Here’s what’s wrong with Bauchi planning a census for sex workers

Bauchi sex workers

Sex work has globally been a contentious issue, arising from different views on morality to religious doctrines and cultural mores. In Nigeria, sex work is largely regarded with so much disdain. And when it involves women as sex workers, this disdain is spectacualarly informed by a paternalistic desire to control women’s actions or behaviours.

This happens under patriarchy. Bauchi, a state in Northern Nigeria, has just proved to be a case in point. The permanent commissioner in charge of Hisbah and Sharia implementation, Aminu Balarabe-Isah, recently revealed that a census of sex workers will be conducted in the state. Why? To enable the commission in taking measures that will discourage sex workers from continuing their trade.

Based on their findings, women went into sex work due to poverty, illetracy and other family issues like maltreatment from their step-mothers. The state is intervening by organising ”empowerment” prgrammes, vocational skills and providing them with microcredit to start small businesses. While this feels all heartwarming coming from government, it begs the question why these provisions weren’t available in the first place.

The weaponisation of poverty by the Northern ruling elite is political and serves their selfish causes to remain in power. State-sponsored terrorism, banditry and corruption have been a toxic mix that has made the North even poorer, hindering community prosperity and progress. Point is, the state is active and complicit in how the region has disadvantageously turned out.

Also, we must interrogate the premise of sex work as a bad thing. Granted, women who hold low-income status or essentially poor turn towards sex work for survival. This is usually the rhethoric used to shoot down sex workers’ rights and that they won’t have gone into the profession if there were other (better) options.

It’s an oversimplification at best. It’s also incredibly ignorant when sex work is presented as some last-ditch coping mechanism and not a function of women’s self-determination. Like other jobs, sex work exists as a service and involves labour. In Bauchi, expunging the trade of sex services won’t diminish demand. Sex workers aren’t sleeping with themselves; they render services to (male) clients and as long as sex remains a human desire, sex work won’t go away. The Bauchi government has also offered to sponsor the marriages of the rehabilitated sex workers if they want to get married.

As said before, the desire to control women’s autonomy is rooted in patriarchy hence the state’s plan offering to put them in the institution of marriage. Why? Because they are better off under the authority of men. Bauchi can dictate whatever laws or policies it likes un discouraging sex work. But the trade won’t be extinguished. It will only move further underground.

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