By Sharon Kavhu
Sex workers are among the key population areas in HIV responses in Zimbabwe. Statistics from the National Aids Council show that HIV prevalence among sex workers is 56,4 percent.
National HIV prevalence has declined from 15 percent in 2014 to 13,81 percent the following year. But, according to NAC, HIV prevalence among sex workers between the ages of 18 and 24 is 36 percent while HIV prevention among sex workers between the ages of 25 and 29 is at 55 percent.
The prevalence gets higher along with the sex worker’s ages.
Sex workers between the ages of 30 and 39 have an HIV prevalence of 69 percent and among sex workers who are above 40 years the figure is 77 percent.
While Zimbabwe is working towards the 90:90:90 goal (90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, 90 percent of people with HIV are aware of their status, and 90 percent of people on ART have viral suppression by 2020), NAC conducted a workshop for Members of Parliament so that they had a chance to interact with sex workers in Bietbridge district.
The idea is to advocate for legislation that better handles the issue of prostitution and HIV.
During the NAC tour, sex workers told MPs they did not enjoy the trade but were trapped in it by poverty.
“This prostitution business is very painful, we are only doing it to earn a living and ensure that our children go to school like any other children. . .my mother is too old to be employed and I have three children.
My children are going to school, getting clothes to wear and food through sex work money.
“My mother is also living on that money. However, they all do not know that I am a sex worker which is why I left them in Lupane five years ago to do prostitution here in Beitbridge,” said one sex worker who only identified herself as Linda.
“Given an option to leave sex work and do other projects that generate money, I would leave prostitution,” she added.
A lady who identified herself as Amai Winnie interjected: “It is very true we will leave sex working, there are a lot of life threatening scenarios in the field. Imagine bringing a stranger to your house who wants sexual favours in exchange for money but you do not know whether the person is a murder, criminal or if he has any dangerous weapons or not?
“There are a lot of cases where we also get sexually abused. . . Some men pay money upfront for sexual intercourse the traditional way but, when we get to my room, they start demanding anal sex.
“If you refuse, they will beat you up, rape you and demand their money back.
“Under such cases we cannot go to the police to make a report because they start calling us criminals.”
While sex workers say they need financial and technical assistance to venture into conventional trades, parliamentarians say “giving sex workers money for projects will not solve the issue of sex work”.
Gutu South MP Paul Chimedza (Zanu-PF) said, “It seems the sex workers who are saying they want to get out of prostitution are those who have been in the profession for a long time.
“This gives us ideas that maybe they just want to get out of prostitution because they are no longer competitive in the market which is being dominated by young sex workers.
“We can’t have a situation where an investment is made for their projects while at the same time still doing sex work business.
“Thus there is a need for us to really look deeper at the matter and come up with solid solutions.
“Some ladies could be in sex work because of spiritual drives and giving them capital projects will not kill the zeal of being a sex worker inside them.”
MDC Senator Lillian Timveos urged NGOs that are supporting sex workers health-wise to be careful not to appear like they are supporting sex work itself.
“We understand that there are organisations such as Ceshar that are providing healthcare, distributing condoms to sex workers and teaching them on their consistent use.
“However, in their teachings these organisations should also discourage sex working so that they don’t give an impression that they are supporting the activities.”
A few years ago, NAC dabbled with the idea of giving sex workers capital.
NAC monitoring and evaluation manager Mr Amon Mpofu said: “We once tried supporting sex workers with equipment and resources for projects such as butchery, dress making and poultry in Binga and Hwange.
We bought fridges, pigs, sewing machines as capital for them. However, when we went back to assess their projects, all the equipment had disappeared and the sex workers responsible were nowhere to be found.”
However, it is possible for sponsors to work with organisations that deal directly with sex workers who can receive money for projects and manage the business ventures for them.
Sex workers in Beitbridge said their major clients were international truck drivers who spent days on end without their families.
“Sex is a natural thing that anyone would want to have. It becomes a challenge for us married men who are used to have sex frequently to go for six weeks without having it.
“As a result, we end up looking for alternatives,” said a truck driver who drives fuel tankers from the DRC to Zimbabwe.
“In some cases, we spend more than a week staying in Beitbridge while waiting for clearance which takes forever.
“During that time there will not be any entertainment other than sex.
“Therefore, we beg you parliamentarians, to kindly push for policies that will ensure that Zimbabwe has leisure activities at truck stop centres so that we do not entertain sex workers.
“On the other hand, there is a special need of putting frameworks that will ensure that the paper processing of truckers are shortened. If the paperwork can be processed in a day. . .I do not see any point for us to spend ten days waiting for paper clearance here.” Sunday Mail