Who are we?
Zambia Sex Workers Alliance (ZASWA) is a newly founded national chapter of the African Sex Workers Alliance. It is a sex worker led and focused organisation that works to tackle the challenges faced by sex workers in Zambia. ZASWA focuses on advocacy and linking sex workers to services. ZASWA also asserts that sex work is work, and works to make the Zambian environment safe for sex workers to operate in, free from violence, stigma and discrimination. Currently, ZASWA has six staff who are all volunteers.
What was the issue?
• Sex workers face stigma and discrimination when trying to access health care services. These include STI screening and treatment, HIV testing and ART referrals, cervical cancer screening, safe abortions, ante-natal care, and access to condoms, including knowledge of use of female condoms.
• The legal framework in Zambia can be described as one of partial criminalisation. This refers to a situation where only the activities related to sex work are criminalised, and not the actual act of selling or buying sex.
• Some of the provisions criminalising these activities are found in the Penal Code of Zambia. • The declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation has exacerbating effects on the negative perception of sex work in the country; and, consequently, most of the blame for the HIV epidemic is placed on us. • The children of sex workers are bullied at school due to the societal perception of sex workers. • Sex workers are unable to access other employment opportunities as their past records are informally kept in people’s minds. • The police, health care providers and clients of sex workers exploit these vulnerabilities. Sex workers are blackmailed, raped, insulted, publicly shamed, threatened and killed.
What was the change we wanted to see?
We wanted to see an environment that recognizes sex work as work, with legal and policy protection for people that engage in it. This will reduce the stigma, discrimination and violations that sex workers and their dependents endure in health, educational, political and religious institutions. We also wanted to have spaces where sex workers can go to access health services, including mental health and wellness services.