Sex Workers Acknowledged by Deputy President

On Monday, 8 June 2015 at the opening of the 7th South African AIDS Conference held in Durban, the South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged an often ignored group of people in his opening address – Sex Workers.

He went on to mention high HIV prevalence rates – more than twice the prevalence rate in the general population. It is significant that the Deputy President mentioned sex work – bringing to light a population that, unlike other key affected populations, is criminalised in South Africa.

Criminalisation drives sex workers into the margins and blocks access to services. It creates an enabling environment for abuse, exploitation and stigma.

SWEAT and Sisonke are 2 of many organisations involved in delivering services to sex workers – many of whom work in very challenging circumstances to deliver much needed services to sex workers. These services are stigma free, offering services and safe spaces to sex workers in a criminalised setting.

While it is possible to deliver services to sex workers in a criminalised setting, in order to scale up services for prevention, treatment, care, and support and to reach those most marginalised, we must now embark on a law reform process.

Decriminalisation of sex work is a strategy acknowledged by many public health institutions (including UNAIDS and WHO) as a potentially significant tool in reducing HIV. Sally Shackleton of SWEAT adds “over 50 years of criminalising sex work has seen in an ever increasing prevalence rate among sex workers – it is clear that this legal strategy has harmed sex workers and reduced the impact of hard work being done to reach sex workers”.

It must also be acknowledged that we have come far in addressing stigma that sex workers face – even in the choice of words of the Deputy President. “I was listening to the address and heard the Deputy President say ‘sex workers’ – it was not too long ago that a different word would have been used, one that marginalised and silenced us. I am grateful to the Deputy President for using terms we use to refer to ourselves, and for drawing attention to the human rights crisis we face” said Kholi Buthelezi from the Sisonke sex workers movement.

Please watch the video about sex work: (feel free to embed the video)

More information: National Toll Free helpline for sex workers: 0800 606060

Media contact:

Sally Shackleton
Mobile: 082 330 4113

Kholi Buthelezi
Sisonke National
Mobile: 073 247 9623

For more about Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force, refer to

To view other NGO press releases, refer to

Date published: 
Wednesday, 10 June, 2015
Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Task Force, Sisonke

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