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Reducing Inequalities, ending structural violence and Advancing Human rights of female sex workers.

10th Dec 2021


For Immediate Release

Today, we join the rest of the world as a female sex workers’ rights activists’ community in a crowning event commemorating our 2021 edition of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence –with a double strand themeReducing Inequalities, ending structural violence and Advancing Human rights of female sex workers”. This is crafted from Orange the world: End Violence against Women now “; and Equality, Reducing inequalities, advancing Human rights.”  (former being the 16 days of activism theme and the latter being the International Human Rights Day Theme 2021).

We stand with the many who are facing all sorts of violations, discrimination, exclusions and injustices and in a more resolute way are here to amplify our concerted voice against these acts. In the same breadth, we pay tribute to those who have nobly walked this journey before us and at the same time, we deeply commend the efforts and generosity of all the frontline actors and stakeholders supporting the female sex workers’ social justice movement agenda of ending violence, criminalization, vulnerabilities, structural stigma and systemic exclusion of female sex workers at whatever fronts.

As we commune today to mark 73 years of one of the most priceless declarations in human history enshrined in   article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights", as a female sex workers rights activists community in Uganda, we wish to spotlight the following issues of concern in context of GBV and Human rights.

Criminalization fueling structural violence, victimization, stigma and discrimination

Criminalization of sex work (Prostitution) under sections 136, 137 & 139 of the Penal Code Act of Uganda facilitates standards of presumed criminality to be imposed on sex workers resulting in societal stigma which breeds the public perception that female sex workers (FSWs) are undeserving of safety and respect as human beings and as such makes FSWs an easy target for violence and hate crime. FSWs bear 3-4 times disproportionate burden of violence compared to their mainstream population female counterparts.  Society has labeled FSWs as vectors of HIV and COVID-19. Due to power dynamics, often perpetrators and apathetic bystanders hold the perception that FSWs are a social disgrace, spoilt women, husband snatchers, thieves, enemies of public security, actors in child indiscipline, exploitation and trafficking   who deserve to be punished by anyone, anyhow, anytime. Of recent, we are seeing some village council leaders in Nankulabye and Bwaise igniting unjustified pubic campaigns to evict FSWs from their areas work and residence.

Extortion: Often Law enforcement officers arbitrarily arrest and detain FSWs not with the aim of prosecuting them for involvement in sex work, rather, with the aim of extorting money or sex in exchange for release. Majority of them end up being charged on vagrancy grounds. Its commonplace to have sex workers reporting being subjected to humiliating and derogatory treatment, beaten and sexually harassed by police officers and other law enforcement officers such as the LDUs in the course of arrest or while in detention especially after failing to pay in exchange for their freedom.

Denial of child custody; and abuse of children of sex workers: FSWs are denied child custody rights on grounds that FSWs are undeserving to be parents. Children of FSWs face violence because perpetrators believe their mother have nowhere to report. A recent rapid assessment by AWAC on children of FSWs indicated that 80% of the children of FSWs had faced sexual harassment and 70% presented symptoms of common mental disorders.

Reports of restriction or denial of access to justice by Police officers who fail to give complaints of abuse the attention they deserve are also common. Other officers take sides with perpetrators there by exacerbating impunity. Consequently, many FSWs have given up on reporting violence and have come to normalize it as part and partial of their work experience leading to depression, trauma, anxiety, substance use and other mental challenge.

Victimization: The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Control Act 2016 criminalizes use and possession of NDPS. While use of drugs and substances is a common coping mechanism used by FSWs to deal with societal stigma, trauma, anxiety in the face of rampant abuse and distress associated with their work.  FSWs are also arrested and charged with drug use even when they are not found with drugs but apprehended for merely being found in hotspot where drug use is suspected / known to be common.

Systemic exclusion:  FSWs are excluded from the National Social protection policy 2015 and are equally excluded from the National GBV database, given that system doesn’t provide for disaggregation of GBV data per these populations sub categories. Data, programming, and financing of integrated responsive SRHR and GBV services package for sex workers and their children, adolescents surviving in sex work settings and other FSWs with multiple risks and intersecting vulnerabilities is critically lacking. Trauma informed care, community mental health support, GBV shelters, rapid response, witness protection support are not integrated in the programs.

It against this background that we ask that;

  1. MoGLSD integrates FSWs in the National social protection policy among the vulnerable groups
  2. Comprehensive Integrated and responsive SRHR and GBV services   programming and financing   for FSWs, their children as well as FSW with intersecting vulnerabilities be done to include trauma informed care, community mental health and economic resilience across sectors.
  3. Police, law enforcement, local council leaders get more engaged in prevention and response of structural violence related harm, stigma, victimization and discrimination against FSWs, their children, adolescents surviving in sex work settings as well as other female sex workers with multiple and intersecting vulnerabilities.
  4. Sex work, Recreational substance use; and Vagrancy grounds offenses be decriminalized
  5. That Religious, cultural and traditional leaders be more tolerant, understanding and supportive to FSWs at risk of violence or/and female survivors of structure violence.