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Marginalised women’s lamentations

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ALINAFE—It was poverty that pushed me

Poverty continues to push women who, otherwise, mean well into the path of commercial sex work. But, as THOMAS KACHERE writes, some of the people who are in the trade are, finances permitting, willing to pursue other paths of generating income.

In its song ‘Makonda makonda’, Malawi Police Orchestra buttresses the point that people choose which type of employment they want to be in.

Makonda makonda/

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Buluzi adakonda khonde/

Ntchito zosiyana/

Ndalama ndi imodzi..

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Alinafe from Bereu in Chikwawa District disagrees.

“I do not like what I do but I have no choice,” she says, in indirect reference to what she does: Commercial sex work.

She says, when her husband died, leaving her with the task of taking care of four children, she was in the red— short on cash and hope.

Alinafe’s husband was killed.

“I, therefore, joined commercial sex work in 2021. After my husband was killed after picking a quarrel at a beer-drinking joint, I struggled to secure piecework.

“Stranded, I ventured into this business for me to be able to support my children,’’ she said.

She said, on average, she generates K15,000 per night.

But that does not come on a silver platter.

Alinafe says, often, they are targeted by knife-wielding thieves who rob them of the cash they make.

“And, then, there are people who threaten us after getting a service. They threaten us and leave us without paying anything,” she says.

However, without identifying other ready means of generating income, she sees herself continuing with sex work— which, of course, comes with its own risks, namely the threats and attacks she endures at the hands of “unreasonable” men.

While others like Alinafe claim to be making up to K15,000 per night, others, like Ireen, bemoan the negative effects of Tropical Storm Ana-induced floods on their business.

“After the floods hit some parts of the country, notably the Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa, we have been struggling to secure business.

“As it were, some of our clients lost property to the floods. Some are in flood survivors’ camps while others are simply short on cash.

“As such, business is not as it used to be. I understand the situation well; most of the men who frequent places we trade in are rebuilding their houses and have no time for us, commercial sex workers,” she says.

Ireen bemoans society’s negative attitudes towards them.

She claims that they are sidelined from government projects, notably the Social Cash Transfer Programme and Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme.

This targeted and systematic exclusion, she indicates, makes them live on the peripheral of society.

Ireen adds that society looks at them as unimportant people thereby sidelining them in many things.

“This tendency, of looking down upon us and treating us as unimportant people in the country, has to stop,” she says.

According to Ireen, she is willing to abandon commercial sex work because it is not her preferred way of living her life.

“If there are well-wishers out there, they should remember us.

“Right now, due to the impact of the floods, some of us do not have food. While other flood survivors are getting food, we are being sidelined,” she says.

Zainah shares the sentiments.

She is originally from Zomba but plies her trade in Chiradzulu District.

“We should not be forgotten when it comes to benefitting from social initiatives being implemented by the government.

“It was not my wish to venture into commercial sex work. I did it for the sake of my kid. I also wanted to support myself since I do not have people who can help me,” she said.

Female Sex Workers Association Executive Director Zinenani Majawa, whose association has 20,000-plus members, bemoans the tendency of sidelining commercial sex workers from socio-economic development initiatives.

“It is true that commercial sex workers are usually sidelined when it comes to national development initiatives. This is despite that some find themselves in the trade for justifiable reasons,” she says.

Majawa says she was forced into the trade after her husband died.

The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi guarantees the right to engage in economic activity.

In Malawi, prostitution is legal and prevalent around streets, hotels, bars and tourist attraction areas.

However, living off the proceeds of prostitution is illegal.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries, where young people struggle to secure jobs after completing secondary, let alone, tertiary education.

Malawi, a small country in Southern Africa, has the fourth highest percentage of people living in extreme poverty in the World.

In Malawi, more than two-thirds of the population lives in extreme poverty, almost all of whom rely on small-scale farming for their livelihoods.

It, therefore, does not come as a surprise to see young women and girls parading in street corners at night with the intention of hooking men for sex.

Social commentator Lucky Mbewe says, like everyone else, commercial sex workers have to be given an opportunity to benefit from the government’s remedies to challenges.

“There is a need for the government to facilitate the reduction of the interest rate on loans so that people such as commercial sex workers can get organised and benefit from the same,” Mbewe says.

Without that, Ireen and others will continue to suffer in silence, unable to contribute fully to national socio-economic development efforts.

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