The Patriotic Front government’s legalisation of marijuana for commercial and medicinal purposes is a welcome, if overdue, development. It is a victory of reason over vocal opposition likely from those who neither research nor smoke marijuana. That said, the legalisation needs a more broad-based consultative process to produce a comprehensive marijuana policy satisfactory to all stakeholders especially the powerless locals who stand to lose to those who have spare keys to state house. It is, hopefully, only a matter of time before the colonial prohibition on leisure and recreational use of marijuana is also reversed. However, I want now to raise some dust on another thorny issue in our country – prostitution.

Prostitution in Zambia is not illegal but some activities surrounding it are illegal, rendering prostitution quasi-illegal. Importantly, prostitution is not legalised. Chishimba Kambwili and Charles Milupi, presidents of the NDC and the ADD respectively, have recently called prostitution a vice or an immorality. They have said so as a reductio ad absurdum to the Patriotic Front’s apparent kneejerk legalisation of marijuana. If the PF can legalise marijuana, they duo insinuate, the PF might as well legalise prostitution. The reasoning appears to be that, since prostitution is clearly a bad thing to legalise for money, it is immoral, desperate, or hypocritical for the PF to legalise marijuana.

Like the two party presidents, many Zambians see prostitution as a vice and prostitutes are everywhere vilified for their work. Prostitutes are stigmatised together with their families and sometimes ostracised by their own families. In this article, I want to say, to the contrary, that prostitution is a good thing and not a vice, all things considered. Both prostitutes and their clients are not bad people; they are our unsung heroes. The prostitute needs to be elevated to the status of every one of us and receive adequate state protection of their fundamental human rights, including the right to work and income thereof. To kick off the debate, I will look at some grounds for hating on prostitutes.

Prostitution is unbiblical
Zambians are verse-happy ready to buttress their moral condemnation with quotes from the 2000 years old hotchpotch of ‘books’. But Jesus Christ himself preached to leave prostitutes alone pointing out truthfully that they are no worse than anyone of us (John 8:7). Jesus told the woman not to apologise to the stone-happy crowd but to sin no more, effectively saying prostitution is a private spiritual matter between God and the prostitute. However, pharisaic Zambians persist in their taunt and torment of prostitutes. The ‘judge not’ (Mathew 7:1), the holier-than-thou (Luke 18:11-12) and beam in your own eye (Luke 6:41) teachings have all fallen on deaf ears. Betting and night clubs are legal and so is cigarette production and smoking. On pain of hypocrisy, no one has the moral privilege to look down on sex work.

But there is a more sinister problem than hypocrisy with using the Bible for moral direction. The Bible endorses some immoral practices. At some point, one punishment for raping or violating a virgin is for the culprit to marry his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Lo and behold: the defiler is now your husband or son-in-law! This was a licence to rape, callous and morally repugnant regardless of when in history it was sanctioned. Again, the Bible gives some guidelines on how to treat a slave (Colossians 4:1). Slavery in some form must therefore be okay. Yet little immorality beats slave-owning in its wholesome defilement of human dignity. “Enslave fairly” is like saying “murder humanely”; it’s oxymoronic. Rape is utterly wrong and there is no proper way to rape. Similarly, enslaving someone is utterly wrong. Therefore, there cannot be a proper way of enslaving. Period.

My point in going down Bible lane is simply to show that the Biblical route leads to some nasty moral implications. Yes, by all means let’s cherry-pick the nice, independently justifiable ones. Simply, the Bible is a poisoned chalice. Indiscriminately adopting it as our moral guide will find us morally all at sea – marrying through rape and numb to racial slavery.

Prostitution spreads diseases
Yes, it does. Mining causes silicosis, football has it’s hamstring strains and concussions, Christmas leads to many road deaths, taverns have their brawls and broken bottles. The beekeeper must endure some stings. The Crocodile Hunter met his stingray. Every occupation has its hazards. The good news is that these can be mitigated by honest and intelligent legislation, policy and enforcement, and they are usually offset by the benefits. Prohibition is plain ignoble and stupid.

