I always smile with delight when people ask me what I actually do, because, I’ve realised that a lot of people are uncertain of what a chambers role is and far too many of them don’t ask because they feel silly doing so. I can assure you, that if you’ve wondered, then you are certainly not alone.
My standard response is that I’m a problem solver and a trouble shooter, which sounds a little “James Bond-ish”, but really, we try to be the voice of Business, raising business concerns at various levels and trying to broker solutions. Essentially, we try to make it easier for Business to do business.
This role of trying to facilitate a conducive operating environment leads to some interesting places sometimes. One the issues identified by local businesses recently, is the negative impact that “street children” are having on the trading environment in some parts of the city.
We took the issue to Business Fighting Crime (BFC), the Chamber’s crime wing, and an interesting process of understanding the problem has begun, because our thinking is that we cannot hope to address an issue if we don’t understand the complexities of it, and it makes sense to be part of a solution rather than to keep trying to stamp out the symptoms of a much deeper problem.
In order to gain a better understanding of the issues, we invited the NGO Sector to engage with the BFC Board. We’ve had several presentations from representatives from various organisations that have been working with young people on the streets and we feel confident that we have a better appreciation of the scope of the problem and the societal challenges that need to be addressed in order to assist young men on the streets, but we still have a long way to go as far as understanding the challenges faced by young women on the streets is concerned, particularly those faced by sex workers.
Now when the subject of sex workers is raised, everybody automatically gets a little bit uncomfortable in their chairs and tries to steer the conversation in another direction. It’s completely understandable, but avoiding uncomfortable situations is not helpful, so when the hard question was asked, i.e. “would the chamber be prepared to host a workshop to better understand the sex trade?”, I said: “of course”.
As I am writing this, I am sitting in said workshop, that is being presented by Psychological Counsellor, Nadine Pillay, on behalf of an organisation called The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), a national NGO that advocates for human rights for sex workers.
The room is full of law enforcement officers and NGO representatives and I am pleased to see the willingness to engage and the openness to gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by sex workers.
Two things from what our presenter has said so far stand out for me. Firstly, she said: “understand that you can’t ‘save’ all the sex workers”, which is of course true, but it also serves as a reminder that this was never the objective of the exercise. Hopefully, it will keep us focused on what we are trying to achieve.
And secondly, as far as the choices that people make are concerned: “we don’t need to agree, but we do need to create a healthier society”.
This drives home the point that it’s not good enough to just seek understanding, we have to act, which reminded me of what US President Barack Obama once said. He said: “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.