A Nigerian prostitute named Patoo Abraham led other sex workers in a protest in Lagos to ensure that prostitution is legalized and that sex workers are respected, according to Al-Jazeera.
48-year-old Patoo Abraham who has become famous for fighting for the rights of prostitutes and heads the Nigerian chapter of African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) led a couple of protests in Lagos state, demanding the rights of prostitutes as they carried their signature red umbrellas and T-shirts with the inscription “Sex work is work, we need our rights.”
Abraham told Al Jazeera saying: “We are tired of dying in silence, 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].”
Abraham 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 said Sex work, 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”.
Abraham, a single parent of two kids who are in the University said she has no regrets being a sex worker.
She told Al Jazeera saying: “Just as you are proud of your profession, that is how I am proud of mine. Just as you are respected for being a journalist, that is how I want to be respected”.
Abraham said that people who stigmatised them and the security agents who harassed them were a serious problem.
She said: “People call us names but the funny thing is that they don’t even know if their wives, sisters or daughters are one of us,” she said in-between laughter.
“If I don’t tell you that I am a sex worker, you won’t know unless you see me here. Most of us are working as nurses in big hospitals, some are bankers and even students, but you won’t know.”
Meanwhile the prostitutes have complained about how they are being treated in the society.
One of the prostitutes who identified herself only as Janet, spoke of how police arrest them indiscriminately, raiding their brothel even when they are with their clients saying: “Sometimes, after reluctantly paying for our services, they arrest us and take us to the [police] station and ask us to bail ourselves with the same amount they paid us, thereby recovering their money,” Janet said in pidgin English.
“Some of us sustain serious injuries when our customers beat us up and there is no one to protect us,” she added.
Outspoken and HIV-positive, 35-year-old Ayide said: “When we talk about police, we are pointing accusing fingers at only one group. The fact is that all the uniformed men, especially the mobile police [paramilitary arm of the police], are oppressing us. They use their uniform to harass us. They extort money from us, beat us and rape us,” she said.
Meanwhile Margaret Onah, the founder of Safe Haven Development Initiative and WOPI, who has campaigned for the rights of prostitutes, said she is still planning to take protests to the national assembly, and push for legislation that will decriminalise sex work and empower women.
“Nigerian law does not specifically say anything against prostitution, What it says is that if a girl is caught openly soliciting for sex, and money is being exchanged, she should be arrested. But we know that if a girl is staying in a brothel, and is a sex worker, the brothel is more or less like her home” Onah said.
Meanwhile, it was reported in July, that Controversial Nigerian singer, Maheeda aka Naija Baddest Girl also said Prostitution should be legalized.
In her words: “I think prostitution should be legalised. I have been there; I have been with these girls. I have been to Holland where I think it’s legal. It won’t be bad if it is legalised because it’s everywhere anyway. So it’s better if it’s legalised.”
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