Monday, August 26, 2013

Controlling prostitution: Can Ghana learn from Switzerland?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Friends, you can’t believe what you will get to know about how Switzerland is moving to tackle the challenges posed by the oldest trade or profession—prostitution—which has become a major headache for the government over the years.
Although prostitution and consumption of paid sex are legal in Switzerland and prostitutes are considered as self-employed and are liable for taxation, controlling the spread and intensity of the trade has been very difficult of late.
In an attempt to reduce open street prostitution and to improve security for sex workers, Switzerland's largest city, Zurich, is opening "sex drive-ins" on Monday, according to news reports.

The nine garage-style structures, located in Sihlquai, a former industrial zone in the city, are equipped with alarm buttons and guarded by security personnel to ensure the safety of the prostitutes. Customers are not allowed to leave the area with the sex workers.
As well as getting backing from the authorities, the project in Zurich has a democratic mandate: A referendum was held in March 2012, with 52% of voters in favor of it.
Some highlights:
·         The project has cost 2.4 million Swiss francs ($2.6 million) to set up.
·         Around 30 to 40 women are expected to work at the site each night.
·         Sex workers have to pay 5 Swiss francs per night to make use of the so-called "sex boxes," but customers don't have to pay an entrance fee.
·         The drive-ins are open daily from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. and can only be accessed by car.
·         Drivers have to follow a clearly marked route to get to the area, where customers and sex workers can discuss the services offered and agree on a price. The client can then drive into the allocated box, where the service is provided.
·         There are also showers, toilets, a kitchen and washing machines for the women to use, as well as an advice center where they can seek help from social workers.
·         A gynecologist comes in once a week to offer health checkups for the women.
The city's social services department is running the whole operation and also offers crash courses in German and self-defense courses for the women on site.
BIG QUESTION: Is this a project worth experimenting worldwide? With what implications? To solve the high unemployment problem or to give vent to uncontrollable libido?
This Swiss project doesn’t only seem to be geared at streamlining prostitution but it also seeks to tackle the health hazards associated with indiscriminate sex. It is estimated that Switzerland has adult HIV pre3valence rate of about 0.4%, compared to that of France and Spain (also put at 0.4%), Portugal (0.6%). The HIV prevalence in Ghana is said to be about 1.3%.
In Ghana, prostitution is a real menace. It is reportedly out of control and has alarming negative effects. Just like the danger posed by the drug trade, prostitution endangers health and destroys the moral fibre.
Prostitution in Ghana has its own peculiarities. First, there are different types:
i.                    Open undisguised prostitution such as the one that is practised in the urban areas, where the prostitutes set up homes and comfortably attract patronage. Take the Adum area in Kumasi or Korle Wokon in Accra, for instance, where prostitution goes on with impunity day and night. Other spots in the big towns and cities are known to be the hubs of the trade.
ii.                  Mufti or plain clothes version of prostitution, which is further divided into two or more sub-varieties:
a.       The first variety involves practitioners (females) who create personal spaces around popular spots and bait prospective patrons with all kinds of attention-grabbing schemes—heavy and loud chewing of gum, heavy make-up and run-away hairdo, special kinds of footwear (“ekumekume” or platform shoes of all colour hues and designs to draw attention to the wearers as willing bed fellows), flashy costume (mostly the “Apuskeleke” type for easy, unimpeded, and quick access to the vital erogenic zones), and brazen acts such as whistling or loud singing to entice prospective customers.
b.      A more sophisticated variety involving ladies fashionably dressed and lurking around offices and other localities patronized by men whom they can easily lure into the “hit-and-run” game for money. These are really brazen and know how to set traps. They are not difficult to spot all over the place, making faces at men in their vicinity. These are itinerant sex machines!
There are many others who could be placed in the category of “secret service sex operatives”—practising prostitution but adroitly concealing their activities. On the quiet, they sell their bodies but crave some modicum of respect and hide it. Only those who “do it to them” know them for what they are. All these varieties thrive on recklessness borne out by the cares and fears of life: joblessness.
Doubtless, then, prostitution is widespread in the country. Our local and national government officials know about its prevalence and health hazards but haven’t devised any strategy to contain it. They know also that it is getting out of hand but have no clue how to tackle it.
The sporadic “operations” launched by the police to flush out prostitutes and their clients haven’t solved the problem and it is on the ascendancy. Apparently, such operations end up securing some of the prostitutes as “fringe benefits” for the security personnel detailed to stamp out their trade. Cosmetic solutions such as prosecuting the culprits haven’t solved the problem. Neither have stringent measures such as demolishing their joints or grandiose declarations of intent to rehabilitate them.
So, prostitution in Ghana is a major national problem to be addressed with pragmatic measures that will not result in a dehumanization of the prostitutes or their being rendered idle to swell the pool of social misfits.
The high unemployment rate in the country is a major factor that promotes this trade. It is not booming because the practitioners delight in offering their bodies to all manner of clients without restraint. It is flourishing because the practitioners are desperate and have no other option but to fall back on their natural assets to eke out their livelihood.
Young and old women, school drop-outs and school-going nubile ones are all over the cities and towns (or even nooks and crannies in the rural areas), practising this trade with impunity. Ask them and they will tell you that it is their answer to the unemployment problem that has reduced them to social wrecks. Desperate to make a living from their bodies, they are not perturbed by the associated health hazards nor is their trade monitored properly to be dealt with in any civilized manner.
Now that the government is even moving to tax condoms, one can imagine the negative implications. The government seems not to understand the challenges posed by these women of low repute who, through no fault of theirs, are caught up in prostitution. Is there anything at all that can be done at the official level to tackle this problem in a humane manner?
Well, the Swiss have taken the lead to control prostitution and ensure that both the practitioners and the state benefit from it. While the practitioners will be supported to make money, they are expected to pay tax to support the system. What could be better than this quid-pro-quo arrangement?
Certainly, prostitution will still carry its stigma but the practitioners will be assured of official support to practise their trade in whatever measure of dignity their new status and working conditions will allow. And it will be the quickest means for self-employment, as is evident in the Swiss case.
It all boils down to joblessness and the resultant hardships suffered by the females. Knowing very well that they already have the precious gift of Nature, what else to do but to exploit it? And when they do so too, they are easily targeted for open humiliation when the security services swoop on them.
There is no indication that the government can create jobs for the ever-increasing population (of women), which is alarming because the devil will definitely find jobs for the idle hands. For the women, no job can come more easily than selling their bodies to make a living. Life must go on; not so?
The Swiss authorities deserve commendation for taking the bull by its horns, not by its tail as we in Ghana do. They have blazed the trail in giving prostitution its place in the national consciousness. Is this Swiss project attractive enough for Ghana to adopt? Or will the authorities continue to look on callously for the situation to worsen? There is too much moral decadence and the government must step up its game to control the situation. Is anybody listening at all?
I shall return…
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