A Profession Silenced: The Legalization of Sex Work in Zimbabwe.
I have had difficulty starting this post because I am unsure whether my focus is why sex work ought to be legalized or the social and legal harms that come about from its criminalization. Currently s81 of the Criminal Law and Codification Act criminalizes solicitation for purposes of prostitution. The outcomes of this are not only counterproductive to the realization of human rights by all citizens, but also pose grievous harm to women on a daily basis. Women who are killed, beaten and abused daily on account of the law failing to provide adequate protection.
Sex workers suffer a high incidence of sexual assault, lack of access to criminal justice, ignored rape charges and mistreatment at local clinics because prostitutes are viewed as unchaste common women who could not be trusted, always consented to sex and therefore could not be raped (Dube, 2013). Multiple governments have admitted that this nature of reasoning perpetuates discriminatory tendencies against women. Legislation that criminalizes prostitution limits the agency of women only perpetuates social tragedies such as police brutality. There is an arbitrary use of power exercised by law enforcers on a daily basis. Power that is protected by institutional prejudice. There is barely a moral reason of substance against the legalization of sex work.
How can all citizens enjoy the benefit of a new dispensation when the current social order prevents them from exercising their human rights to the fullest extent?
From a feminist standpoint, there is a crisis in the order of government and identity politics. There is a failure to politicize sexuality and institutional sexism, which only perpetuates the masculine order of Zimbabwean politics. Issues detrimental to the everyday experiences of women are othered, dealt with away from the eyes of the of the public and outside the scope of political conversations.
If the reasoning behind the prohibition of sex work is that the legislation of Zimbabwe must reflect the values of its citizens, then we must question all the legislation that more often than not fails to remedy social injustices, but in fact perpetuate them.
In 2015, following a Constitutional Court case instituted by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a court order in favor of sex workers was issued and widely reported as signifying that the police were no longer to arrest sex workers (JIAS, 2017). Although this was a huge milestone for sex workers it does not provide adequate protection. Legalization of sex work would
– Allow sex workers to conduct business in a protected environment.
– Significantly decrease the spreading of HIV and other sexually transmitted disease.
– Be beneficial to the economy.
– Be a first step to the elimination of stigma.
Substantive justice is an obligation of the rule of law and there is no justice in legislation that does not represent all women regardless of social standing and how they choose to use their bodies.
There is a tendency in African politics to prioritize certain issues over others. We are constantly promised that ‘once we deal with the economy we will deal with rights’. We are barely dealing with the economy so when will the time come to save those that are being abused by the system right now?
R Dube “She probably asked for it!” A Preliminary Study into Zimbabwean Societal Perceptions of Rape” (2013).