On this 8th Day of March, International Women’s Day, the movement of Kenya Sex Workers joins all women around the world in commemorating this day.
Further in our quest of demand for human rights of sex workers by our state, the network of sex workers in Kenya including organizations such as the Key Affected Populations Health and Legal Rights Alliance (KESWA), Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) and Survivors Self Help Group (SSG) will this year, 2017, present their report on the rights of sex workers at the 68th Session on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
We assert our fundamental human rights to live free of violence, stigma, discrimination, and we assert our right to health.
Human rights belong to everyone inherently by virtue of being human and that includes sex workers. Sex workers are particularly at risk of human rights violations, including physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment.
In Kenya, sex workers struggle to claim their individual human rights as they are relentlessly subjected to police harassment, physical and sexual violence including murder, arbitrary arrests and abuse; stigma and discrimination and disregard for personal safety and security from their clients and the public in general.
This means that the women are unable to protect and safely provide for themselves and their families. The lack of recognition, the criminalization of sex work, and the lack of access to tailored health care services, makes sex workers inordinately exposed to HIV/AIDs.
In Kenya, while there is no law legalizing sex work, it also does not directly criminalize it. Kenyan Penal Code and the Sexual Offences Act do not explicitly criminalize sex work, but criminalize the actions of third parties associated with sex work.
The confusion has resulted to un-harmonized interpretation of the law to the disadvantage of sex workers. Currently, various county governments are debating on the enactment of laws that directly criminalize sex work.It is important for the Government to separate trafficking from voluntary sex work. In recent times there has been a lot of attention by state and non -state actors in the area of human trafficking in relation to sex work. The network Kenya of sex workers does not in any way support trafficking.
The conflation of trafficking and voluntary adult sex work has led to further violations of the rights of sex workers. It has been emphasized that the conflation of sex work and trafficking also severely undermines the human rights of sex workers while failing to secure rights of people who are trafficked; by misdirecting resources into policing sex work, rather than identifying people who are coerced and providing them appropriate support. It exacerbates the lack of legal remedies to redress violence and erodes the efforts of sex workers fighting for legal and social recognition of their rights to dignity and livelihood
It however needs to be recognised that forceful rescue and rehabilitation of sex workers is a violation of their fundamental rights as provided by the Kenyan Constitution. The rights and entitlements of consenting adults who enter into sex work should be recognised and not confused with the rights and needs of people who are forced into sex work and/ or are underage.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides equality and non-discrimination; freedom and security of every person, which includes protection against inhuman or degrading treatment and right to the highest attainable standards of health. The state is required under the constitution to abide by the provisions of international and regional human rights instruments that it has ratified.
Given that gender-based violence in Kenya is a key driver of the HIV epidemic amongst women, including those who are sex workers, all efforts should be made to eliminate stigma and discrimination against these groups. It is this context that fuels and perpetuates violence and other human rights violations being committed against sex workers.
Along with our global partners, CREA and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, we demand the following in Kenya:
o Immediately end the forceful crack-downs and violation of privacy.
o Decriminalize sex work and enact policies and laws to adequately protect and respect human rights for marginalized and vulnerable women such as sex workers. This will give sex workers the basis to access and utilize the legal systems when their rights are violated.
o Provide and support appropriate and quality health programs, including HIV prevention, for sex workers using evidence-based and human rights-based approaches.
Implement rigorous training of law enforcement, local administration officials and the local community on legal and human rights standards with regards to sex work.
o Institute mechanisms that allow sex workers to find redress for human rights violations and violators accountable for their actions.
We therefore urge the Kenyan government to put measures in place, to ensure sexworkers’ rights are properly protected, respected and upheld.