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Sex work not spared by Covid

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MBEWE – We should have thought about them

Commercial sex workers have been pushed to tight spots by Covid curfews which are keeping their clients out of common meeting places after 8pm. THOMAS KACHERE delves deeper to understand the plight of those in the oldest profession.

When the first wave of the Covid pandemic arrived in Malawi, it became apparent things would turn dicey.

Lockdowns that had been implemented elsewhere hit this country before it was forced to put in place its own strict measures of containing the spread of the contagion.

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Now, regulations that beer points should close by 8pm have affected commercial sex workers, who are being forced to slash the amounts they charge for their services.

Since operating brothels is illegal in Malawi, commercial sex workers rely on bars, where they meet their clients—who now face very limited time of being out.

In townships such as Ndirande, Chilobwe, Zingwangwa and Machinjiri in Blantyre and Chigwirizano, Mchesi and Chinsapo in Lilongwe, among others, the night queens are slashing the amount they charge for their services from K3,000 to sometimes K1,000 in a bid to hook a few available clients.

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Additionally, the economic hardships of their clients mean they do not have enough disposable income to spend on paid sex.

A commercial sex worker who opted to be identified as Jessie said she used to attract a lot of clients around Limbe in Blantyre, where she shifts to every night.

“That is no longer the case. The same people who are struggling with the pandemic are our clients. They cannot even move about freely because the police patrol the streets to check who is there,” Jessie said.

Asked whether she considers venturing into another business to beat the impacts of Covid, the sex worker said such a an idea has never crossed her mind.

She hopes the pandemic will eventually seep away and life will return to how it was before.

Another woman, dressed in a tight-fitting skirt and a see-through blouse, was waiting for her client with whom she had made an arrangement to come and pick her.

He had not turned up two hours after the agreed time. She remained hopeful even though a similar arrangement had resulted in the man not turning up.

“These are difficult times. Priorities, in terms of where money goes, are changing. Our clients are not coming forward like they used to,” she said.

She demanded that we should pay her something for wasting her time saying “time is money”.

“I have two younger sisters who depend on me. Our parents died in 2012 and 2018. I am my siblings’ father and mother. I have to ensure they have something to eat,” the woman said.

Apparently, she was making an average of K15,000 a night before the pandemic struck while now she makes between K4,000 and K6,000 a night.

She hopes that, once Covid restrictions are loosened, she will be able to return to her “normal ways of doing things”.

At Mvula in Bangwe, some sex workers have reduced their charges from K3,000 to K500.

One of them said cases of abuse have heightened with the Covid pandemic, as some clients bolt without paying for the services they get.

“Police officers also abuse us. It is tough life but we continue doing it because we have to eat. We are human beings,” she said.

The sex worker added that restrictions that beer-drinking places should close by 8pm have further hit them as the client base has significantly declined.

Social commentator Lucky Mbewe said it is important to understand that commercial sex workers are human beings with needs that have to be met.

“Government and organisations should look at empowering sex workers. Their coming out in the open to disclose the challenges they are facing means things are really bad for them,” Mbewe said.

He believes that authorities should have considered sex workers too in initiatives where they are responding to vulnerable populations hit hard by the pandemic.

“It was obvious from the very beginning that the Covid restrictions would hit key populations like sex workers hard. We should have thought about this when looking at people to be assisted with relief packages,” Mbewe said.

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