Zimbabwe News

Sex workers think outside the box

The Herald

Mirriam Madiye

Features Writer

With the Covid-19 pandemic impacting negatively on the global economic landscape, many companies in Zimbabwe have either closed shop or retrenched their workers as industries take a heavy knock, which has also left a large hole in the national purse.

Everyone has been affected, and within a short space of time everything has changed.

For most people, the way of life changed in order to suit the prevailing situation.

As professions are burdened due to the new coronavirus, those in the oldest trade known to humanity — sex workers — are not spared either. 

Sex workers face a range of challenges in their daily lives.

The pandemic-induced financial pressures have seen them resorting to alternative and additional sources of income generation to supplement their dwindling takings. Some have enrolled at different tertiary institutions across the country to pursue different life skill courses to empower themselves.

Two sex workers’ groups in Hopley, Harare comprising 15 members each under Centre for Sexual Health and HIV /AIDS Research (CeSHHAR) have come to the rescue of contributing members. The members have started self-helpcome.

“We started our business in December 2020 after some trainings with Mavambo by contributing US$2 per month, so that we do not depend entirely on sex work.

“We sell kitchen and plastic ware such as plates and water glasses as well as braids to local community members.

“We meet twice per month and plan what to buy as a group,” said one of the group members, who preferred anonymity.

She added that they share the profits equally, so that every member benefits from the money they would have contributed monthly.

She said the pandemic has weighed down on their business owing to lockdown measures put in place to curb its spread.

“Our business has been slow as we could not travel to buy the goods in town due to restriction in movements.

“People could not buy our goods as they were on lockdown, which has impacted on their sources of income,” said Tambudzai, another member.

Rutendo Garai, one of the groups’ secretary, highlighted that at the moment the market is flooded with the goods, thus increasing competition. To counter that they have devised a new method of selling.

“We move around the community at different points, selling our products. Sometimes we lend to our customers, on condition that one pays half the price as a deposit.

“That way, we are attracting and retaining our customers, unlike others who ask for cash up-front,’’ she said.

She pointed out that sometimes they lend each other the profits in times of need.

“We also help each other in times of need. A member can borrow the profits and pay back with interest.

“Sometimes, one might fail to repay the money, which is understandable since times are hard,” said Garai.

Their business has helped them augment whatever they get from their trade.

“These days sex work is down as a result of the Covid -19 pandemic, so we use the profits that we get from the business to pay our rentals, buy food, take care of our children and other things,” she said.

Julian Chingwena, the outreach worker for the education subsidy programme under CeSHHAR, said they encourage the women to start their own businesses to empower themselves.

“We do not choose any business for them to do, nor the course to study or colleges to study with. They choose for themselves as we want to develop a sense of independence in them.

“The skills development we teach them is to empower them to be productive and self-reliant, so that they do not depend on anyone. We discovered that there are other means of survival besides selling sex,” said Chingwena.

 She said the education subsidy for the sex workers fills in the many gaps in communities leading to women considering selling sex.

 “Under the education subsidy we focus on the 15-24 age group, who can either embark on vocational training courses or secondary education integration.

“Most of these sex workers cannot read or write as some of them would not have gone to school.

“For them to be sex workers is not by choice, but there are many reasons behind that,.

The outreach worker said they encourage sex workers to do different short courses that empower them like baking, cosmetology, hairdressing and many others. 

She highlighted that the education subsidy programme has faced some challenges.

“We pay fees for the beneficiaries, but some of them are not consistent in going to school as they have babies.

They will not have anybody to look after their children when they go to school. In the event that the child gets sick they miss school.

“On the other hand, some of the sex workers are just reluctant to go to school even though we give them a monthly stipend of US$20 for bus fare,” Chingwena said.

The monthly stipend is to boost or compensate them for the time they would have lost in class without looking for clients as there are sex workers. There are 101 beneficiaries who are going to different colleges in the central business district in Harare.

CeSHHAR is working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with Antiweb in the education subsidy programme for the sex workers.

CeSHHAR Zimbabwe houses a number of HIV prevention and sexual health research, among other programmes.

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