Making Access Real: Zimbabwe Sex Workers’ Alliance

Who are we?

The Zimbabwe Sex Workers’ Alliance (ZIMSWA) is a sex worker led organisation that engages a human rights framework in its advocacy. We are based in Bulawayo, and work in urban and peri urban areas. ZIMSWA envisions a society in which all sex workers – male, female, and trans – can enjoy the full spectrum of their fundamental rights, and live lives free from all forms of violence and discrimination. ZIMSWA believes that change happens incrementally and works to influence public policy and practice in the field of human rights. ZIMSWA believes in movement building and in the power of collective action in the fight to improve the human rights status of sex workers. It contributes to the collective work by designing and implementing innovative, evidence-based and cost-effective advocacy campaigns.

What was the issue?
Sex workers in Zimbabwe are often treated as though they are second class citizens, with their access to and safety in public spaces compromised because of the work that they do. The wider Zimbabwean public thinks that sex
workers are people of poor character, prone to differing forms of criminality. Society at large struggles to understand that sex work is work.
The framing of sex workers as criminals means that sex workers are at risk of violence and of exploitation at the hands of the authorities and of people who expect sex workers to be isolated, and either unaware of their rights, or unable to use the law to enforce them. This includes sexual harassment, demand of spot fines, confiscation of sex worker earnings, and detention of sex workers on the grounds of loitering with the intention to solicit, with the police using possession of condoms and other protective barriers as evidence on the charges. This made it increasingly difficult for sex workers to practise safer sex. Trans women sex workers would be subjected to a heightened form of violence due to their gender expression.
If sex workers were victims of any kind of crime in the course of their work, or if they experienced violence, they could not seek legal protection, and were therefore not getting access to the victim friendly unit and associated medical services, including HIV testing and counselling, and STI screening and services. Furthermore, health service providers sometimes deny services on the basis that sex workers have brought the harm on themselves.

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