One Bucket Of Maize Equals To One Round Of Sex: COVID-19 Induced Desperation Stalks Rural Sex Workers in Zimbabwe

THE once thriving profession of sex work has hit rock bottom across the country following a prolonged lockdown period which has seen most public places and beer selling joints being closed for more than a year.

By Michael Gwarisa

Unlike in the previous period before COVID-19 when sex workers had bargaining power and demand for their services exceeded supply, the COVID-19 induced lockdown has literally made most men realize that family comes first and hiring an escort or sex worker is not a necessity.

In the midst of the ongoing woes, sex workers in rural communities across the country have adapted to the new normal and are now accepting payment for their services in the form of livestock and grain. However, the desperation by Sex Workers has increased their risk of contracting HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

Mildred, a sex worker from Dema told this publication that she now accepts any form of payment and if a client wants unprotected sex, there was no way she could refuse money given the prevailing economic circumstances.

In some instances, a client says he will pay after the sex session but they usually do not own up. So to avoid such instances, if a client comes and says i don’t have money but I can pay in the form of maize or anything that I can eat, I accept without hesitation,” said Mildred.

“You hear some saying they do not accept unprotected sex, during times that we are in, that is almost impossible. If a client comes and wants to pay, there is no way I am going to let him go or let money go.”

She added that a bucket of maize of Maize in Dema in monetary terms goes for US$3 so in the industry, that amount is actually less than they charge for a single round which goes for US$10 in Dema.

Mildred’s predicament is a replica of what majority of sex workers across Zimbabwe’s rural communities are going through under the prevailing COVID-19 influenced hardships.

In Macheke, Sex Workers pleaded with government and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to have bars and night clubs opened as they are now facing a double tragedy of starvation and or getting infected with HIV and STIs as they no longer have the power to negotiate for safe sex.

Patience Chikukwa, who is  a peer educator in Macheke said the situation was tough and government should at least allow them to operate.

“If you look around, only these bars in Macheke are not operating but elsewhere in the country, people are going to clubs even though there is a curfew.  We are also growing old and sex work at some point will cease to be lucrative for us. We hope government helps us in starting small business so that we may sustain ourselves even under such situations like Covid-19,” said Patience.

The National AIDS Council (NAC) is however implementing a Key Populations model in Dema and Macheke with the goal of reducing new infections through provision of KP centered HIV prevention information and training.

Mrs Florence Nyandoro, the NAC District AIDS Coordinator (DAC) for Dema said they have devised models around KPs and they emphasize on HIV prevention.

“We provide sex workers and other Key Populations in the area with information on HIV and AIDS and other related services like Gender Based Violence (GBV) to ensure that they know where to go when a problem befalls them.

“The ultimate aim of our KP model is to reduce new HIV infections. We want to end AIDS by 2030 and these are some of the HIV prevention models that we are implementing here in a bid to realize that ultimate goal. What is key in this model is linkage of these girls to HIV prevention services through interactions we have with Peer Educators,” said.

Under the KP model, a single Peer educator should have a case load of 25 or 30 sex workers they work with through the year. The sex workers are trained on issues to do with Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH), prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), condom promotion and also issues to do with financial awareness where sex workers are taught to save money.



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