Monday, 4 August 2014

Nigerian prostitutes ramp up drive for rights

Lagos, Nigeria - Patoo Abraham has become famous for fighting for the rights of prostitutes, but what she - and those she is trying to help - do to make a living is illegal and frowned upon by many in the country.

Abraham is not only proud of her profession but is also campaigning to ensure that prostitution is legalised and that sex workers are respected in Africa's most populous country.

The 48-year-old has led a couple of protests in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, demanding the rights of prostitutes in a country where sex vendors suffer physical harm at the hands of their punters.

Under the auspices of different organisations, scores of prostitutes marched on the streets of Lagos, chanting provocative slogans.

This boldness is unprecedented, and the protesters carried their signature red umbrellas and T-shirts with the inscription "Sex work is work, we need our rights."

"We are tired of dying in silence," Abraham, who heads the Nigerian chapter of African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA), told Al Jazeera. "We want to be able to practise our profession with pride like every other person. We want an end to name-calling and stigmatisation. We are sex workers and not asawo [a Yoruba derogatory name for prostitutes]."

Sex work, said Abraham, is normal work and that there are "sex workers everywhere under one form of disguise or the other". "[The] government should stop criminalising our work," said the woman who is also the president of the Women of Power Initiative (WOPI), a non-governmental organisation established to advance the cause of sex work in Nigeria.

Although Nigeria has posted impressive economic growth, overtaking South Africa to become Africa's largest economy, unemployment remains widespread and many Nigerian women have ended up working as prostitutes in part because they cannot find work.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in April that no fewer than 5.3 million youths are jobless, and the World Bank last year put the number of Nigerians living in destitution at 100 million.

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