Around 200 sex workers took to the streets of Johannesburg on Thursday to demand prostitution be decriminalised.
“This is what I wear to work,” Dudu Dlamini, clad in hiking boots and a long dress, told AFP. “No high heels or short skirts.”
“It requires expertise and skills you have no idea about,” she added.
“I purchased my own house out of sex work,” said Constance Mathe, who has been in the profession for 16 years.
A mother of two, Mathe used to be a domestic worker but only earned 1,000 rands ($72) per month.
An estimated 120,000 and 180,000 sex workers operate in South Africa, according to aid organisations.
But the country’s prostitution laws date back to the apartheid era and punish sex workers and their clients.
“Sex work is work, not a crime,” Dlamini said at the protest.
Around her, the group advanced with signs held aloft reading “Where is the crime?” and “Decrim sex work now”.
Some of the protesters marched with their faces covered, flanked by police cars.
“The police harass us and ask us for money. And sex workers who are abused by their clients cannot just go to the police station and file a case, because they would be prosecuted for being sex workers,” explains Yonela Sinqu of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).
According to the organisation prostitutes are often victims of violence and rape.
SWEAT says around 10 sex workers are murdered each year, but that many cases go unreported.