Endangered: Albino sex workers in Zimbabwe living in fear

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(In this interview, the sex worker leader talks about the organisation, its work and the situation of sex work in their country.)

They live and work in a country where discrimination, prejudice and violence are common for sex workers. It is worse for albino sex workers who are often abducted, trafficked and raped in the belief they are a cure for HIV

ASWA recently interviewed B Nyoni, the Director of Albinos Trust of Zimbabwe

Tell us more about your organisation, how, when was it formed and why?

The Albino trust of Zimbabwe was founded and registered in 2015. The main aim was to empower the minority group of sex workers living with albinism in Zimbabwe.

Some of our objectives are to promote self-determination, freedom and body autonomy of sex worker with albinism in Zimbabwe

As it is the environment is already hostile for sex workers because of cultural, religion and the law, which are believed to be the pillars of many societies. So imagine the situation for an albino.

Where I came from, sex work was/is said to be driven by evil spirits. To call it work was shocking for communities we live in. They regarded this as the most shocking statement of the century.

Albinos are an endangered section of the society because of the beliefs that they can cure HIV and they are a source of wealth.

At first, we were fighting against sexual abuse of the persons with albinism in Zimbabwe. As cases of HIV infection went high in Zimbabwe, rape and sexual assaults against albinos also rose. Despite this, medicine men and other people were still peddling the myth that albinos had healing power. Due to high poverty levels, some albinos started selling sex as they were on demand.

It came to our attention that due to the myth, most of them were having unprotected sex with clients. That is when we started teaching them about negotiating for safe sex and personal hygiene among other skills. We also trained them on financial management.

To cater for the members who are visually impaired, we translated some of the reading materials into braille and printed other with big fonts. We also provide sunscreens to our members to prevent skin cancer.

Which countries and/or regions are you focused on in terms of mobilising support for the work that you do?

We work in Zimbabwe, but we have plans to expand with time and availability of resources.

What organisations are you currently involved in and what are the priority areas that these organisations work in?

At the moment, we are working with HIVOS. They have funded our advocacy work.

What are the biggest events or challenges your organisation has worked on in the past?

For the past three years, we have commemorated the International Day on Albinism every June 13.

The other biggest achievement is that fact that we have translated the national Constitution into Braille.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges for your organisation/sex workers in your country in the future?

The fact that despite public awareness campaigns, some people still view albinos as a source of cure is and will continue to be a challenge. Lack of resources is a big problem for our organisation. We have a big vision for our members, but we can do some of the things we want to do because we have limited financial support.

What is the legal status of sex work in your country?

Police in Zimbabwe can no longer arrest women on charges of soliciting for sex in the absence of men confirming they were offered the services for a fee. However, does not mean that sex workers are free from harassment.

Do you have one message for the sex worker rights movement? Or one message for people outside of the movement?

Anything done for us without us, is being done against us.

How do you carry out your activism, that is what forms of social media and/or strategies do you use? (Protests, social media and legislation among others) to further the cause you advocate for?

We do that mainly on social media. We have a Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts. We also do quiet lobbying among partners and also engage the Judiciary.

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