Sex Workers’ Day: South Africa Church draws on Indian initiative

Johannesburg: A Church group in South Africa has joined voluntary groups to celebrate the International Sex Worker Rights Day that began in India 17 years ago.

The Central Methodist Mission Church on March 3 unveiled a banner from the church’s steeple that read: “Jesus was the first to decriminalize sex work,” referring to the Gospel narration of Jesus forgiving a woman caught in adultery (John 8:7).

March 3 has been declared as the Sex Workers’ Day since 2001 when more than 25,000 sex workers gathered in Kolkata, India, for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups trying to prevent it.

The event was organized by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta-based group that has more than 50 000 sex worker members and members of other communities.

To celebrate the day, the South African Church supported the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sisonke, a national sex workers’ movement in that country.

They marched to parliament to address members of the African National Congress, the country’s dominant political party.

“This will be the first public statement by a religious institution in South Africa in support of the decriminalization of sex work,” said Sisonke provincial coordinator, Lloyd Rugara. He expressed the hope that their act of affirmation “will open up meaningful engagement around the complex issues of religion and sex work, and the role of the faith-based community in support for social justice issues and the human rights of sex workers.”

Rugara also commended the ANC’s 54th elective conference that committed to supporting the decriminalization of sex work in the country. “As advocates for the rights of sex workers, we would like to congratulate them,” he added.

The conference was held December 16-20, 2017, in Gauteng, the smallest province in South Africa.

“This day is important to Sisonke as it is the reason our movement was started – to create a space and a voice for sex workers, while advocating for their human rights. We will not be made invisible and we will not be silenced­. We are human beings and deserve human rights.”

On March 4, Pastor Allan Storey held a church service dedicated to sex workers.


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