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Paralegal training empowers sex workers on rights and choices

Harare, Zimbabwe, 13 September, 2021 – Talent Manyemba is a trans sex worker in Harare. Talent was recently part of the para legal training for sex workers. The training was aimed at equipping sex workers with information about their rights and legal recourse available to them in the event they need legal support.

Sex workers who operate in settings where sex work or aspects of selling sex are criminalised are at increased risk of arrests, harassment and sexual and physical violence. In addition, the lack of knowledge on their rights and mechanisms to access redress for violations further increase their vulnerability to continued abuse by law enforcement agents and other members of the community.

The Paralegal training was delivered by the Health Policy and Law Consortium with support from UNFPA through CeSHHAR Zimbabwe as part of interventions under the European Union funded Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence against Women and Girls. The training was offered to sex worker peer educators as a critical step towards addressing knowledge gaps against a background of increased cases of Gender Based Violence cases which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The training was to equip us as sex workers so that we can be able to guide our peers and make meaningful referrals and provide guidance should they face any problems requiring legal intervention,” said Manyemba.  “Lawyers are expensive in Zimbabwe therefore having sex workers trained as paralegals is a meaningful mechanism in accessing legal advice for sex workers. We can support our peers and offer legal advice.”

Peer paralegals represent a sustainable form of community intervention as the selected paralegal sex workers have established interests in the needs of the sex work community. They are a low-cost intervention whose presence will remain in the community beyond funding cycles .The training, which covered basics such as what is paralegal work, who can be a paralegal and how a paralegal works effectively in the community, enables them to provide rapid response assistance to sex workers who report cases of arbitrary arrests, harassment, as well as physical and sexual abuse. Once participants had grasped the basic concepts, they were introduced to Zimbabwean law covering the court system, as well as both the relevant criminal and civil procedures. The thrust of the training was on sex work and human rights. The training defined what human rights are, categories of human rights and how to monitor human rights.  Assistance provided by paralegals includes facilitating access to medical and legal services.  

“As sex workers are a criminalized group, we have been powerless to confront some of the abuse we face in Zimbabwe due to the nature of our work and the environment we operate in,” says Manyemba. “As a paralegal, I intend to educate other sex workers on sex work, law, and rights. I feel sex workers have been misled with wrong information and are afraid to seek justice due to fear and lack of information on how to navigate the legal environment.”

Using his newly acquired knowledge Manyemba says he will actively follow up and make sure his fellow sex workers have the correct legal advice and are not abused or taken advantage of due to lack of information.

“As an outreach worker who was helping participants throughout the training, it was an insightful training and it will go a long way in ensuring that participants are able to negotiate and settle disputes among members of their communities,” said Deborah Takawira an Outreach Worker with CeSHHAR.

“They will also be able to refer legal issues to relevant and appropriate service providers.  Sex worker paralegals will act as safety nets for their peers and help demystify the notion that sex workers have no rights and cannot seek legal recourse.”

A total of 25 Paralegals were trained. Ongoing support and mentorship will be provided by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights for this initiative.

*This article was first published in the EU Spotlight Initiative Bi-Weekly Sitrep and was developed with support from CESSHAR