NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 6 – Nairobi sex workers have demonstrated outside City Hall protesting harassment by City Council askaris.
Decked out in red fitting-shirts with covered faces they shouted: “Sex workers’ rights are human rights” as they demanded an end to discrimination.
Daughtie Ogutu, a founding member of the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance said that she had experienced firsthand harassment by the ruthless city askaris.
They also demanded an end to discrimination that they face in healthcare facilities and while seeking access to legal aid.
Ogutu said: “It is time that the society stops its hypocrisy on sex workers; they are human beings and have human rights. We are demanding that the government should (sic) recognise our rights.”
The male and female sex workers said the industry should be legalised as it is generating money from which the government can raise revenue.
“We are ready to pay taxes; we would love to if sex work is made legal. Sex workers are workers like any other and not criminals,” said John Mathenge the national coordinator of the Kenya Sex workers Alliance.
They said that they were ready for talks with the government on how their rights could be guaranteed.
“We want to open dialogue with the government; it may not be a win-win situation but we are willing to compromise so long as the government also compromises,” said Ogutu.
Last month Nairobi mayor George Aladwa hastily retracted sentiments in which he intimated that the City Council of Nairobi was considering relaxing its by-laws to allow commercial sex workers work freely in the Kenyan capital.
He said that the council was working to harmonise by-laws with provisions of the new Constitution before allowing commercial sex workers to operate without restraint.
The mayor said the council would stop harassing the sex workers once laws were harmonised.
Aladwa later said that his statement on legalising prostitution was just a proposal in response to demands by the workers.
He said he was just airing his views and the matter was subject to debate by the public.
Commercial sex work is currently illegal in Kenya and those found practicing it on the streets are often harassed and arrested.
Curiously, only women are arrested whenever they are found plying the age-old trade while their male clients are seldom put behind bars.
In Nairobi, the police and council officers often conduct swoops on the streets where they arrest female commercial sex workers.
The workers said that they should face proper charges when arrested and not the charges that are constructed by the police like loitering.