Key Populations Want Regular Rights, Not Special Rights

  • Demand recognition for sex workers and LGBTQI identifying people
  • Say many experience humiliation and ridicule by healthcare personnel
  • Declare sex work is real work


The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law, and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) recently collaborated with the Pilot Mathambo’s Centre for Men’s Health to advocate protection and promotion of rights to bodily autonomy and integrity (BAI) of key populations as necessary for reducing inequality, especially pertaining to gender, and to promoting health, dignity and their well-being.
Key populations include Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), Female Sex Workers (FSW), Adolescents, People Living with HIV (PLWHIV), and People Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) who constantly need to become aware of their rights so as to create a demand culture when accessing services that benefit their health and well-being.
“We don’t need special rights but regular rights just like everybody else,” said Pilot Mathambo at a media gala in Francistown recently. “Recognise me for who I am, not what I am.”
“Body Autonomy and Integrity issues that are of importance across Botswana span from access to safe abortions, criminalisation of sex work, basic human rights for the LGBTI community that are not freely spoken about even though they affect our lives daily.”
“They are often swept under the rug but we are coming forth to say we are here. Our problems are many. Let’s work together to solve them.”

Sex work is real work
It was noted that despite their vulnerability, sex workers remain a largely invisible, inadequately served and marginalised population. The main challenges they face include health risks, violence and obstacles to access to substantial healthcare services and social services.
Another major challenge faced by sex workers is discrimination as it is immensely difficult for a sex worker to go to a health facility and inform the care providers that they are sex workers. Many experience humiliation and ridicule by healthcare personnel.
“We are simply saying decriminalise sex work because sex work is real work,” said Mathambo. “If musicians and athletes use their bodies to earn a living, why can’t we?”
“There has been firsthand accounts of the humiliation and indignities suffered by sex workers at the hands of the police and at clinics. Most sex workers want to protect themselves and have a business that is legitimate, with minimal risks to safety.”
Account of a sex worker
In conversation with a former sex worker who spoke on terms of anonymity, she pointed out that many people who are poor and desperate have no choice but to do whatever it takes to survive, including sex work. The woman said one of the greatest problems faced by sex workers because their work is illegal is having no form of legal recourse when they are infringed upon.
There are instances where they are raped but they cannot not report the crimes for fear that they may be humiliated and chastised further. “Discrimination in communities is also extremely prevalent,” she said. “What sex workers require is protection from violations inflicted on them as a result of the criminalising legislation.”

Key populations exist
The Deputy Mayor of Francistown, Lesego Kwambala, emphasised the importance of including key populations in the country’s plans because they do exist.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye on realities of life,” the Mayor said. “These people are your children and some are your partners. It is just that you are blinding yourself to that reality that they are here.”
“Sex workers and LGBTQI identifying people should be recognised. When you are not the same as the next person, don’t ever think you are better than them.”