Image Credit (c) WOPI
NSWP meber, Women in Power Initiative (WOPI), the first Community Based Organisation in Nigeria led a march in Lagos marking the 14thInternational Sex Workers’ Rights Day. The programme mobilised over 50 sex workers, civil society organisations working with the female sex worker community and the media.
Sex workers marched to the Shomolu Local Government (LG) secretariat demanding a safer work environment for sex workers. A community position paper demanding an end to police harassments and other forms of violence against sex workers were presented to the Secretariat of the Shomolu LG. The position paper also called for the reform of the law that criminalises sex work, noted that sex work is work and reiterated that sex workers rights are human rights. Female sex workers at the march said:
“Help us beg the police make them no disturb us again”.
“I am a mother of three a sex worker, help us pass the information to the chairman of LG on the pains of sex workers”.
“Speak for us, let the police stop harassing us, we are citizen of this country”.
The position paper was well-received and sex workers were encouraged to take their grievances to the State House of Assembly rather as the Shomolu LG could not address the law reform and police harassment issues. Rather disappointing considering the real and considerable impact police violence has on the health and well-being of sex workers.
A learning session building understanding of Nigerian law and sex work was led by human rights lawyer and the Executive Director of the Centre for Rights and Development, Josephine Obikbo. The laws that criminalise sex work allow the Nigerian police to harass and abuse sex workers resulting in violence against sex workers being a common occurrence. The purchase of sex is also criminalised in Nigeria but as is the norm, it is the sex worker who bears the burden of criminalisation as sex workers are the targets for police harassment not to mention the general discrimination and abuse sex workers face in society as a direct result of their choice of work. The need for the community to understand the human rights of sex workers and for sex workers to be empowered to report cases of violence and abuses was emphasised heavily in the session.
Ms Obikbo said “There is need for the sex worker to be proactive in seeking remedies where he/she has suffered rights abuses. This will enable/force the Judicial/Government bodies to promote their Rights and protect them from unnecessary and targeted prosecution and harassment. SILENCE IS DEADLY AND CANNOT CHANGE THE STATUS QUO, YOU MUST MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD TO BRING ABOUT LASTING CHANGES. “
The national status of the female sex workers and HIV prevention, treatment and control program as well as the need for the active engagement of the community in the HIV response was also discussed. Current challenges include the high prevalence of HIV infection in the community and sex workers need to be more engaged in the national HIV response.
Women of Power Initiative is a non-profit, nongovernmental organisation of sex workers, led by sex workers, for sex workers based in Lagos, Nigeria.