WATCH | How this sex worker is empowering others in the industry to lead healthy, fulfilled lives

Aquila Gantsho is a proud sex worker. “This career may not be for everyone but I love my job,” she says.

Yet many others are forced to hide their profession to avoid judgement or discrimination. In South Africa, where Gantsho is from, sex work is unlawful.

It’s estimated that at least one in five sex workers in the country have an undiagnosed HIV infection.

While the nature of the job makes people vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, the criminalisation of sex work further prevents many from getting tested or accessing necessary healthcare.

That’s why Gantsho is not only reclaiming ownership of her body, but working to restore the dignity and health of those who choose this profession.

Gantsho’s ​​career as a sex worker began out of a need to support herself.

But her attempt to earn a living placed her in the line of countless dangers, particularly exploitation and violence at the hands of clients and police.

It was only through the Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) that Gantsho found a place of belonging and safety. “I am grateful that there is somebody there for me,” she says of the SWEAT team.

For over two decades, the organisation has advocated for the decriminalisation of sex work and upheld the human rights of sex workers in South Africa. But even their best efforts have a limit when it comes to healthcare.

“As long as sex work is a crime, stigmatised communities will continue to be at risk for contracting HIV,” Gantsho says.

Working alongside the organisation as a peer educator, Gantsho assists people in the industry by providing free condoms and HIV prevention services.

“Free healthcare should be accessible to everyone without fear of discrimination,” she says.

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Travelling throughout Cape Town, Gantsho connects with other sex workers to also direct them to the legal advice and crisis counselling that SWEAT affords.

Despite the enduring stigma attached to one of the oldest professions, Gantsho remains confident.

“I am happy to be a sex worker,” she says. Inspiring others in the industry with her self-assurance, Gantsho is empowering them to lead healthy, fulfilled lives.

You can contribute to the work of the Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce here.

Footage by the Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce was used in the creation of this film.