Inequities are stark in South Africa. The consequences of these inequities include unemployment, homelessness, poor health and mental health and no access to adequate health care services, limited access to decent food and nutrition, increased exposure to violence and substance abuse. Womxn and LGBTI+ persons are most affected by structural determinants that create these precarious realities for them. Womxn and LGBTI+ persons are using their agency to ensure their survival and provisions for their dependents; thus many have to navigate survival outside the formal social services and state institutions are unresponsive to their legitimate complex needs. Sex work and living on the streets are strategies for the most marginalised to survive. However, sex work is criminalised, and street living is frowned upon in South Africa. The criminalisation of sex workers compromises their safety in the work that they do to survive and to provide for their children and families. Many sex workers also form part of the LGBTI+ population adding to their layers of marginality in society
The rise of the COVID-19 epidemic and the state’s response to addressing the pandemic and containing the spread of the virus has illuminated the key challenges for the most vulnerable that already existed before the crisis. For example, due to lockdown, many sex workers have suffered a loss of income due to COVID, and they are systematically excluded from any workers’ relief stimulus by the government because their work is not recognised and criminalised.
The strategy actioned by the City of Cape Town of setting up a temporary homeless shelter at Strandfontein sports field which included relocating 1,600 homeless people to eight marquee tents at the complex. These efforts have been reported as a potential negative impact not only for the homeless people but for surrounding communities due to poor living conditions, safety concerns for women and LGBTI+ persons, overcrowding and high concentration of people in tents, and inadequate provisions for food, health and social services. Many sex workers and LGBTI+ persons are part of these camps where the conditions pose high risk for the spread of coronavirus amongst a high concentration of people who are immuno-compromised.
This initiative to document and share these experience is a collaboration between Tekano Fellows for Health Equity, Mothers for the Future, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition and the Triangle Project. We are also working with incredibele advocacy buddies, who have dedicated time to meet with their peers and engage around some of these experiences.
We hope that through this initiative, we can position sex work and LGBTIQ+ priorities alongside ‘mainstream’ health systems and community organizing and advocacy. Support by sharing the stories as part of advocacy initiatives, as well as supporting the partner organisations that have made this possible.