Three significant health-related bills are currently before Parliament, and if passed, could save lives and ensure sustainable futures. We break them down for you.
1. Creating a safe industry for future sex workers
On 30 November 2022, Cabinet approved publishing the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill of 2022, which speaks to the decriminalisation of sex work.
Organisations and some members of the public have been advocating for the full decriminalisation of the sex work sector for over 26 years. A strategy to start lobbying parliamentarians to make changes to the bill began with civil society organisations like the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Sisonke (National Sex Workers Movement in South Africa) and Sonke Gender Justice.
Constance Mathe is a Project Coordinator at Asijiki Coalition and has been a sex worker for 17 years. Mathe explained that the criminalisation of sex work had significantly contributed to the lack of safety for women in the industry. Besides high levels of violence, they also experience a lack of access to essential health services due to discrimination.
“I have lost so many of my colleagues to death. We have suffered. When we have sicknesses and diseases, we are denied access to health services and shamed. We are denied justice when we are beaten and raped because we are seen as criminals,” said Mathe.
One aspect of the bill targets clearing criminal records related to sex work. Mathe explained this would allow sex workers to look for alternative employment without being disadvantaged by the criminal record.
The bill only decriminalises sex work as it relates to buying and selling adult sexual services. Engaging in sexual services with children or persons who are mentally disabled remains an offence under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007.
Making a living like everyone else
Mathe holds a diploma in Business Management. She is a mother of two children aged 13 and 17 years old. Like many others, she said the struggle to survive pushed her into sex work.
In a country that is constantly faced with economic and social instability, Mathe noted that circumstances might change for anyone at any time. People should feel safe working in whatever industry they choose.
“When I was young, I also had dreams of doing more. But now that we are here, we need to be able to work safely. We are doing this for future sex workers not to suffer as we did.”
Comments on the bill must be submitted before 13 February 2023.
To protect women against violence, South Africa proposes a legislation to decriminalize sex work and provide better protection for sex workers.https://t.co/LUPwjVUdC7
— Make Every Woman Count (MEWC) (@MakeWomenCount) December 12, 2022
2. A focused response to climate change
In February 2022, an updated version of the Climate Change Bill was tabled. It aims to “develop an effective climate change response and a long-term, just transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy and society for South Africa in the context of sustainable development.”
The bill also seeks to set up institutional arrangements that provide different ministries, departments, and state organs with various responsibilities that they need to exercise to respond to climate change.
Speaking to questions like how do we slow down and possibly halt global warming or end greenhouse gas emissions? Also, how do we adapt to the climate impacts which we cannot avoid?
Brandon Abidinor, Climate Advocacy Lawyer at the Centre for Environmental Rights, said that change requires a more focused response and the bill attempts to do this.
“We’d like to see more penalties for non-compliance. We’d like to see stronger institutional arrangements, more facilitation so that all organs of state and other parties can do what they need to do, and more prioritisation of climate change at a national level. We’d also like to see sufficient provision for transparency and access to information about climate change,” he said.
Women often bear the brunt of natural disasters. Health services and resources become overburdened, leaving people with less access to healthcare. Abidinor noted that the acknowledgement of increased vulnerability and levels of violence for women, children, and people living with disabilities in the bill requires a good look at exactly what the increased risk is for them.
“The response plans for the increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV) and negative impacts on vulnerable groups should be spelt out and highlighted. In the absence of that, we might get a situation where the current dynamics are perpetuated, and these particular needs are not adequately taken into account,” said Abidinor.
3. National GBVF Command Council
The National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill 2022 emanates from the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF). It was produced by the Interim Steering Committee established in April 2019 to respond to gender-based violence and femicide.
The bill includes establishing the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide to provide for the objectives and functions of the council, to appoint the Board of the Council, to provide for meetings of the Board, and to provide for the establishment of committees of the Board.
Through the appointment of the National Council on gender-based violence and femicide, norms and standards for the provincial and local working groups would also be established.
This Bill includes the council’s objectives, functions, funds, and regional and local structures. However, there is no clear indication of the budget available for the council. – Health-e News