This is an investment she makes before striding into the streets to glide the night away as a sex worker. Kawawa expects a return on the beautification cost from her customers coming near and far.
Perils of the night
She disclosed to this reporter that it’s a risky business to be a sex worker as often times she and her friends face life threatening obstacles. She said the most common challenge is abuse in the hands of the client and police. She said that some men do not honour the agreed amount prio to engaging in the act.
“Some customers abuse us that’s why we prefer getting the money first before the act, ‘ambele chile’ . Some even savegely rob us off our hard earned money and security officers on patrol often times pick us up in the streets and level against us exaggerated charges. They demand to sleep with us to buy our freedom out of incarceration,” Bemoaned Kawawa.
The revelations come against a background of intense advocacy on sex workers rights by a number of Non-Governmental Organisations including Centre for Conflict Management and Women Development Affairs (CECOWDA) which recently organized an interface meeting between sex workers and members of the media in Blantyre.
According to CECOWDA’s Executive Director, Caroline Mvalo, issues of sex workers are generally portrayed negatively in the media as such it breeds a fertile ground for unaccountable cases of abuse as their rights get mercilessly trampled upon.
Caroline Mvalo, Executive Director, CECOWDA
“We organised this engagement meeting between sex workers and media practitioners so that there should be a clear understanding on rights of sex workers, legality of their work and how best the media can report the issues rationally. You see at times a story is carried without giving the right to reply to the sex worker and often times such stories do not have follow ups. What we are trying to put across is that society has for a long time turned a blind eye on their concerns and that perception ought to end if we have to preserve the dignity and human rights that sex workers also ought to have,” said Mvalo.
Another sex worker who spoke to this publication categorically refuted allegations that sex workers are spreading HIV/AIDS. She said they don’t force anyone to seek their services. She said people who have a holier than thou attitude peddle such malicious allegations but they take all preventive measures to protect their clients.
“We are doing business and we fend for ourselves through the same. Everyone know there’s HIV/AIDS and its consequences but it also surprises us that some men actually beg for unprotected sex though they know they are married and have families to look after. It takes two to tangle, so it pains deeply when people accuse us of spreading HIV, actually such men are the ones who infect us with HIV.”
Data sourced from Blantyre District Health Office indicate that most people seeking voluntary HIV/AIDS testing and counseling are not accompanied by their partners which indicates the culture of secrecy in our society. For the month of August 2018 a total of 31,044 people were tested without their partners while only 1,771 got tested in company of their spouses.
The data further reveals that new HIV infections are still being recorded though on the lower side. The three month data (July –September) show that in the month of August 1,346 people were found HIV positive and on average over one thousand people are contracting HIV every month in Blantyre.
Speaking on behalf of media practitioners, James Chavula, of Nation Publications Limited, said the sex workers cannot be blamed outright as they have a right to be entitled to their opinions that the media fraternity hasn’t helped them much in the fight for their rights.
James Chavula, Media Practitioner
“The nature of our profession, Journalism, it’s a job of choices. Everyday reporters are making choices on what to air or publish so it’s difficult to please everyone. We have grown up in a culture that despises sex work so others totally shun the subject or report half truths but as professionals we need to report on human rights as a whole whether it concerns sex workers or not. They are also humans and we cannot let their rights being trampled under our watch,” said Chavula.
During the meeting sex workers repeatedly blamed the police for abusing them when they are picked up from the streets at night. As earlier alluded to it is alleged that they are told dzipulumutse wekha (free yourself) that calls for sex with the men in uniform. MBC sought to hear from Malawi Police Service Publicist, James Kadadzera.
James Kadadzera, Publicist, Malawi Police Service
“We don’t arrest sex workers for plying their trade that’s why you still find them lining along our streets at Kachere, Kamba Chez Mtemba etc but if they are arrested that means they have committed an arrestable offence other than their trade. On abuse in the hands of police, we urge them to bring out or report such cases and they will be professionally investigated,” said Kadadzera.
Another concern voiced out by sex workers is the discrimination they face when they seek medical attention in public hospitals. They alleged that medical practitioners ignore them and prefer treating other patients first saying ‘awa aziputa dala izi’ (their carelessness got them into this). In an interview with Ministry of Health Spokesperson, Joshua Malango, it was noted that the Ministry do not condone such practices.
Joshua Malango, PRO, Ministry of Health
“There is a Hippocratic Oath that every professional health worker should follow. At the same time Ministry of Health has engaged the office of Ombudsman to handle client complaints. Therefore the Ministry has made itself available to support its clients if they are facing challenges,” said Malango.
The interface meeting was done in collaboration with AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA). CECOWDA and its partners seek to level the playfield that sex workers should retain their rights and dignity as failure to do that exposes them to more ills which have a boomerang effect on society. Mvalo re-emphasised for mindset change as there’s no sex work without men involved so really it takes two to tangle.