We Want To Retire…Sex Workers Cry For Economic Empowerment Recognition

NO matter how good one a dancer is, there comes a moment to leave the dance-floor.


Kudakwashe Pembere recently in Mash West Province

There comes a time when one needs to throw in the towel. Even for the world’s oldest trade, (Sex Work) there is a point in life when the body needs to take a break. However, resting for the sake of resting without having an alternative source of income could lead to recidivism a scenario coined by sociologists to refer to a point when one, say an ex-convict returns to his/her old ways which would have landed them prison before.

Just like the biblical Mary Magdalene, most Zimbabwean sex workers want to call it quits and focus on building sustainable livelihoods for their families but economic opportunities available seem to be working against their noble intentions.

Although Beauty is considered a legend and veteran in the sex work trade, an occupation she took up to fend for her children, she feels the time is ripe for her to focus on something bigger and better for her family. The trade in her community, Venice in Mhondoro is most;y sustained by artisanal miners (Makorokoza) who charm these the girls with bricks of money although they only pay small amounts ranging from  $5 for short time and $15 all night.

With bruises and scars on her face possibly from abusive sexual clients, Beauty who leads the Community ART Refill Group (CARG) for sex workers at Venice Mine told journalists that she wants out. She finds being Magdalene better off.

“I don’t want to continue with this kind of work because the money we get does not amount to anything at the end of the day but just bruises and STIs. Further these clients are often abusive as they beat us up. Here at Venice Mine Compound, the rates for short time and all night are $5 and $15 respectively so it is useless and unproductive to continue with such meagre amounts,” she said.

Her way out of the profession would be meaningful if she was empowered financially to start other income generating projects.

“I wish I got funding to start some projects of my own like chicken rearing and even selling bales of clothes,” she says.
Asked if they raised the issue with the donor community in the area, she said they wait for a favourable response.

“We talked to some NGOs working in our area to capacitate us so that we leave sex work but they have been talking about it since last year,” said

In the small border town of Chirundu where sex work is rampant, the feeling of leaving the job is mutual. Chipo (Not real name) came to Chirundu aged 24 to make a living out of sex work. With her earning a decent living as a vendor, the interest of getting the meagre $15 for a night and $5 short time is diminishing. The sex worker aged 42 having slept with three busloads of men in her entire career, she feels that’s one too many prompting her to quit the trade.

“I am considering leaving this profession because now I’m now a vendor selling mineral water and drinks which are on demand in this area, ”Chipo said adding that she is gradually losing interest as vending keeps her busy to support her two children.

“I could retire soon because with vending there are nights I can go without selling sex and sleep at my house.”

Chipo is nearing completion of a seven roomed house for herself and her children in Chirundu.

To show how sex work is becoming less juicy especially in Norton, several women in the area are keeping themselves busy through Ndaiziva Capacity Development Trust’s projects under Programme Officer Taisewa Sibanda.
Ndaiziva is a capacity building organisation with the aim of equipping women in Norton with skills and knowledge of how to be economically sound.

These retired sex workers were taught various projects like record keeping and expressing their creativity through making necklaces and handbags from beads. Realising that the beads are not as profitable, others are doing fishing and selling sugar beans.
In these projects the women are fending for themselves and their families.

“I used to be a sex worker knowing all the bars and night spots in Norton. I was taught bead making projects and record keeping. Apparently these beads are not making me as much money as I want so I started selling fish and also acquired a fishing permit.

“I used to be a sex worker but with time I lost interest in the profession and now I don’t even know what the door of a bar looks like,” said the now entrepreneurial Rudo.
Another Norton ex-sex worker who requested anonymity said she no longer finds bars and night spots as productive.

“I used to be a sex worker but now I find it useless and I’m not concerned with what the inside and outside of the bar looks like,” she said asking for more monetary assistance to do other projects like selling chickens.

National Aids Council of Zimbabwe Communications Officer Mrs Tadiwa Pfupa said they have a DREAMS program in partnership with PEPFAR assisting women in this case, sex workers, through capacity building.

“We have the DREAMS program which is in place sponsored by PEPFAR, US Government. DREAMS is about empowering women,” she said explain that most of the sex workers are initiated in the job out of poverty. “We have realised in our interaction with sex workers that they engage in sexual activities as a leisure activity but to fend for themselves. So with most of them, they are willing to leave the profession if they get empowered in terms of money.”

The DREAMS program has helped a lot of women to take care of their families. “. So the DREAMS program has helped women to work for their own livelihoods, to look after their children with the money they get,” said Mrs. Pfupa.

Through this empowerment, engaging in unfulfilling sexual activities for sustenance is as extinct as dinosaurs.

“Most of them are reforming, they cannot even think of going back from the Chirundu sex worker. They cannot even think of soliciting money because they have food on the table, food for tomorrow,” NACZ communication officer said.

Mrs Pfupa however acknowledged that there was need for government and partners to intervene in empowering sex workers so as to reduce the number of ladies who join sex work as well as reduce the  HIV and STI burden.

“Most sex workers live one day at a time. They want food for one day and that’s it. Without any other source of income from us, it is difficult to remove them from the streets,” she said.

As usual there are die-hard characters in every society who are in it for good. In Venice Mine, there were some sex workers despite being in near-death gender based violence being hit with machetes. They are at a point of no return.

“I was hit by a machete by a client who wanted me to dance to erotically arouse him. My wrist bone was fractured. However, I won’t quit this job because I have children to look after,” said one reluctant sex worker who did not want to be named.

With these promising testimonials of some sex workers who unforced want to ditch the profession, several hurdles are difficult to jump. No matter how much information is disseminated among sex workers, some are still complacent with the job. Living life on the edge could only be fun and ignorantly they don’t care if it’s less rewarding worse yet risky as they are susceptible to STIs.

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