Par Olanrewaju Eweniyi

Africa has a long-standing tradition of incredibly unequal power between men and women, so of course, there's an extremely high rate of violence against women. Combine that with our poor health infrastructure and unfortunately high moral and righteous indignation, it is almost lethal to be a sex worker in Africa. 

Sex work is criminalised and exploited in many African countries, and because of the lack of access to proper healthcare, sex workers have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Africa. In 2013, a study found that across 16 African countries, an average of 37% of sex workers were HIV positive.

(Photo: HIVGap)

But Senegal does things a little differently than the rest of Africa; the small West African country approaches prostitution a little more innovatively. Senegal is the only country in Africa where sex workers are regulated and protected by the state. The women are given ID cards, and access to some free health care, condoms and education initiatives.

Consequentially, Senegal has one of the lowest HIV rates in the world, even lower than U.S. state, Washington DC. Senegal’s system is impressive and has contributed to low HIV prevalence rate of 0.4%. The average in sub-Saharan Africa is 4.3%. In Washington, DC the rate is 1.9%. And not just that, Senegal is also widely considered one of the safest countries in Africa.

Senegal's policies were developed in response to the 1980s HIV epidemic sweeping across Africa. They established many laws to counter the threat and protect the vulnerable, by revamping the regulation around sex work, left by their French colonial masters, and getting sex workers to register with the authorities for health and safety.

(Photo: NetAfrique)

Senegal upholds a woman's right to work in the sex trade if she is over 21. Health check-ups are mandatory every month for their IDs to stay valid - invalid ID/or no ID leads to an arrest and/or a fine. And if a sex worker gets HIV, she doesn't have her licence revoked completely, instead, she's given free antiretroviral drugs that decrease infectiousness and prolong life. And once she's on the treatment, she's allowed to continue working. Between 2002 and 2016 the prevalence of HIV among sex workers in Senegal fell by 21 percentage points to an impressive 7%.  

Senegal's system is impressive but still imperfect: while sex work is regulated and, for all intents and purposes, legal, women are still afraid to sign up for fear of discrimination and marginalisation; and Senegal's sex work rules are also sexist - the system only caters to women, with no acknowledgment that sex workers could be, and are, male. NGOs also that say police officers often abuse their power, demanding sex and money from prostitutes.

Despite all of these drawbacks, compared to other African nations, Senegal has not only won half the battle, it is also miles and miles ahead - and it does the thankless job of showing all the positives that come with just ruling that sex workers have rights too!

(Source: GIPHY)