In Defense Of Sex Workers

June 8th, 2019 / Hillary K Bainny
| Sex work is work

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I am for decriminalisation of sex work because it's the gift that would benefit sex workers in our country, Uganda, where sex work is criminalised.

For me, decriminalisation would mean these sex workers have the same workplace rights as every other worker in Uganda. It would mean they could call on police in an emergency rather than put themselves in danger trying to avoid them. It would mean they could be clear with potential clients about their service(s) and their limitations without fearing they are being "judged by society."

It would mean their criminal record for receiving money in a brothel, for years would be cleared rather than being kept on file forever as a 'sex crime.' For the thousands of criminalised sex workers in Uganda, it would mean they could prioritise their own health and safety over police evasion.

But this is not just a gift to sex workers in Uganda; it is also a gift to our country. Uganda was one of the first places in Africa to let women vote, and one of the first places in Africa to allow women to stand for parliament.

And yet, Prostitution in Uganda is illegal according to Section 139 of Uganda's 1950 Penal code. We could be showing some direction to the nation on this issue and claiming our place in Africa on progressive social policy.

Instead we continue to waste public resources by actively policing what, even the top leadership in police agrees, are archaic and unworkable laws, while our politicians go through their selfish attempts at law and constitutional reform.

None of this time or money spent is helping otherwise law abiding sex workers, nor is it addressing the concerns of the wider community. Uganda is in an excellent position to consider the models of sex industry regulation being used around us.

New Zealand, (the first place in the world to give women the vote) decriminalised sex work about 15 years ago. A multi agency evaluation report shows successful outcomes for sex workers health rights and wellbeing, and no negative outcome for the general public.

We have had Ugandan reports that support decriminalisation as best practice, all are asking for decriminalisation. It would be such an easy wish to grant. Just like in New Zealand, we already have all the laws in place that can give sex workers access to industrial protections, ensure there are occupational health and safety standards, minimise public amenity issues, ensure environmental and public health and protect workers against exploitation.

Once the laws that criminalise sex workers are removed, all the laws that apply to every other worker, workplace and business will apply to sex workers and the sex industry. All the research, evaluating, experimenting and law making is already done for the sex workers - we just need to amend the Acts that criminalise against sex workers.

Just like Portugal with drugs, New Zealand has shown us that decriminalisation does not result in a brothel on every corner. In fact, the sex industry did not grow at all in NZ after decriminalisation. Removing the laws that criminalise sex workers and giving them access to the same rights and responsibilities as other workers and citizens, means that existing laws can address many of the concerns in our neighbourhoods and communities effectively.

Decriminalisation also sends a message to the community that everyone deserves to be safe. December 17 is the international day to end violence against sex workers. Decriminalisation supports sex workers' safety by removing the barriers sex workers face when accessing police, allowing sex workers to work in ways that are safe and by reducing stigma against sex workers - all of which impact on sex workers safety. Anything that reduces violence against a particular group of people is a gift to the whole community.

So this year my wish is for Uganda to change its perceptions towards 'SEX' and continue its proud tradition of leading the way in progressive and non discriminatory social policy by decriminalising sex work, and once again show the world that giving people basic rights will not result in the sky falling in.

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