How are you and the sex workers in your country responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?
We are advocating and lobbing other stake holders to work together to fight against COVID 19 while disseminating information to fellow sex workers through campaign awareness, radio broadcasting and even distributing of IEC materials with the context of COVID 19 prevention.
Sex workers are also playing a significant role in response to the COVID 19 by following precaution measures put in place like washing hands with soap and water or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, putting on face mask and even cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing.
What is the effect on the health and the livelihood on sex workers?
- The measures put in place by the government to contain the spread of COVID 19 have led to the closure of bars and other hotspots where we gather. This has forced sex workers to return to their home villages where they are experiencing stigma and discrimination from the family members and the community. In addition, most sex workers do not have money to buy food, pay for their bills and failure to purchase essential services like medical care.
- Price hikes for goods and services including public transport associated to COVID 19 measures making sex workers find it difficult to have access to Anti-Retrovirus drugs and other essential health services.
- Due to restrictions made in public institution for example “no face mask no services” this has compromised the uptake of sexual reproductive services and other essential health services like preventive commodities (condom) making them very much prone from contracting sexual transmitted disease including HIV /AIDS.
- Increase number of gender-based violence cases which are not reported since most perpetuators are regular customers which when reported will make sex workers lose their business which is already low due to the pandemic.
What are the main challenges of responding to it?
- Mobility of the female sex workers, seeking for greener pastures has raised barriers making it difficult to reach the FSW to receive healthcare and personal protectives equipment.
- Lack of resources to give to sex workers to protect themselves from COVID 19.
- Some sex workers are not abiding to the precaution measures since they depend on sex work hence social distancing is a challenge to them.
How did you become involved with sex worker rights activism? What issues or people inspired you?
As a sex worker I have faced a lot of human rights violation during sex work by the law makers and also other stake holders that are supposed to protect our human rights since we are among the minority group. In order to defend my rights and the rest of the sex work community I started activism since female sex workers were not being involved in most developmental aspects of the country bearing in mind the high level of stigma, discrimination and other forms of human rights violations.
What the name of your organization? When was it formed and what is its objectives? Is it membership based?
The organization is called Female Sex Workers Association (FSWA), was established in August, 2016 and registered with the Malawi government under the company’s Act of the Laws. Not all female sex workers are members but only those that are registered on membership which is free and voluntary.
FSWA will be guided by the following objectives to achieve its mission and vision:
- To mobilize and capacitate female sex workers on their health and legal rights. (to know, own and advocate for their own rights).
- To build a network of female sex workers movement in the country.
- To strengthen female sex worker’s leadership through meaningful involvement at every level.
- To provide legal assistance and strategic litigation to female sex workers where their rights have been violated.
- To empower female sex workers economically.
- To generate credible research on issues affecting the rights of female sex workers that will inform them to develop their own responses.
- Which countries and/or regions are you focused on in terms of mobilising support for the work that you do?
We do not have specific regions to receive funds and our door is open to all regional parts of the world as long as the funds are to help promoting the lives of female sex workers.
- Have you or any person in your organization or country attended the Sex Workers Academy Africa (SWAA)? If yes, what is the impact in advocacy and movement building in your country?
- Yes and am one of them where I attended the 2014 session which is one of the factors that influenced me to start the organization.
- Last year in 2019, 6 of our members also participated in one of SWAA session. The academy has built our leadership capacity thus has brought an impact to the organization.
- What organisations are you currently involved in and what are the priority areas that these organisations work in? Tell us a bit about your activism/work specifically.
- Pakachere- linking female sex workers to health care system and following up on the HIV cascade
- Family Health International 360- linking female sex works and other priority groups to health care services, Post GBV care, crucial follow up on the HIV cascade
- Jhpiego-linking female sex workers and other priority groups to potential services to have a good life and a stand on their own.
- MACRO- linking female sex workers to health care services, preventive services and family planning.
- COWLHA- gender based violence against girls, and young women
- UN Women- gender-based violence and post-GBV care.
- What were the biggest events or challenges you’ve worked on in the past?
In the past years sex workers were unlawfully detained by police when doing sex work and were charged for being rogue and night vagabond. They experienced a lot of human rights violation by the police when in custody. This abolished my organization for fighting against these violations.
It was not easy because after we managed to deal with charges on rogue and vagabond, the police still continued to arrest sex workers using another charge of idle and disorder where they continued to experience human right violation when in custody and still our lives were not at peace since we were afraid of doing sex work business.
Later sex workers were forced to go into the streets and protest and presented our violations in court and we had victory.
- What do you think will be the biggest challenges for your organisation/sex workers in your country in the future? Do you have one message for the sex worker rights movement? Or one message for people outside of the movement?
- My organization will only move forward if there is mutual understanding between female sex workers and those that are not, this will help in eradicating some challenges that female sex workers go through. A female sex worker is human regardless of her sex work and people need not see her through stigmatizing lens.
- Some laws are hindering sex workers from conduct their business freely which is a big challenge and if these laws could be lifted the sex workers life will be improved.
- How do you carry out your activism e.g. what forms of social media and/or strategies do you use? (protests, social media, legislation, etc.) to further the cause you advocate for?
In my advocacy I use all forms of media and other local strategies like on face book page, twitter Instagram and other platforms, also the severity of the problems forces me to protest in the streets and engage in the litigation in the courts.
Sometimes I join in debates in our local radio stations where the advocacy messages are disseminated to the public.
- What is your view on decriminalization of sex work in your country?
There is still discrimination in my country to the extent that most sex workers are discriminated in the times that they needed essential services.
Sex workers are minority since they are discriminated either by the cultural norms in the society they are living in and other service providers which compromises their uptake of health and rights services.
- What is your message for both the sex workers and sex work leaders who have newly entered in sex worker movement?
- Sex work is work, lets embrace it
- Stay safe
- Always to remember that we sex workers have rights just like everybody else and we should be responsible for our own health.