Pic: Nigerian prostitute, Patoo Abraham, leads protest for sex workers’ rights in Lagos

image

ictured above is a proud Nigerian prostitute named
Patoo Abraham who led a protest for sex workers’
rights in Lagos recently. Found the report on Al
Jazeera. Read and be amazed…:-)
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. Continue…
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.
Sister’s advice
With large earrings and a face flamboyantly made up,
Abraham sat in her busy office, which she shares
with another organisation, and told Al Jazeera
how she took the advice of her sister, a former
prostitute, when life as a single parent became too
tough for her.
Though reluctant then, she now sees it as any other
business and has no regrets.
“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,” said Abraham.
Abraham uses the pseudonym “Patoo” in her daily
work – a name she chose to hide her identity when
she began work as a prostitute.
She said her two children – a son and a daughter –
are at university and she pays tuition fees for them.
They do not know her occupation, she said, although
she marched on the streets of Lagos for all to see.
In this oil-rich country of more than 160 million
people ravaged by poverty and deprivation,
Abraham’s work seems lucrative. But Abraham and
other women in this business still have the authorities
and people to contend with.
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.
“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.
Other women raise even more serious complaints.
Outspoken and HIV-positive, 35-year-old Ayide, the
only name she gave in order to be quoted, attended
one of the rallies and said it is not only the police to
blame.
“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.
Abraham corroborated the claims of Janet and Ayide,
saying that people who stigmatised them and the
security agents who harassed them were a serious
problem.
“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.”
Raids on brothels
Philip Eze, the police officer in charge of Elere Police
Division, Lagos, explained that the police would not
arrest prostitutes were it not for the country’s
criminal code outlawing prostitution.
“In the Nigerian criminal code, if somebody is
soliciting for men, it is against the law and vice versa.
The law does not cause confusions; we are the ones
causing confusion in the name of the law. I don’t
care if they have a world association, it is illegal in
Nigeria and their assembly is illegal too,” Eze said.
Responding to allegations of extortion, sexual
harassment, and rape by police, Eze said victims
should report such cases and the offenders would be
prosecuted.
“Even though they are prostitutes, they have every
right to report rape and other human right abuses,”
he told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, the fight between prostitutes and the
authorities continue.
Police occasionally raid brothels in Lagos and make
sweeping arrests in red light areas like Kofo Abayomi,
Victoria Island, Isaac John Street, and Allen Avenue.
Some of the lucky prostitutes end up in police cells
where they are interrogated and eventually released
on bail. Others end up serving jail terms of three to
four months without an option of paying a fine after
being charged for loitering, public indecency or
disorderly conduct or engaging in acts inimical to the
public good.
To stage the protest to mark the International Sex
Workers Rights Day 2014 without a clash with the
authorities, the prostitutes outsmarted the police,
obtaining a permit under the auspices of WOPI.
They took their demands to the authorities at
Shomolu Local Government, Lagos, where they were
advised that legislators held the key to their demand.
Previous attempts by lawmakers to have prostitution
legalised were unsuccessful.
In 2011, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate
President of Nigeria, called for the complete
legalisation of prostitution, saying this would enable
the government to regulate the activities of
prostitutes. The move sparked widespread criticism
across the country and Ekweremadu later regretted
his comment.
But 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,” Onah said.
“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”

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