Over the years I have come to the realization, as an individual who have had the opportunity to acquire education and experience, it is my responsibility to not only speak up for those who cannot but also take a stand on what I believe is right.
Recently, it has been interesting voicing out my opinion on the issue of prostitution. Given, I was raised in a Christian household, with values align with the Holy Bible, many found my stand appalling. My justification for legalization of prostitution is not about me, but to challenge individuals who can accept what I believe to be one of the oldest professions in the world. If individuals are going to engage in the practice of prostitution they should be protected and regulated if necessary like any other profession.
As I listened to a popular program on West African Democracy Radio, I thought I heard wrong when the commentator announced the topic of the hour, but when he repeated himself I had to listen. After getting over the shock of what I heard I wanted to understand why Senegal a predominately Muslim country legalized prostitution.
I had to find out the reasoning behind the legality of a profession many despise, however the justification was not simple. In 1970, the government legalized prostitution under these conditions: institutionalized medical follow-up of self-professed female prostitutes and made it compulsory for any female prostitute older than 21 to register with the health service. Registration is followed by the delivery of a health record to the woman and her socio-demographic information to the police. Medical follow-up is conducted in specialized centers, which were created for this distinct purpose in Dakar, at the Institute of Social Hygiene, and in four other urban agglomerations later. Every 2 months the women receive a complete follow-up, which includes a clinical examination and a vaginal swab alternated with monthly visits during which they only have a clinical examination and a swab upon request. Blood samples are taken every 6 months to assess syphilis status and yearly to assess HIV serologic status. Social workers and nurses initially managed these centers. Physicians joined the centers later. This system provides prostitutes with opportunities for health information and access to condoms. Free condoms are provided on the first visit and women are instructed on how to use them. On subsequent visits, women are again counseled on condom use. Free provision of condoms is renewed on a monthly basis. Soliciting customers is illegal in Senegal.
The Senegalese government realized that prostitution was going to occur regardless of what measures they took to illegalize it, so instead they put in mechanisms that could protect those willing to professed themselves as prostitutes. This reveals that the country is progressive to some extent, but the lingering question in my mind is: why these women feel the only means to survive is by selling their bodies, when it leads to exclusion?
If a female feel selling her body for money or material possessions is the only means to survive, what does that say about the role of women in Senegal and the opportunities available to women? My problem is not with the legality or illegality of prostitution; my problem is the reasons for which women chose to engage in the field. Majority of the time it is not by choice.
However, as I learn more about the legalizing of prostitution in Senegal, I realize their situation is not unique. More countries have declared prostitution legal compare to countries who declare it illegal. To view countries click here.
In the end, legalizing prostitution is not about justifying the profession, but rather making sure those who partake in the profession are safe. Prostitution is going to exists legally or illegally. Society should not focus on condemning prostitutes, but to understand the circumstances within the society that lead to prostitution, and how we can eradicate those problems in order to elevate those engaging in the field forcefully.