Sex workers in Namibia face violence, discrimination and stigma on a daily basis from those who are expected to uphold the rule of law, namely police officers, and say that they too have human rights and should enjoy the protection of the Constitution.
Saturday was International Sex Worker Rights Day, and the occasion was commemorated in Windhoek on Friday when a group of sex workers witnessed the launch of a number of reports related to sex work in Namibia.
The reports have been produced by UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV-AIDS and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The event also saw two sex workers who have become human rights activists giving moving and emotional accounts of events that have taken place in their lives.
Scholastica Goagoses, director of The Red Umbrella, an organisation advocating for sex workers’ rights and resistance to oppression, told how she was driven 25 kilometres outside Windhoek by a male client only to be left by the side of the road completely naked.
Goagoses said that a person driving to Windhoek picked her up and took her to a Police station in Windhoek, where she was repeatedly mocked by the Police on duty. According to Goagoses, the male client had driven off with her clothes and she only had plastic bags to cover herself, yet the Police officers offered her no assistance.
Nikodemus Auchomub, a transgender sex worker and director of Rights Not Rescue Namibia, told how he has been assaulted, stripped naked and sexually abused by the Police.
Auchomub, who is also known as Mama Africa, said that police behaviour towards “drag queens” and transgendered sex workers worsened “when former President Sam Nujoma told the Police to arrest all gays and lesbians.”
Auchomub told the group of sex workers and journalists present at the launch ceremony on Friday that Police officers had once detained him for an entire weekend and that he was raped while in custody.
Auchomub said because of the stigma and discrimination, sex workers are at an increased risk of being infected with HIV-AIDS “because staff at clinics and hospitals criminalise and stigmatise us on a daily basis, because we are sex workers”.
“According to the Namibian Constitution, we all have equal rights, yet these rights are not extended to sex workers. We are denied rights, especially by law enforcement agents when we report cases of gender-based violence, the Namibian Police abuse the powers vested in them,” Auchomub said.
Auchomub said sex workers have voted, but the Government has not delivered. “We raise our voices about the human rights violations that we face on a daily basis, but no one listens to us once we have voted,” Auchomub said.
Auchomub also made a plea to President Hifikepunye Pohamba for the reform of legislation and the decriminalisation of sex work. “We need a safe space, we need a safe country, we need access to the health system, we need to be respected and dignified as human beings and as citizens of this country,” Auchomub said.
Goagoses and Auchomub sang an old liberation struggle song and lit a candle in remembrance of sex workers who have died due to violence perpetrated against them.
Of the reports that were launched, one was a review of literature and current programmes relating to sex work and HIV-AIDS in Namibia. Of the other two, one is a report and recommendations of a national meeting on sex work, HIV-AIDS and access to health services in Namibia.
The final report is a rapid assessment of sex work and HIV reality on the ground in five towns in Namibia.
by Nico Smit
Source – All Africa