Ethiopia: Sex worker group finds ways to survive tough funding rules

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The law says organisations must get 90 percent of their funding from domestic sources restricting external support.

Ethiopia is considered as one of the most hostile countries for human rights groups. The country has repressive laws that severely restrict the activities of nongovernmental organisations, especially international ones.

For example, the law on NGOs says that organisations must get 90 percent of their funding from domestic sources restricting external support. With a majority of the population struggling with poverty, donations to charitable organisations are minimal. This has forced organisations to charge membership fee and hold fund raising events to survive.

Others like the sex workers organisation, NIKAT, have gone an extra mile to sustain their activities. Roughly meaning awareness, NIKAT, established in 2010 by sex workers has broken barriers in a country where culture and religion are deeply rooted. To raise money, the organisation rents out their meeting hall and also charge for bathroom services that include spaces to shower.

Its over 200 members also pay a monthly fee and also clean the offices in turn to cut down expenses.

Luckily, NIKAT does not pay for office space as it is given by the Addis Ababa sub City Administration. With what they collect at the end of the month, they pay security guards and also conduct weekly coffee sessions with community members and law enforcers.

Recently, ASWA interviewed a female sex work who attended the Sex Worker Academy Africa (SWAA) on their experience and the situation in Ethiopia.

The Academy is an African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) initiative, implemented by Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA).

SWAA aims to strengthen the sex workers’ rights movement across Africa, through building the capacity of sex workers to engage in policy, programme development, and implementation, and through strengthening sex worker led organisations, and national sex workers’ networks.

What was your experience at the Sex Worker Academy Africa?

It was an eye opening experience for the six of us who attended the training especially the lessons on organisation and movement building. We learnt that sex workers should be in-charge of their affairs and ‘Nothing for us without us’.

We also learnt the need to include sex workers in all activities to give them a sense of ownership.

The training also made us discover our capacity in adequacies, which have pulled us behind when it comes to running an organisation. Sex workers in Ethiopia need more capacity building trainings. There are potential leaders, but they lack the skills to lead the sex work movement in Ethiopia.

How is to be a sex worker in Ethiopia?

 There are no issues with female sex workers. They can work anywhere in Addis except some places. NIKAT’s programming has also helped the female sex workers create a rapport with the police. Female sex workers work with law enforcers in neighbourhood watch and to also protect themselves from violence

What programmes are you running currently?

We have the Coffee Program where we invite community members and law enforcers to discuss issues affecting sex workers. We also use these meetings to educate our members of various health issues and also hear from them what activities they would like us to do.

The organisation also collaborates with DKT Ethiopia, to provide condoms at a subsidised price. The organisation also runs a referral and linkage programme to law enforcement, legal and health services. It also runs a safe space for women and an outreach program.

How does your organisation work?

Four volunteers (who are members of the board members) and four female sex workers run the organisation. Programs, communications, M&E and most of the management is lead by these volunteers, who are not sex workers. There are 35 peer educators and sex workers are responsible for mobilisation and sensitisation.

How is the life of a sex worker like in Ethiopia?

Most sex workers are poor because they are underpaid. However, they have to live poverty because there is little support from the Government. The other reason for their poverty is exploitation by clients since most sex workers have poor education background. Most of them only have primary education and barely know the art of negotiation. Health wise, there are inadequate facilities and some sex workers rely on self-medication. Legally, sex workers face discrimination and stigma. No organisation would be willing to represent sex workers in court.

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