Monday, 15 February 2016

From Heels to Wheels: How A Sex Worker In Zimbabwe Is Fighting for a Better Life

As an entrepreneurial-minded twenty-something, Noreen, had taken to the bustling streets of Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare to peddle her wares, just like an estimated two million fellow Zimbabweans do each and every day.

But eight years ago, her life changed dramatically following a municipal police crackdown of unlicensed street vendors.

They shuttered her makeshift shop, confiscated her entire inventory and ordered her to pay a hefty fine. When her goods were not returned, Noreen was forced to turn to sex work in order to make a living in a country in which so few people are formally employed.

In fact, according to independent analysts, the country’s unemployment rate currently stands at an estimated 80 percent, although official government statistics from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) dispute this percentage as closer to a significantly leaner 11 percent.
From Heels to Wheels: How A Sex Worker In Zimbabwe Is Fighting for a Better Life
According to CeSHHAR Zimbabwe (Centre for Sexual Health, HIV and AIDS Research), more than 12,000 female sex workers between the ages of 12 and 60 years old have been registered throughout the country since 2009, with many of these women seeing a maximum of 12 men a day. And 20 percent of these sex workers are HIV-positive, although due to the criminalization of sex work in Zimbabwe, it is a challenge to reach this stigmatized key population.

In 2014, UNAIDS Country Director for Zimbabwe Michael Bartos stated in a article, “Sex workers in Zimbabwe continue to be a key population where intensive HIV prevention efforts are needed.”

Now, a 32-year-old mother, Noreen, the confident and ebullient woman, is eager to make a new life for herself and for her son.

Life as a sex worker daily provides her with crippling fears of nightmare scenarios such as unplanned pregnancies and the contraction of various STIs and HIV, as she consistently engages in sex work relations with those she does not know. She freely admits these transactions are “sometimes protected, sometimes not,” depending upon the amount of money exchanged for her services. She is not alone.

There is also the fear for her general safety and wellbeing, due to the rampant abuse and even murder in some cases of sex workers by violent clients.

“We are exposed to a lot of strangers,” she said. “Sometimes you are driven around Harare, along the highways. Sometimes my son thinks, ‘Maybe my mom won’t come home.’ Sometimes my colleagues have been murdered. I didn’t want to do this work, but it is because of poverty.”

In many cases, such abuse against sex workers is often dismissed by officials. Noreen wants to see a reform in policy by Zimbabwean authorities, which will allow cases of sex worker violence to be heard, rather than dismissed. She would also like to see the decriminalization of sex work, opening up the doors to having it be considered an official form of employment in Zimbabwe. “I am a human being,” she says.

In some cases, some sex workers have expressed instances of police authorities requiring their services or bribes in return for allowing them to go free. In 2012, the UK-based Open Society Foundation, which financially supports civil society groups around the world, reported that police are the greatest abusers of sex workers in Zimbabwe.

Sex workers like Noreen also face daily stigmatization and even discrimination by family members, friends and other members of society, including landlords, property owners, and bank officials.

In addition, her own son has experienced stigma at school, as well as at church with religious officials calling what his mother does “demonic” directly from the pulpit.

There is also the self-stigmatization that occurs, which Noreen says directly impacts the spread of STIs and HIV in the community.

“I’m tired of being a sex worker,” she says. “I don’t want to be a sex worker anymore. It’s not easy; you have to be strong.”

She now hopes to create a better life for her and her son, which will allow him to become more educated. She does not want him getting involved in sex work like her.

Noreen just completed her requirements to obtain a Class 2 Zimbabwe driver’s license, and will next embark on an exciting new chapter of her life, hitting the road in her high heels behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler big rig, a predominantly male trade.
Source: Beat AIDS Project Zimbabwe