Prostitution — why all the silence?


Member of Parliament for Bulawayo East Thabitha Khumalo has stuck out in defence of sex work.

She has been maligned by fellow legislators and politicians, but she has refused to budge on an issue she believes is being unnecessarily swept under the carpet.

In an interview with NewsDay, Khumalo said there was so much silence around the issue of sex workers in Zimbabwe.

“The greatest challenge with humanity is that when we come to issues we have a conflict with we tend to take an avoiding strategy, but by avoiding a problem it does not go away,” she said.

Khumalo has pointed out that the silence around sex work is so thick that a lot of “progressive-thinking forces” including newspapers still refuse to call it “sex work”, but refer to it derogatorily as “prostitution”.

With Zimbabwe regarding itself a Christian nation, it usually approaches some issues, like prostitution, from a moralistic standpoint.

It is therefore by no coincidence that homosexuality — Zimbabwe’s greatest moral question of the decade — has also become not only its biggest constitutional question, but also a political issue.

As Khumalo ups the stakes in the debate around sex work, the issue has become highly politicised.

Khumalo has openly disclosed that she is in support of the sex workers emphasising that the “pleasure engineers” had a right to make a choice on the type of work they want.

The sex workers have gone as far as signing a petition to ensure their presence in the country is acknowledged.

They have called for the decriminalisation of sex work, a call that has not elicited a response from the government.

Khumalo has said she is not mobilising sex workers to form a union, but was mobilising them towards acquiring substantial enjoyment of their universal freedoms and rights.

“What is important is the question of HIV/Aids, if as a country our aim is to have zero discrimination, zero new infections and zero HIV/Aids-related deaths, we have to consider decriminalising sex work. When it is legalised, no one will need to hide,” she said.

Khumalo has over the years expressed her tolerance for the sex workers, highlighting that she was trying her best to push the agenda to Parliament to ensure it was included in the Constitution.

Nonqaba Jamela, a female sex worker, has said sex workers were exposed to crime as they were being denied access to adequate health care and legalised jobs.

Over the years, when prostitutes narrate their stories, they all follow a trend which depicts incessant ordeals.
They speak of torture and how they cannot complain because not only the country’s laws, but also societal norms, are stacked against their profession.

Last year, Patience Nkomo and Sihle Sibanda, who are the national coordinators of sex workers in the country, narrated their ordeals, trials, tribulations, and trauma to NewsDay, which they said were an enduring experience in the life of the sex worker.

They both spoke of their experiences in pain and despair.

In Zimbabwe, prostitution, like murder, is existent yet according to the law its existence does not imply it is justified.

Constantly it is swept under the rug, yet it relentlessly flourishes while enveloped in what sex workers see as double standards from both religious and cultural people.

The sex workers’ plight remains a question with no answer in the country while like civil servants and their salary increments demands, they believe it ought to take precedence in national debate about whether it should be legalised and recognised as a profession.

Research has however pointed out that in Canada, prostitution is legal with some restrictions, as well as in Europe including England, France, Wales, Denmark, most of South America including most of Mexico, Brazil, Israel with Tel Aviv known as the brothel capital of the world, and Australia.

It is either legal or tolerated in most of Asia. In New Zealand, the Prostitution Reform Act passed in 2003 made adult prostitution and brothels a legal occupation.

In Brazil, prostitution is legal except brothels and pimping. In 2002 the Ministry of Labour added “sex worker” to an official list of occupations in that country.
Nevertheless, in many sub-Saharan countries it is said to be driven by widespread poverty.

In February 2009 an African sex workers’ conference was held in Johannesburg to create an alliance that advocated for sex workers’ rights.

Despite the criminalisation of sex work in Zimbabwe, sex workers from the country attended the conference where they condemned police manipulation and sexual rights violations that go unnoticed, unreported and undocumented.

Though taken as taboo, prostitution has gained unparalleled momentum over the years and has become a choice for some women.

“If Venus can use her hand to get money, Drogba his feet, hairdressers their hands, brains to think, then it is not taboo to use my relevant parts of the body,” Patience defends her plight.

While some people may regard it as uncouth, some regard it as an old profession largely appreciated by the modern and developed society.

In an interview with NewsDay, historian Pathisa Nyathi said the debate around the issues of legalising or not legalising prostitution where not so importantly as identifying how people perceived the subject of prostitution.

“Rather than talking of legalising prostitution, as individuals and as a country we need to first consider how people react or think of prostitution.
Whether they think of it as a trade union that needs to legalised or whether they think of it as anti-social, we need to first identify the general interest of the majority before we think of decriminalising prostitution,” he said.

Nyathi said as the world was experiencing variable changes, people would begin to appreciate prostitution as a profession because of the changing times.