SistaazHood is the first sex worker support group in South Africa, founded by trans women who were part of the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) based in Cape Town. Led by trans women sex workers, Sistaazhood focuses its support and advocacy specifically on trans women sex workers.
SistaazHood was founded after an initial meeting between Cym van Dyk, Netta Marcus, and Gulum Petersen, with the support of Robert Hamblin and He-Jin Kim from Gender DynamiX (GDX). Cym had the vision to establish a home or safe space for the trans women sex workers, most of whom were homeless and lived in Cape Town’s city centre on the streets, under bridges, and near the wall of the Cape Castle. Netta was known as the symbolic mother of the group of 37 trans sex workers. Soon after the initial meeting, Leigh Davids, Cherry Lily and Pricilla Ferguson joined and SistaazHood was formed.
During their first year, discussions evolved to establish what the aims and goals of the group would be. In answering the question, “What are the next steps?”, the group started engaging with critical questions with a feminist lens, unpacking oppression and patriarchy in relation to their context. Collectively, they produced their short SistaazHood introduction video, filmed and edited by Robert, with the “sistaaz” narrating. When the video was ready, they shared the video during a large SWEAT organisational-wide community dialogue.
For the first time, the cis women and cis men sex workers, and the majority of the SWEAT staff, realised in a profound way the different layers and struggles that trans women sex workers deal with on top of the challenges that sex workers already experience. Robert and He-Jin continued their support during the group’s growth. Leigh travelled internationally and nationally, extensively furthering the advocacy, both for trans sex workers and as part of the South African national campaign to decriminalise sex work.
Leigh has been quoted in many public speeches, nationally and internationally, in speaking about how homeless trans women sex workers are the population most likely to contract HIV+, how, on average, these women do not live past the age of 40, and that international studies show that trans women have an average life expectancy of about 30 or 32 years. Leigh once said, “We have no studies in South Africa but since 2011 we have photographed 30 black trans women sex workers for this project. Five of us have died not reaching the age of 40”. Two of the founders, Cym and NetAnnouncements of Netta Marcus passing – 6 November 2020ta had passed away, and Leigh herself passed away two weeks before her 40th birthday, on 27 February 2019.
SistaazHood continues with its advocacy.