The Department of Civil and National Registration has refused to register SISONKE Association Botswana as an organisation. Sisonke is a national organization run by sex workers for sex work and is currently nested under the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA).
Sex workers applied for organisation 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: The Registrar shall refuse to register and shall not exempt from registration a local society where 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; or the name under which the society is to be registered or exempted is, in the opinion of the Registrar, repugnant to or inconsistent with any written law or otherwise undesirable.
In their letter addressed to BONELA, SISONKE noted that the citation of sections by the Assistant Director of Registrar of Societies 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 or a purpose incompatible with peace, welfare or good order. ┬áSISONKE is an organization with a membership base of over 1500, sex workers based in Gaborone, Francistown and Kasane,” say sex workers.
They say “The organization 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 practice and promote safer sex; Empowering Adult Sex Workers to promote and protect and claim their rights and to provide psychosocial, legal and health services for sex workers. SISONKE will help protect the rights of sex workers and enable them to access the same legal and social services all other citizens of Botswana enjoy.”
Tosh Legoreng, the Executive Director of Sisonke Botswana Association said, “Sex workers have been identified as a key population whose needs must be addressed in the fight against HIV/AIDS. SISONKE recognizes that decriminalizing sex work is an incredibly important step to reducing HIV infection among sex workers and their clients, which adheres to national goals for ‘Zero new infections, Zero AIDS-related deaths and Zero discrimination’ by 2016,” he said.
SISONKE believes the Department of Civil and National Registration made a grievous error in denying registration to SISONKE, “According to a recent Biological and Behavioral 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%.┬á In order to combat HIV/AIDS in Botswana, it is essential that the government of Botswana recognize and support all marginalized populations, including sex workers and organizations such as SISONKE Botswana Association that work with them,” said Legoreng.
BONELA Executive Director, Cindy Kelemi said the Registrar of Societies has violated Sex Workers right to freedom of association by denying them registration. “BONELA believes that these freedoms ┬á┬á┬áare fundamentally recognized and established in the Constitution of Botswana. BONELA is certainly going to appeal to the Minister of Labor and Home Affairs. In the event that the appeal is not successful, we will use the available legal remedies to ensure that such freedoms and rights are recognized in Botswana,” she said.