“People who are being prostituted are not the problem but rather the patriarchal systems that allow the prostitution of vulnerable persons in the first place.” – Embrace Dignity
We focus on a range of key issues through our Law Reform Advocacy, Public Education and Exit programmes. Amongst those are the link between patriarchy and exploitation as well as between prostitution and violence against women and gender inequality. By challenging prostitution, we are directly challenging the oppression of women and other marginalised bodies. Our work aims to dismantle the patriarchal values (values based on a social structure where power predominantly remains within the hands of men) that leave women vulnerable, poor and with limited choices.
Given the often violent and traumatic conditions under which prostitution occurs, Embrace Dignity does not consider prostitution work. Rather, we argue that it is an act of domination resultant of the power afforded to men by patriarchy, which positions the bodies of women and marginalized people as prime sites for exploitation and abuse by men and for men.
LAW REFORM ADVOCACY PROGRAMME
To prevent the exploitation of, and harm to people in prostitution, as well as to address gender inequality and patriarchy, we believe that changes to our current legislation are required and that the law must recognise prostitution as an extreme form of gender based violence. Our advocacy for law reform is therefore part of a strategy to end the demand for prostitution as well as to increase the options for people in prostitution, protect those in prostitution and provide support for exit from prostitution.
By advocating for law and policy reform, such as the decriminalisation of prostituted people and the criminalisation of those purchasing sex, we can provide greater protection to prostituted people and eventually eliminate prostitution.
In the same spirit, we are continuously working towards the harmonisation of current constitutional, legal and policy initiatives to prevent gender-based violence, commercial and sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.
We are doing this by:
- petitioning parliament,
- making submissions to parliament through their public participation programmes,
- developing and distributing fact sheets on prostitution and trafficking,
- undertaking research in partnership with universities,
- developing position papers, and
- by sharing information with the media to promote awareness and to inform public participation in our advocacy work for legal reform.
You can find some of these resources on our Resources You Can Use page.
PUBLIC EDUCATION PROGRAMME
Embrace Dignity acts as a catalyst for change by promoting social dialogue and networking in civil society and across all levels of government and state institutions. We do this together with survivors, who directly engage with women and young people at risk to make them aware of the dangers of human trafficking and prostitution; through workshops on and public events about trafficking; working with the assistance of survivors to better understand the various social conditions and challenges in each community that lead people to become trafficked and prostituted.
Our aim is to build consensus and increase social mobilisation by deepening public awareness of the links between poverty, exploitation and human rights through our information and education campaigns in the media and in civil society. While shifting public perception of prostituted people through our Public Education initiative, we can at the same time educate the public about the realities of prostitution, thereby build support in civil society with a view to developing a broad coalition which will support us in promoting the passing of reforms to the law on adult prostitution. At the same time, we can draw on the lived experiences of the Sisters as well as their training in advocacy and leadership to help educate young, unemployed people to prevent them from becoming entrapped in prostitution themselves.
Our Public Education Programme focuses on two areas:
- Communities: We conduct workshops to educate people in various communities about prostitution, as well as other life skills or resources to prevent prostitution. The sisters also run Sister Circles in their communities, which educate and provide support to fellow Sisters and community members.
- Prisons: Our Sisters are involved in the international volunteer programme, Alternatives to Violence Project, which was started in prisons in the United States in 1975. Through this programme, Sisters help educate prisoners on alternative ways to deal with conflict. This is a mutually beneficial relationship for both the Sisters and the prisoners.
Grizelda’s Grootboom’s book EXIT ! which depicts her ordeal as a trafficked and prostituted woman, as well as our photography exhibition, poetry events, material for the media, and other books on sex trafficking and prostitution are available at our Dignity Centre and used to both empower the Sisters and other survivors, and educate the public about the realities of exploitation.
Thanks to our staff and the Sisters with whom we work, we have an in-depth understanding of the field of prostitution. This allows us to not only talk from a position of experience, but to come up with cutting-edge interventions that are relevant to the South African context and are innovative in responding to those challenges.
At present, we empower prostituted women in the Western Cape through our Exit Programme, which facilitates the exit process of prostituted women and provides them with training in leadership, life skills and job skills. Our Dignity Market allows our Sisters to sell products that they have manufactured at our Dignity Centre and earn an income. They are also able to earn an income by offering their services – be it catering for events or the facilitation of a workshop – to us and other organisations and by working at our offices or other places for periods of five weeks at a time to develop their skills and gain work experience.
The Exit Programme also provides women with support tailored to their specific needs:
- Psychosocial support: The Sisters receive counselling and support from a qualified psychologist. This helps the Sisters process trauma in their lives and focus on their immediate and future needs.
- Group counselling: Group counselling helps them support each other and work as a team.
- Technical support: The Sisters receive technical support by staff or an outside mentor which is allocated to each Sister based on their personal development plan.
- Skills development Training in specific skills, for example computer or business skills, is arranged to help the Sisters further their education. Mentors also continue to guide the Sisters as they address short-term and long-term needs on their journey to find employment or to develop their own business. By addressing our Sisters’ needs related to economics and education, we also address some of the core reasons women remain in prostitution and enter in the first place.
- Financial support: Sisters may receive support to assist them with furthering their education, to kickstart their own business or develop a contract proposal.
As part of the Exit Programme, we have established ARISE (formerly known as Masiphakameni – let us rise in isiXhosa), which focuses on growing leadership. We support the Sisters in leading ARISE as survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking and in linking up with survivors in Africa and the rest of the world. Through ARISE Sisters are also able to empower themselves and to lobby the government to address their needs, identify and mobilise resources, and develop strategies and support for their members and others to exit prostitution.
Sister Circles operate as one of those support systems. Circles have been established in four communities in Cape Town, which include Khayelitsha, Delft, Philippi and Gugulethu. These Circles are organised and hosted by Sisters and operate as safe peer learning and support spaces. Here the Sisters can reflect and articulate their needs and share their challenges.