To Live Freely in This World

Sex Worker Activism in Africa

272 pages

January, 2016

ISBN: 9781479849062



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Chi Adanna Mgbako is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic in the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. 

All books by Chi Adanna Mgbako

Sex worker activists throughout Africa are demanding an end to the criminalization of sex work and the recognition of their human rights to safe working conditions, health and justice services, and lives free from violence and discrimination. To Live Freely in This World is the first book to tell the story of the brave activists at the beating heart of the sex workers’ rights movement in Africa—the newest and most vibrant face of the global sex workers’ rights struggle. African sex worker activists are proving that communities facing human rights abuses are not bereft of agency. They’re challenging politicians, religious fundamentalists, and anti-prostitution advocates; confronting the multiple stigmas that affect the diverse members of their communities; engaging in intersectional movement building with similarly marginalized groups; and participating in the larger global sex workers’ rights struggle in order to determine their social and political fate.
By locating this counter-narrative in Africa, To Live Freely in This World challenges disempowering and one-dimensional depictions of “degraded Third World prostitutes” and helps fill what has been a gaping hole in feminist scholarship regarding sex work in the African context. Based on original fieldwork in seven African countries, including Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda, Chi Adanna Mgbako draws on extensive interviews with over 160 African female and male (cisgender and transgender) sex worker activists, and weaves their voices and experiences into a fascinating, richly-detailed, and powerful examination of the history and continuing activism of this young movement.


  • "Mgbako's incomparable To Live Freely in This World brings readers the here-and-now stories of African sex workers who are fighting for human rights. As the author reminds us, their struggles for dignity and respect were born in the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements of earlier times, and are being revitalized through this new century's network of sex worker activists from around the world."

    —Melinda Chateauvert, author of Sex Workers Unite! A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk

  • "To say this is a groundbreaking book is an understatement. Well-written and elegant, Mgbako's research reveals the rise of African sex work activism and the ongoing trials and tribulations of organizing in the face of economic, social, and political adversity. As one of the world’s foremost scholars on sex work in Africa, Mgbako's incisive analysis allows us to explore questions of human rights, consent, and coercion in the sex work context. This book will change the conversation about sex work in Africa, and globally, while forcing those who resist sex worker organizing to confront a movement that has only just begun."

    —Aziza Ahmed, Northeastern University

  • "To Live Freely in This World is an essential contribution to our understanding of how sex workers resist and make change. The stories Chi Mgbako has gathered in her original research highlight sex workers' own analysis—of their work, the inequality they face, and their commitment to justice. Journalists, human rights advocates, and feminists will find a wealth of inspiration here for further study and solidarity."

    —Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work

  • "By taking the sex worker's narratives as data, Mgbako paints a picture of a more layered landscape to sex work activism than what we normally hear about on an international level."

  • “Though sex workers’ rights movements are globally interconnected, in practice, we are still often isolated, failing to learn from each other. To Live Freely in This World serves as a source text for western sex workers to study the success of their African counterparts. Certainly, it turns the Eurocentric notion that western movements are somehow more advanced right on its head.”

    —, Make/Shift

  • "This monograph presents the first book-length study on sex workers’ activism in Africa, and it makes an important contribution, not only to feminist debates about sex work, but also to the scholarship of social movements and activism in contemporary Africa."

    African Affairs