My name is Felicity Sibindi and I work for the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The Sexual Rights Centre is a key population-led organisation that focuses on realising the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), and sex workers (SWs). As a representative of SRC I participated in the Bridging the Gaps/ PITCH Sex Work Partner Event in Amsterdam (NL) from 27- 29 June 2017.
Coming from a poorly resourced, conservative and punitive country, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Partner Event. I was anxious to showcase the work that is being done by the SRC as best as possible because there is often a misconception that everything in Africa is doom and gloom. I wanted to demonstrate all the great work and wonderful people who make up our beautiful homeland, and to break the stereotypes that are so common across the globe. At the same time, I was curious about the other countries, especially those further away in Asia that mainstream media reporting often neglects in Anglophone countries. My experience at the Partner Event far out-shone my nervous expectations.
Drawing strength from solidarity
Part of the struggle in Zimbabwe when it comes to sex work is legitimacy and recognition by the government. Sex workers have limited access to basic services, health care, education, social services, and are often targets of police brutality and exploitation. Meeting sex worker led organisations from around the world who shared these struggles was a great source of comfort for me. The in-depth discussions around police brutality with the Centre for Supporting Community Development Initiatives (SCDI) in Vietnam was eye-opening.
It felt comforting to know that we are not isolated in our experience of police beatings, corruption and rape. That the struggle is alive and present for others too. The feeling of solidarity became a place from which to draw strength to continue the fight for recognition, acceptance, tolerance and equality before the law and before the people.
The long road ahead
Meeting members from PROUD, the Dutch Union for Sex Workers was also a learning space for me. Sex worker bodies are sites of struggle in Zimbabwe, decriminalisation before the law is one of our greatest ambitions in the sex worker movement. It is our deepest desire to move from outlaw to a respected and contributing member of society. However, learning from the continued struggle faced by the Dutch Union for Sex Workers made me realise that the road is long and that legalisation does not mean decriminalisation. Their shared lived experiences demonstrated the difference between a truly inclusive system that supports freedom and acceptance, and one that only does so on paper. A policy document means little if it doesn’t protect those it claims to serve in practical ways. A piece of paper does not automatically translate to societal acceptance; and community sensitisation is critical to advocacy work so that policies and laws are supported and buttressed by a society that is truly open and welcoming.
A full intention to steel valuable lessons
I was deeply inspired by the work being done by partners in Kenya from KESWA (Key Affected Populations Health and Legal Rights Alliance) and North Star Alliance. In my pondering around the roles and responsibilities between governments and sex worker organisations and how to make this relationship work better, it was amazing to come across models that work. The Kenyan government supports key population programming allowing these organisations to mobilise and implement HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment models in effective and creative ways. The advanced reporting formats being used which are approved by their health departments provided a practical how-to methodology for creating more convenient documentation of the work of sex worker organisations, and a means to measure impact in a language that can be understood by both policy makers and sex worker organisations. I fully intend to steal these lessons for an utopian future Zimbabwe. Laying the groundwork now will make work easier in the future between sex worker organisations and the mainstreaming goal to include sex worker friendly services in our national health care systems.
Apart from the country-to-country sharing, the quickest and easiest take-home learning from this Partner Event was definitely the Monitoring and Evaluation toolkit. Often as partner organisations, we run on very limited funding, and this often means that organisations are not able to employ additional staff purely for M&E which is a requirement for all programming. In many cases, trainings through consultants are also very expensive and as key-population led entities, we do not always have the skills available within our core staff body. Therefore, this training on how to set up a basic monitoring and evaluation framework for the organisation is definitely something that will prove useful across programmes. It is also a skill that was presented in such an accessible way that I am able to transfer that information to other members of staff easily.
Sharing and Caring
Finally, the opportunity to present the work done by the SRC to a broad audience from all over the world was the most fulfilling and proud moment for me. Being a donor-funded organisation means that all our work is summarised into many reports. These reports go out to our valued donors and there is little opportunity to actually express ourselves as the people behind the work. Reports are two dimensional entities that tick boxes without necessarily translating the emotion behind the work. There is no room for facial expression, no space for movement and celebration. This opportunity to stand in front of others, to stand in front of our support networks, and bring to life the work that we do on the ground, through our own unique voices was priceless. To see the faces of recognition, familiarity and appreciation light up as we described ideas and best practices was an opportunity to bridge across the written and spoken word.
More on SRC
The SRC is an advocacy organisation that works by opening up space for leaders, LGBTI and sex worker collectives and movements to grow, to develop, and to take creative and effective action at local and national levels in fighting for the rights of marginalised groups in an oppressive environment. The SRC provides coaching and mentoring for these groups by collaborating around the delivery of essential health, legal, information, and developmental services. The SRC is a partner in both the Bridging the Gaps and PITCH programmes. In May