As the world marks the 14th International Sex Worker’s Rights Day today, Nigerian sex workers have joined their counterparts in some countries to demand for legal recognition of their trade as a job.
Some of the prostitutes told P.M.NEWS that the time had come for the Nigerian government to grant them their due recognition and further recognise that as human beings trying to keep body and soul going, the ‘profession’ should be considered legitimate enough to put a stop to its discrimination and stigmatisation.
Though many of them did not realise that a day like this was set aside for them until they were told, they also called on rights activists to assist them gain the desired recognition.
“See, many people, including you, do not see us as human beings. In your mind, we are a condemned set of Nigerians who sell their bodies so cheaply, but that thought is not right,” Jane, a lady from eastern Nigeria who operates at a brothel close to the railwayline in Agege, told our correspondent.
Her colleague, a 27-year old from southern Nigeria, said with their rights recognised, they could pay tax to the government and to be seen as decent people in the society.
“In some countries abroad, sex workers pay taxes. There is no discrimination, they can sue and even have streets, mainly in red light districts allocated to them to carry out their trades.
“But here in Nigeria, we are faced with rejection from the society, serious harassment by the police, and victimisation by our customers.
“You can imagine a customer who rushes into this place in a desperate bid to ease himself, jumps at one of us after a bargain and rides like a horse only to renege on the agreement on how much he should pay. If we have our rights, we could call for his arrest without shame or molestation from security agents and other Nigerians,” she explained.
•Sex workers protesting against discrimination
In a brothel just a few meters away, another sex worker, Judith, told our correspondent that many prostitutes have various reasons for taking up the “business.”
In her own case, she had travelled out of the country primarily to “hustle in Spain. But I was deported even before reaching the place.
“It was a tough experience and I started sleeping with men as we moved from one country to another just to get money to survive. I stayed two months in Morocco gathering money, but just days to my entering Spain, I was caught with other 80 women and men and sent back to Nigeria.
“I am from Agbor in Delta State and couldn’t go back to my place because of the shame. So I took up residency in this place servicing men daily and making money. I’m even more comfortable here now and I make good money, about N12,000 every week,” she said.
In another brothel located behind the lock-up shops in Iyana-Ipaja, Philo, a 30-year old, who said she never heard that sex workers had such a day in their honour, said it would be good for government to give them legal backing.
“We can be seen as social workers assisting men who can’t summon the courage to ‘toast’ women, who are downtrodden and can’t maintain having a full-time girlfriend or wife as well as those who love variety.
“Ordinarily, without us, there would be much depression among men in the country. If you see what we have to bear sometimes, dirty men, stinking mouths and a lot more. How many women on the streets can accommodate that?” she asked.
Her colleague, who gave her name as Eki (meaning market in Bini language), said granting recognition to prostitutes in Nigeria is the best thing government could do for them.
“In many parts of the world, women are not ashamed to say they are call girls because they are recognised by the society.
“In the case of Nigeria, we just overlook the daily insults from both children and adults as well as the usual harassment from the police just to keep hope alive.
“Sincerely, we are not regarded as members of the society, we don’t have the freedom to do what we like because of the stigma. If the government cannot provide us jobs or put us on a welfare scheme to prevent us from taking to this means of livelihood, then it should recognise us as doing legitimate business,” she said.
She also called for support from non-government and rights organisations, saying they are in a better position to help in the fight.
The International Sex Workers’ Rights Day is marked on 3 March every year to call the world’s attention to the plight of sex workers and demand for their rights.
With the red umbrella as its symbol, the day came into existence in 2001 with a protest of over 25,000 sex workers organised by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee in India.
In South Africa, Sisonke, the only movement of sex workers in the country is commemorating the day with a march across streets to call for an end to injustices against sex workers and demand the recognition of prostitution as a legitimate job.