Cape Town - The Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) is apparently rethinking its stance on decriminalising sex work and has activists worried.
Asijiki Coalition, a social movement made up of groups of sex workers, activists and human rights defenders, is demanding answers from the commission.
In a meeting between the commission and the coalition of Sweat, Sisonke and Sonke Gender Justice activists last Friday, they told the commission it had become necessary to establish a committee to consider further issues that had come to light which affect its position regarding the decriminalisation of sex work.
They said this was despite the commission’s adopted official standing position in support of the decriminalisation of sex work in 2013, including a statement it released in March reiterating its support for the decriminalisation of sex work.
After this there hasn’t been any indication that the commission was reconsidering its position.
Asijiki national co-ordinator Constance Mathe, said they were concerned about this recently established committee of unidentified members which she said was formulated behind closed doors, and aimed at revisiting the commission’s position on issues such as sex work, termination of pregnancy and the rights of persons who do not identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender.
Mathe said the process undertaken by the commission to establish the committee went against its responsibility to protect human rights, act impartially and transparently, and they were concerned about what this would mean for the decriminalisation of sex work and upholding human rights broadly in South Africa.
“We, therefore, find it difficult to understand how the CGE could issue such a statement in support of the decriminalisation of sex work when it had already constituted a committee,” she said.
The commission was approached for comment but did not respond by deadline.
Mathe said they were seeking answers on what prompted the establishment of the committee, the process followed to establish it, and its ultimate purpose.
SWEAT communications officer Megan Lessing said they were also concerned about the members of this committee whom she said were strongly biased against the decriminalisation of sex work based on their strong personal moral convictions. Lessing said the CGE could not renege on its decision to support the decriminalisation of sex which it took after undertaking research.
“If there is a process to revisit the position, let it be public and be transparent,” she said.
The coalition said should the commission fail to address its concerns it would consider appropriate actions to challenge the process.