For the next few months, ASWA will be highlighting the work of courageous African sex workers’ rights activists across the continent. ASWA is also building the profile of these activists doing commendable work but are often not highlighted. Most are ASWA members, while others are emerging activists.
Clara, as she is popularly known,talks about her life, work and activism, in Tanzania where there is sustained anti HIV, anti gay, and anti sex work rhetoric, surprisingly, from the Government.
Clara is a transgender woman and a sex worker in Tanzania, where police brutality is the norm. Clara has been arrested and intimidated for her activism. However, she says she will not be cowed into silence.
How did you get involved with sex worker rights activism? What issues or people inspired you?
In 2011 while working for one of the LGBT organisations, one of my friends convinced me to join the sexual and gender minorities movement. I did and later became the assistance outreach coordinator of the organisation I was working with exposing me to the lived realities of queer and sex workers.
Which countries and/or regions are you focused on in terms of mobilising support for the work that you do?
Tanzania, mostly and also Zanzibar.
What organisations are you currently involved in and what are the priority areas these organisations work in? Also, tell us a bit about your activism and work specifically.
I work with Tanzania Community Empowerment Foundation (TACEF), whose main objectives are to carry out capacity building for the transgender community and sex workers, create awareness on sexual reproductive health rights of sex workers and LGBTI persons, research and documentation, advocacy and lobbying and economic empowerment.
My main duties are to guide and support the advocacy work. The focus is mainly on human basic rights, health rights and sexual rights regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
What were the biggest events or challenges you have faced in the past?
Once, I was arrested by the police in Dar es Salaam while I attended a meeting to discuss coalition making. I have also been profiled and outed by local media as gay. We were forced to close our organisation offices after some Ministers in Government issued threats that we are being targeted for our work. Most people have been forced to hide.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges for your organisation/sex workers in your country in the future?
Opposition and oppression by our Government since sex workers are not recognised legally in Tanzania. Recently, the Health and Interior Ministers have issued threats against our work including conducting raids on our organisations to find evidence of homosexuality. Most people are afraid of being outed, or arrested.
Do you have one message for the sex worker rights movement or one message for people outside of the movement?
Let us raise our voices and spread awareness.
How do you carry out your activism, for example 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?
I share reports and also reach out to people through social media. We often use this medium as we reach a large number of people and therefore our audience is large. We have often worked on HIV services provision as its easy to use health as an entry point. Despite the current laws used against sex workers, we have supported those who have been arrested by linking them with legal services.