Saturday, November 26, 2011

TEDxDAR 2011: Leila Sheikh

Leila Sheikh is a feminist activist who is concerned with a constituency that is rarely talked about: sex workers. I like that she's calling it a profession, framing the discussion around the challenges that people who engage in sex work face. Anyways, you can imagine that as a constituency, sex workers face a lot of barriers when it comes to talk about their jobs. There are issues of health and HIV/AIDS, issues of abuse of course, and the protection of their rights to economic justice and social justice.

The attitude in Tanzania is the obvious one: sex work is illegal and immoral. Why do we lie to ourselves like this? Shame on us, even. If sex work was so immoral and illegal, why is it that Tanzania has more sex workers than Kenya and Uganda and pray tell: who are their clients?

There are different kinds of sex workers. The voluntary sex worker who has chosen to pursue this profession exists in Tanzania too, some women see it as a way of reclaiming their bodies and pursuing something that they feel they are good at. There is the involuntary sex worker, people who have been trafficked or otherwise coerced into sex work, which is problematic. It is the second group of sex workers who tend to focus the discussion on sex work.

An audience member brought up a central question: isn't it part of the oppression of women to validate sex work? I think that it is one of those issues where sometimes one has to agree to disagree. While I understand the reluctance of sister and brother feminists about the issue of exploitation, let's not forget that some of the more extreme militants believe that all heterosexual sex is rape. I imagine they have their reasons... I align better with feminists of my generation who are sex-positive and consider sex work to be a valid choice for an individual.


  1. I do not think Tanzania has more sex workers than Uganda. I have been to Kampala and it is intense. CSW there are more numerous, more aggressive, and honestly they love their work than Dar's. Ugandan's in general are just sexual people. Hawana noma.

    I have been a loyal customer for years, and I think they should legalize this thing. Whatever happened to liberty? In my experience interacting with "malaya" most of them are mothers, and respectable members of the society. The lady will tell u that she is paying school fees for her little sister. Or her daughter is in Jangwani Secondary school. They have figured out a way to make monies to ease up the hardship. And where else can a beautiful uneducated lady can earn 100K a day? Whenever there is demand? someone will supply. Dar in general there is a massive market for Malaya.

    Especially in Tanzania, being Malaya has nothing to do with women oppression--because the culture of pimping haipo. I definitely agree with you, its people should stop pretending like it is immoral. As long as there is no coercion, and the lady is paid her monies. What is the problem?

  2. And there we have it: some feedback from the consumer side of the sex work industry! Thank you, Anonymous. It would be so interesting to do a study of sex work clients. A customer survey, if you will...

  3. Thanks for the summary Elsie, I sadly missed this talk. It's a really interesting issue. Check out this article on a push in Botswana to legalise prostitution with the main aim of providing more protection to the sex workers.


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