAT’s Advocacy Officer, Ntokozo Yingwana said this was a pilot with only five stories from Cape Town. The final version of ‘In Her Heels’ will include stories from other provinces.

Yingwana said they planned to work with other organisations to help distribute the stories to a wider audience. She said decriminalisation of sex work remained key in order to fight the abuses suffered by sex workers.

One of the participants, who cried while going through ‘In Her Heels’ said, “Her story touched me because it also happened to me”. She was referring to her own rape.

Another commented on the strength of the sex worker who inspired one of the stories, “I read the story about Natasha. She faced a lot of challenges, but didn’t give up until she got what she wanted”.

“I really liked reading about the different stories. I think it was very well presented. I liked the idea of actually having to put on shoes [heels] and go in and follow the cards. The stories were very moving. It’s nice to see that there is some kind of education happening about it,” said another participant.

“I liked the choose-your-own-adventure aspect of it. It depended on your decisions or chance how your life turned out. It was also glaringly obvious to see the difference between a sex worker going to police, and someone else. The people who were meant to protect her ended up abusing her,” remarked one of the participants

“I felt like I was living her story, because it can happen so quickly.”

“I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to learn about these things, because it could happen to me or my grandchild, or another family member. At least now I know that there is a place that I can tell people to go to for help. I’m encouraged that there are people [SWEAT] doing this work”.

“It was very sad and happy at the same time”.

Participants also had the chance to meet up with some of the Storytelling Group members who had written the stories that inspired ‘In Her Heels’. This added to their experience, as it made the stories even more real.

This toolkit is important for sex workers, because it makes them understand that there a not alone. That the challenges they face are also faced by other sex workers, and that they can also push through their challenges. Basically, I’m hoping that these stories will empower sex workers to stand up and fight for their human rights, said Ntokozo.

‘In Her Heels’ is an adaptation of ‘In her Shoes’, which is a training tool developed on violence against women by the GBV Prevention Network.

Developed by the GBV Prevention Network in collaboration with over 100 network members in 2011, In Her Shoes is an interactive, educational tool designed to raise awareness about the day-to-day reality for women experiencing violence and encourage activism among service providers and community members.

The toolkit comprises a handbook, personal stories, and station cards (illustrating different steps/ situations women face) which take participants through an exercise allowing them to walk in the shoes of women who are experiencing violence. The exercise also provides space for rich discussion about violence against women, as well as a space for brainstorming about how to better support women and prevent violence.

The toolkit includes 10 stories of real women who experience violence. Participants move through the stories in pairs as if they are walking "in the shoes" of the women experiencing violence, making choices along the way to seek help or support. This interactive exercise allows for participants to come face-to-face with some of the challenges and obstacles women experience

After the exercise, a facilitator moderates a group discussion to further explore key themes, issues, and reactions of participants. The exercise concludes a brainstorming session during which participants think about how they can take action to support women experiencing violence and how they can work to prevent violence against women.