‘We’ve bills to pay’ – Kenyan sex workers petition gov’t to list them as essential service providers
Sex workers in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa have petitioned the government to list them as essential service providers amid the coronavirus lockdown. They argue that they have lost their source of income as a result of the global pandemic.
The city, alongside Nairobi and Kilifi, were identified as COVID-19 hotspots and placed on a 21-day partial lockdown on April 8. According to Daily Nation, the sex workers claim the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has greatly affected their livelihood as they’re unable to receive clients in the evening – their peak time – as a result of the lockdown. Sex work in the East Africa nation is currently illegal.
“Since the scourge started, we have incurred losses. The closure of bars, restaurants and clubs as a result of the curfew has rendered 90 per cent of sex workers jobless. These were the places where we could get our daily bread,” High Voice Africa chairlady, Maryline Laini, told the news platform.
As a result, she claims they have resorted to charging as little as Sh20 ($0.19) for their services, which is lower than their usual asking prices ranging between Sh50 ($0.47) and Sh10, 000 ($94.45).
“Life is tough, we are being stigmatised… Some of us are HIV positive, we need to eat for the treatment or the drugs we are using to benefit our bodies,” Ms Laini, who also called on authorities to add them as beneficiaries of relief items, said.
“There is no business. We are noticing an increase in number of domestic violence cases and we are hurting. Stress levels in most households are unbearable and we were instrumental in cooling them down but since coronavirus, we have lost clients,” Ms Betty Kitili, a paralegal from Changamwe, told Daily Nation. She also added that the restriction of movement has severely impacted their appointments with clients. “We don’t have sufficient time with the few that we are lucky to get during the day and that results in low pay.” Mombasa, which is a very popular tourist city because of its beaches and attracts several visitors annually, is also a hotspot for prostitution albeit the trade being illegal. According to the workers, the possibility of them starving as compared to dying from COVID-19 is much higher due to the closure of the spots where they ply their trade. “We all have bills to pay, rent among many other financial obligations, how will we survive?” Ms Kitili asked. In a related news, sex workers in South Africa also called on President Cyril Ramaphosa in March to add them to the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme because they have also been hit by the coronavirus pandemic. They said they can’t fend for themselves because they’re currently out of business. This was made known in a joint statement by the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and the National Movement of Sex Workers, Sisonke. Prostitution in the country is also illegal.