Female sex workers are one of the groups most affected by HIV and AIDS, with HIV infection rates much higher than those of the general population because of their lifestyle and occupation.
The vulnerability of Female sex workers to HIV infection is compounded by attitudes of stigma and discrimination; they are marginalized and often face abuse, violence from their clients, absence of legal protection, extreme social isolation, police harassments, obstacles in accessing friendly substantial health care services and lack of community support. This is because sex work has been considered a taboo since time immemorial and those practicing it are perceived as outcast and are blasphemed.
Maria, not her real name, a single mother of two shares her experience having worked as a sex worker since 2008 when she was just but a teenager trying to make ends meet when she could no longer bare the pangs of poverty.
“I got pregnant when I was in high school and the so called boyfriend fled away. All was not well as my parents always scolded at me until I decided to evade from home,” she narrates. “Things became even tougher when I gave birth to my first child whilst hosted by a friend who was a female sex worker. I could no longer depend on her; I knew I had to be self reliant and that’s when I decided to join the club.”
On a good night, Maria would make Ksh 3000 (30$) which would mostly go on the basic needs of her family that depends on her for everything.
“Unemployment is what dragged me here. It’s not a walk in the park for this kind of work; we face a lot of challenges in our daily hustles and it’s not an easy job either for the soft-hearted. I’ve been physically abused by a client who refused to pay me after the ‘service’; it’s even hard to report such matters to the police because even the police terrorize and extort money from us. We are exposed to the heightened risk of HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), and unwanted pregnancies that exist among us female sex workers,” Maria depicted bitterly.
“We’ve had enough of these challenges; we need better working environment, and friendly health care services. The society needs to know that we’re part of them and end the discrimination against us and our families,” ceased Maria.
With the support of our development partner Global Fund through Kenya Red Cross Society, we are reaching out to female sex workers in Taita Taveta County with numerous services in our comprehensive outreach and in our Drop In centre in Voi in order to curb HIV transmission among this Key Population and to create a conducive working environment for them. This is due to the fact that the HIV infection rates among the key population globally are more than five times higher compared to that of the general population.
The integrated program uses peer educators to reachout to female sex workers to bring them closer to us so that they can access services they need.
At our Drop in Centre, they come for friendly Clinical services, HIV testing and counseling, lubes, condoms, moral and psychosocial support for those who experience deprivation and abuse, have been stigmatized, have witnessed atrocities, have suffered overwhelming grief or might have any other issue that may require psychological support.