What about us Mr President? Sex workers plead for financial aid during lockdown
Johannesburg - Sex workers have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to include them in the plan to help those who won't be able to work during the lockdown as their livelihoods will be affected as well.
The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sisonke, a movement of sex workers, said they had noted "with concern" how sex workers were missing from the general conversations about support for workers throughout the pandemic and 21-day national lockdown.
"Since the outbreak, sex workers have recorded a drastic decrease of their clientele which has put many of them in dire financial straits that further pushes them to the margins and exposes them to risky sexual behaviour and violence.
"We are not sure who exactly will be prioritised in the plans laid out by the president as he says 'we are going to support people whose livelihoods will be affected'.
On Monday, the president declared that as of midnight March 26, South Africa will be under lockdown for 21 days in order save citizens from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from Covid-19.
As of Thursday, over 700 South Africans had tested positive for Covid-19.
SWEAT's media officer Megan Lessing said the "drastic decision" comes with many uncertainties for unskilled workers in the country, including sex workers. Lessing said sex workers remained the most marginalised of all workers and whose work was not recognised as work in South Africa.
"Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, sex workers have been the first group of workers to be affected financially by the spread of the virus. According to a study we conducted in 2013, South Africa has about 158 000 sex workers – the majority being female sex workers who support up to seven dependants with the income they make through sex work.
"The loss of income due to the coronavirus outbreak has meant loss of shelter, inability to access food, healthcare, medications and other basic necessities for sex workers and their dependents.
"The president has said that there is a proposal for a special dispensation for companies that are in distress because of Covid-19. Through this proposal employees will receive wage payment through the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme, which will enable companies to pay employees directly during this period and avoid retrenchment.
"However, we are questioning the inclusivity of the proposal. Will it include sex workers? Sex work is currently criminalised in South Africa and sex workers are considered criminals – not workers. And as the hardest-hit group of workers by the global pandemic, they will most likely not qualify for the ‘Temporary Employee Relief Scheme’."
Lessing said sex workers working in brothels, on street corners or strip clubs were unable to register themselves for Unemployment Insurance Fund due to criminalisation, stigma, and discrimination.,
In emergency situations such as the 21-day lockdown where they won't be able to work, she said, they couldn't claim for any financial aid from the government.
"We would like to remind the president that during this adversity that we find ourselves in – it is important to listen to the vulnerable and respect the wishes of sex workers in South Africa and heed their call for the decriminalisation of sex work.
"The criminalisation of sex work excludes sex workers from accessing basic human rights including labour rights.
"We call on the president to make urgent provision to the ‘Temporary Employee Relief Scheme’ to include sex workers, because sex work is work and they too need help as their livelihood has been disrupted."