SWOP-NYC is pleased to announce a partnership in solidarity with Uganda-based Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA).
Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) is a Ugandan sex worker led organization established in August 2008 by 3 passionate and determined sexworkers who have faced harassment, insults, stigma, discrimination and arrest without trial by misinformed societies and who have been stirred into responsive action concerning the plight of other sexworkers in the same working conditions.
Macklean Kyomya, Daisy Nakato, and Zamu Namagembe, the three young women who founded WONETHA in August 2008 have all had experiences working in the commercial sex industry. Macklean, WONETHA’s Director, was struggling to pay her school fees when she followed the advice of her peers and found regular ‘sugar daddies’as a source of income. After witnessing the violent rape of her friend, she began to search for an organization that would guide and protect her. WONETHA’s programme coordinator Daisy contracted HIV from one of her first clients when she started working in a bar. During her years as a sex worker, there were many threatening exchanges between Daisy and her clients. After a particularly violent client, Daisy also went in search of a group that could help her manage her HIV and assist her in diversifying her income.
At different times, each of these women joined an organization that claimed to protect and empower commercial sexworkers, and assist them to find better sources of income. Social stigma issues were not addressed, each of the women was given different opportunities to continue their education, attend conferences, build advocacy and writing skills, reach out to other commercial sexworkers, and stand in solidarity with women late at night in Kampala’s brothels and streets.
However, this organization was headed by a man, and over time these women found that they were continuing to be exploited and manipulated by the male-headed administration. The staff would work, but were never paid on time. International donations were given to the organization to pay for the different needs of the target group, but none of the members ever received what they were promised. International funding for projects and programs was sent, but often disappeared. Many innovative ideas and opportunities were presented to the Chairperson but they were repeatedly shut down. Attempts to reform the leadership and management were made, but were never successful.
Through this time, the three women were connected by their commitment to improving the self-esteem of women sex workers and breaking the stigma around sexworkers.
Through their experiences, and with the support of many colleagues in the civil society community, these women decided to form an organization that would genuinely represent their dreams and aspirations of providing “a home and hope for marginalized women”.
“To unite sex workers; to improve our living and working conditions and to fight for equal access to rights so that sex workers’ human rights are defended and protected.”
“To work with adult sex workers, organize sex workers claim their rights, call fordecriminalization of adult sex work; promote access to health, legal, and social services; and promote safer sex practices and sex workers’ health and well being.”
Problem Statement: Why focus on rights of sexworkers?
Rights Not Rescue: Sex workers are facing a health and human rights crisis in Uganda, yet very little is being done to protect their rights. Research done across Africa shows that the criminalization of sex work leaves sex workers particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse from law enforcement officials and the general public. Sex workers experience routine violence from police, including rape, physical assault, and having their genitals sprayed with pepper-spray.
In recent engagement of government by sex workers who are members of WONETHA to have sex work decriminalized, sex workers sought to claim their fundamental right to social and economic freedom, equality, dignity, and privacy.
Firstly, decriminalization enables the sex industry to be regulated thereby reducing violence against sex workers and cases of human trafficking. It is the oppressors and those committing violence against women who want sex work to remain illegal. Secondly, where sex work is illegal HIV prevalence increases due to difficulties in accessing health care prevention initiatives.
In the New vision of 19th 05 2009 Dr Kihumuro Apuli, Director of Uganda AIDS Commission stated that HIV prevalence among sex workers is 50% and 10% are male clients between the age of (15-49). As a sex worker Organization we are deeply concerned that this situation is alarming despite Uganda’s role model image in previous years in the fight of HIV & AIDS.
WONETHA therefore upholds that for sex workers to fully enjoy all their labour-related rights and fundamental freedoms, sex work in Uganda must be decriminalized. Decriminalization will involve the removal of outdated laws which specifically criminalize sex work, enable sexworkers to operate under the same conditions as other workers, and access the same human rights. The sex work industry will be subject to the same laws which apply to all other sectors in Uganda, including existing labour legislation. Other benefits will include;
- Allowing sex workers to practice their profession openly without fear.
- Easier access to health care facilities without stigma
- Reducing the health and life dangers involved in the profession of sex work
- Allowing sex workers the protection and benefits of the law.
- More comprehensive health care services for sex workers, including those that address rape, sexual violence, mental health, substance abuse, care of sexworkers who are HIV positive, adolescent health, nutrition and antenatal care/maternal mortality.
- Freedom to contribute to national tax payment system therefore raising the sex workers self esteem.
WONETHA emphasizes that the current sex worker situation in Uganda calls for immediate action and if the government does not come out to act then Uganda will lose the battle on HIV/AIDS. As WONETHA we always say that if sexworkers are not safe then no woman is safe.