Members of Parliament’s social development portfolio committee are so impressed with a sex workers’ support programme in Durban that they want it replicated in other provinces.
The MPs visited a Morningside organisation, NGO Lifeline, to learn about its Thubalethu Sex Workers Programme, which offers emotional wellness support and encourages sex workers to get tested for HIV and Aids.
The committee’s chairwoman, Yolanda Botha, said once a report had been compiled about their visit to KwaZulu-Natal, she would recommend that the national Department of Social Development assist other provinces to establish an organisation that would have similar operations to Lifeline’s.
“Sex workers are a national problem, but I have noticed that other provinces don’t even have programmes like these,” she said. “This is a challenge everywhere and as a committee we would like the programme to be expanded.”
The organisation’s director, Pravisha Dhanapalan, said the programme used “peer educators” – most of them former sex workers – to help identify places where sex workers operated.
They then go to places such as brothels to assist with counselling and to encourage safe sex through the use of condoms.
The programme also
tries to equip sex workers with skills so they can find an alternative way to make a living.
But its focus on the eThekwini region was a challenge, Dhanapalan said, because the organisation also received calls for assistance from women in outlying areas.
“Most of the sex workers come in with a host of problems that took place during their childhood, like sexual abuse and assault,” she said.
A peer educator in the programme told MPs how it changed her life after her time spent as a sex worker.
“Being a mother of five was not easy, I became the black sheep of the family. I joined the wrong friends who introduced me to sex work,” she said.
“From there, I moved on to every kind of drug that could be found on the street. I started sleeping with people just for drugs and I was not worried (whether or not) I used a condom.”
The woman later found out that she was infected with HIV.
“I thought it was the end of my life,” she said.
“I came across Lifeline and was put into rehab. The rest fell into place. I was provided with skills and trained as a peer educator. That is what I am doing today.”
The report to be compiled by the parliamentary committee is expected to include recommendations and resolutions which would be presented in Parliament and to Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.