Sex workers decry discrimination in justice systems

Some sex workers on the streets. Photo/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Sex work is not recognised under Uganda's employment and labour laws.

Sex workers through Alliance of Women Advocating for Change (AWAC), a sex work led organization, have expressed concern over delay in getting justice when harmed by their clients.

Speaking at a belated commemoration of the International Sex Workers’ Day, the women claimed that they “are never helped by law enforcement agencies.”

 “When we report to police  after misunderstandings with our clients, they tell us that they are tired of sex workers and ask us why we can’t go back to the village and dig,” Harriet Nabbanja, a sex worker from Kalangala District said.

She added: “This is why sex work should be decriminalized because many people earn a living out of it but when they get a problem, they cannot seek justice.”

Clare Nakiguli, a sex worker from Katwe in Kampala, said they get clients who use them and decline to pay.

“We are not helped unless AWAC comes to police to help us. That’s why this job should be recognized so that we can also freely seek justice,” Nakiguli said.

AWAC executive director Macklean Kyomya said decriminalizing sex work means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion and fear of violence.

“We urge authorities to prioritize the protection of marginalized women, including sex workers, who are disproportionately exposed to multiple and newer forms of targeted violence and therefore victims in this matter,” Kyomya remarked on Tuesday.

Kawempe Community Liaison Officer Conrade Muzoora urged sex workers to always ensure their safety.

“For us, as police officers, as far as we know with these sex workers, we are trying to understand them, our voices and our capacity may not reach far. So, we are trying to see how we can protect their lives, mobilize them and support them to make sure that they become responsible citizens,” Kazoora said. 

Kazoora advised them not to look at sex work as a profession and a permanent job but rather find other ways of survival.

Sex work is not recognised under Uganda's employment and labour laws yet it is a means of livelihood for many women and men around the country. Recently, Ugandan human rights activists advocated for the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill that would decriminalise sex work, saying criminalisation fosters violence and limits access to justice.

However, Parliament rejected the recommendations, maintaining prison sentences for sex workers, clients and brothel keepers.