Life in the 'red lights' of Mhondoro-Ngezi

HARARE - Everyone has an idea in their head when they hear the term “sex worker”.

But what does a woman who works on the streets really look like in 2015?

Last week, we went to Mhondoro-Ngezi with a project which offers support and counselling to sex workers.

Among the interesting, touching and frightening things discovered was that these women look just like anyone — friend, mum, daughter, perhaps even you — and their path is one which has been as much of a surprise to them as it might be to any of us.

Out with the Southern Africa HIV/Aids Information Dissemination Service (SafAids) on a Friday, we were not  sure what we would see or who we might meet.

SafAids is an independent charity organisation based in Harare which works to promote effective and ethical development responses to sexual reproductive health and rights, HIV and TB through advocacy, communication and social mobilisation.

Their “Give me a voice and I will do it myself” project helps people from the world of prostitution who have suffered abuse and have been sexually exploited.

Meeting with  24-year-old sex worker Tariro Takura gave us a glimpse into the world of sex work.

Small and dark-haired, she was full of chatter about the night ahead, friendly and caring with a businesslike urge.

When she was growing up, she dreamt of being a nurse. But now, she is a mother of one with shattered dreams, selling her body to make ends meet.

Both her parents are unwell — one is diabetic and another suffers swollen limbs. She has two siblings, the elder brother did not do well in school while her sister is in Form Three.

“When I passed Ordinary Level, everyone in the family found new hope,” she said.

Several times, she applied for nurse training but somehow always failed to secure a place.

“After several failed attempts, I regretted having to use money from my mother’s chicken sales to go for those interviews. I wished she had kept them for relish,” she said.

Then she decided to try her luck at Zimplats, where most young people from Mhondoro-Ngezi spend their days in expectation of openings for small jobs.

As days went by, pressure for money to pay rentals, send food and medication to her family in Dangarendove village in Mvuma mounted.

“I could barely afford the $20 needed for the room I rented,” she recalled.

“One lady I had met there suggested that I try to use my nights for sex work. That’s how I started and that’s when I got pregnant with my now two-year-old boy,” she said, her voice crackling with emotions and tears streaming down her cheeks.

“After I paid for my brother to have a driver’s licence, I said to myself, why don’t I write maths and then try applying for a teacher-training place. So during the day I was in class and at night I was working,” she said.

“I believe it’s God who has answered my prayer today,” she said in reference to Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa’s promise to “put some weight to her nursing application.”

She wrote maths last year and is awaiting results. Last Friday, Tariro was among 25 SafAids graduands of the sex-workers training programme.

Louise Chingandu, SafAids director, said the programme aims at reducing opportunistic infections, transmission, unwanted pregnancies as well as gender-based violence.

“You may be speaking evil today against women in such situations today because you are OK, but tomorrow you may find yourself in a similar situation because of fate,” Chingandu said.

“Because they are already doing it, we are saying we want them to stand for their rights and even if they are sex workers, they should be responsible.”

Due to marginalisation and lack of capacity to compete in the harsh economic sphere, thousands of girls and women are forced into sex work.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 1,3 million people living with HIV, and the country records 70 000 new HIV infections and an equivalent number of abortions annually.

Visiting Swaziland Health minister Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane commended efforts by SafAids to empower such a key sector of the population.

“Unless we all change our negative attitude, go down and understand what causes the behaviour (prostitution), then have programmes that work for them, we can’t fight HIV,” said Simelane.

Predominantly Christian Zimbabwe does not condone sex work, a profession that elicits name calling and stigma.

The practice is also illegal, according to the country’s laws.

Police routinely round-up sex workers and detain them in police cells, where they are forced to pay fines or are taken to court. This has, however, not deterred them from going back onto the streets.

Arresting them is not the solution, according to Parirenyatwa.

“Don’t arrest sex workers,” the minister said.

“That’s not the solution. For us in Health, arresting them or criminalising the practice does not bring down infections.

“We look at them as programmes not a crime or on the basis of legality of activities of key populations.”

According to the minister, sexually transmitted infections are shooting up in the 15-49 age group and therefore anticipates an upward movement of HIV prevalence, if the trend persists.

Chief Fortune Charumbira believes the problem lies with men buying sex.

“We need to deal with it holistically,” he said.

“In the afternoon, somebody visits a bed-ridden relative at Beatrice Infectious (Diseases Hospital) and in the evening they pick up a lady of the night.

“And these are educated people, I wonder. Let’s look at the root causes,” said the Chiefs Council president.



Comments (1)

A highly misleading, poorly crafted headline. The article would have been better served with a caption like, " SAFAIDS Takes AIDS Awareness To Mhondoro- Ngezi."

tafa mutekwe - 10 February 2015

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