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Class Of 2020: Lumba Sithabile Mugundhulwa Ndhlovu on how the “Feminisation of Poverty” drive more women to sex work

Author: Myolisi Gophe

As a human rights advocate, Lumba Sithabile Mugundhulwa Ndhlovu has always had an interest in protecting the rights of marginalised people within society.

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(Published - 8 April 2020)

As a human rights advocate, Lumba Sithabile Mugundhulwa Ndhlovu has always had an interest in protecting the rights of marginalised people within society. So it came naturally to investigate the relationship between the criminalisation of sex work and the violation of sex workers’ rights in South Africa for her master’s degree in law, which she graduated with this week.  “Sex Workers can be considered to be at the bottom of society’s totem pole, mainly because the majority of sex workers are women within a patriarchal system,” she said. 

This is what she had to say about herself and her research. 

Can you tell us about your background? 

I was born and raised in Zambia. I came to South Africa (Cape Town) in 2007 and conducted half of my primary schooling at Tamboerskloof Primary School. Subsequently, I went to Good Hope Seminary High School, and in 2015 I started my journey at UWC.  

 How did it feel to graduate virtually? 

Graduating is an amazing achievement. However, unlike my LLB graduation, where my excitement could not be contained, I feel so calm but grateful to God for this moment. Graduating virtually is a disappointment and it does not match physical graduation. However, given the current climate, virtual graduation was the best option for the university.  

What exactly is your research about? 

My research is focused on voluntary adult sex work. My research investigates the relationship between the criminalisation of sex work and the violation of sex workers’ rights in South Africa. To this extent, international human rights instruments and South Africa’s Sexual Offences Act 23 of 1957 are analysed (among other primary sources). 

What were some of your chief findings?

I found that women are the majority of sex workers in the sex work industry. One of the main causes of this is the economic instability and the “feminisation of poverty” that women experience in South Africa. To this extent, there is gender inequality that exists between men and women as women are more economically vulnerable than men. 

Human rights are inherent and must be enjoyed by all, including sex workers. The international human rights framework does not expressly address sex work. However, international human rights instruments aim to eradicate the exploitation of sex workers and not sex work itself. To this extent, some international human rights instruments indirectly disapprove of the criminalisation of sex work. The rights violated by criminalising sex work include, but are not limited to the right to work, dignity, bodily integrity, non-discrimination, and liberty.

Why did you choose this topic?

I choose this topic because I have always had an interest in protecting the rights of marginalised people within society. Sex Workers can be considered to be at the bottom of society’s totem pole, mainly because the majority of sex workers are women within a patriarchal system. Their plight for recognition and empowerment has been ignored by society, and I wanted to play my part in highlighting this plight. I believe my work will help to push people to confront the ‘uncomfortable’ topic of sex work in its entirety. Thus, I know that my work will help shift society’s perception of sex workers, so they may be seen as the respectable law-abiding citizens they are. 

What do you do when you’re not studying? 

Living a balanced life is key, so I have a number of hobbies. When I am not conducting research, I love jogging, playing tennis or any other physical activities. Furthermore, I watch a lot of movies or series, hanging out with friends and video chatting with family back home. 

Who is your role-model? 

My first hero is my mum. She was a single mother for most of my life, and as a result, I was there to see how hard she worked to make sure I had an education. Since I am an international student by definition, I was never given the scholarship opportunities that many South African students get even though I performed top of my class in high school, undergrad and now. To this effect, my mum has been responsible for educating me. My other heroes are the everyday women I met.


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