But let’s not fall into the fallacy of false cause. Prostitutes may be 13 times more likely to have HIV than ordinary women. But remember, correlation doesn’t imply causation. Most prostitutes have a less than posh background (but some do!). It’s a truism that most prostitution, like Zambian politics, is poverty-driven. Prostitutes are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Children and other dependents of forgotten unpaid government workers and retirees. No, they don’t (usually) get the diseases from prostitution. A good some of them enter the sex work sector with or because of HIV from our unloving or broke(n) homes.

Prostitution offers them some relative comfort, sheltering them from our further abuse and neglect. I pity the wretched, choiceless, last-resort prostitutes. They need not holier-than-thou social ‘stoning’ but protection and upgrade of their profession. Research says structural (legal and social) barriers deprive prostitutes up to 33% potential upgrade in their general welfare. Rather than pestilential culprits, prostitutes are often victims of our legal and social obstacles sustained by Christian bigotry.

Prostitution is disrespectful to women
To treat someone with respect is to treat her in a way that she would consent to when free and in her right frame of mind. So, is prostitution disrespectful to women? Yes. But the devil is in the detail. Zambia is very patriarchal. Patriarchy disrespects women and it pervades all arenas of human sociality. But, note, disrespect towards women is not ex nihilo. The Church is the brewery in which patriarchy ferments and it’s putrid sexist memes imbibed in heavy swigs Saturdays and Sundays. Thanks to the Bible, we explicitly and implicitly disrespect girls and women, and girls and women accept this ‘divine’ gender subjugation.

Last resort or first career choice, prostitution is a right to work like Esther’s and Catherine’s boxing – knocking out opponents as the Christian nation erupts into collective hypocritical euphoria. (Do Christians stop to think whether Jesus might join to cheer with them by the ringside?) The prostitute’s body, her life, her choice. That’s respect. Paternalizing her choices is disrespectful. The legal profession has some of the most avaricious, cynical and shifty individuals. Once they wear their silly colonial wigs, lawyers are majestic. Society bows in fear and trembling, reminiscent of the dread the white colonial masters they ape induced in the black native. Church business is booming, untaxed and complete with their own Ministry. Buy one anointing water and the sexual healing is free. Touch not the anointed! The witchdoctor soliciting in newspapers, radio, and TVS. Politicians, quack academics, activists, and clergy lining up the political streets for a job or brown envelop. But we can’t legalise a business of free women wanting to earn an honest living from a service to mature willing clients?

A happy ending
Sex work is like social work, just more effective. It’s cash transfer but safe from Zam Post. Five hundred per outing, give or take. Two or three clients and children have shelter and some roller meal. Eight days a month, it’s a whopping K3600 if we take away the pastor’s 10% cut. K3600 in our economy is a good supplement for a gym trainer’s, hairdresser’s, council worker’s, and insurance vendor’s paltry or late salary. Not too bad for the unemployed graduate! The client gets his physio-psycho-social therapy. A good prostitute is like a good wife minus the in-laws. She knows how to take care of a man’s hurt ego, broken heart, or restless loins. Zero complainants.

Prostitutes and their clients are our unsung heroes. They are an egalitarian’s pragmatic allies. Through prostitution, Kwa na Ku blend providing the financial seepage into the nooks and crannies left behind by the expedient unholy church-political alliances. Sex work is a multi-million Kwacha business making the corruption-free komboni business go round; possibly preventing economic or mealie meal protests.

To recapitulate, I have argued that the Bible’s ‘morals’ should be taken with a pinch of salt and independently justified. Prostitution has overall aggregate benefits for individuals and society. It’s Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Patriarchy is disrespectful to women; sex work is prostitutes’ choice, a right to work and income. Prostitution has occupational safety issues, like any other job. Government and HIV and AIDS organisations must intervene to militate against the risks and ensure prostitute’s security. As the Patriotic Front has shown unprecedented profligacy with pronouncing national holidays, they could add a Sex Workers’ Day to celebrate prostitutes’ role in society and raise awareness regarding sex workers’ human rights. Prostitutes must begin to unite and fight for their wellbeing inside the profession alongside Tasintha-like interventions for those who voluntarily choose to change careers.

(Julius Kapembwa, PhD
[email protected])