SISONKE Botswana Association, a national organisation run by sex workers for sex workers, has been unjustly refused registration by the Department of Civil and National Registration. SISONKE is currently nested under the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) and applied for registration in 2011. In the letter of refusal, dated 20 May 2014, the Assistant Director of Registrar of Societies, N. Baruti cites the Societies Act CAP 18:01 Section 7, subsections 2(a) and h(iii), which states that:
(2) The Registrar shall refuse to register and shall not exempt from registration a local society where—
o (a) it appears to him that any of the objects of the society is, or is likely to be used for any unlawful purpose or any purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with peace, welfare or good order in Botswana;
• (h) the name under which the society is to be registered or exempted—
o (iii) is, in the opinion of the Registrar, repugnant to or inconsistent with any written law or otherwise undesirable.
The citation of these two sections reveals the ambiguity and bias forming the basis of their refusal. Both subsections reference the “opinion of the Registrar,” giving importance not to objective judgment but rather to idiomatic opinion. Furthermore, despite what section 7 subsection 2(a) states, SISONKE is neither for an “unlawful purpose” nor has a purpose “incompatible with peace, welfare or good order.” SISONKE is an organisation with a membership base of over 1,500 sex workers based in Gaborone, Francistown and Kasane. The organisation is devoted to helping sex workers, a very real and very present part of the population, by working towards: Empowering adult sex workers of 18 years and above to practise and promote safer sex; Enabling adult sex workers to promote and protect and claim their rights; Providing psychosocial, legal and health services for sex workers; Decriminalising sex work to create an enabling environment for sex workers to access services.
Tosh Legoreng, the Executive Director of Sisonke Botswana Association stated, “Sex workers have been identified as a key population whose needs must be addressed in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” SISONKE recognises that decriminalising sex work is an incredibly important step to reducing HIV infection among sex workers and their clients. This adheres to national goals for ‘Zero new infections, Zero AIDS-related deaths and Zero discrimination’ by 2016.
SISONKE believes the Department of Civil and National Registration made a grievous error in denying registration to SISONKE. According to the recent Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey, results showed female sex workers to be the sub-population most affected by HIV in Botswana, with an estimated population size of 4000 in 3 districts and a very high HIV prevalence of 61.9% and incidence of 12.5%. In order to combat HIV/AIDS in Botswana, it is essential that the government of Botswana recognises and supports all marginalised populations, including sex workers and organisations such as SISONKE Botswana Association.
According to the Executive Director of BONELA, Cindy Kelemi, the Registrar of Societies has violated sex workers’ right to freedom of association by denying SISONKE, and by association, denying sex workers registration, which are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Botswana. BONELA will appeal to the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs. In the event that the appeal is not successful, we will use the court system to claim the rights of sex workers in Botswana.