Mgbako Talks Sex Work Activism in Africa, Highlights Perspective of Workers

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Professor Chi Mgbako, director of the Leitner International Human Rights Clinic, was featured in an article for the Wesleyan Argus, highlighting her book, her study of sex work as a human rights issue, and her research in Africa.

Mgbako first started studying sex work as a human rights issue when she realized the extent to which sex workers’ voices are underrepresented. While studying human rights at Harvard University, she said that sex work was the only topic in her seminar that failed to include an article written by a member of the community as part of the required readings. Mgbako wanted to provide these voices with a platform for representation in human rights discourse, and her book is largely a realization of this goal.

“I wanted to tell a story of the sex workers movement in Africa because it is the newest wave of the global sex workers movement,” Mgbako said. “It has been ongoing since the 1960s and ’70s, but somehow nobody has written a book about it.”

Mgbako met with sex workers in Africa to understand and document abuses from first-hand sources. Citing interviews and first-person narratives as her evidence, she argues instead that the harm is not in sex work itself, but in the harshness of the carceral state and the criminalization of sex work itself.

Mgbako also outlined potential courses for action. While the economic world order needs radical restructuring, it’s more pressing that sex workers’ basic rights be protected.

“We have to work to expand economic opportunities for people but while we do that, we have to make sure that the opportunities that people do have available, that they can engage in those opportunities safely,” she said.

Read the full article.

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