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Unmasking GBV targeting commercial sex workers

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By Watipaso Mzungu, Contributor:

NARRATING HER STORY TO JOURNALISTS—Kandiyani

On countless occasions, Maria Kandiyani, 42, who plies her trade as a commercial sex worker at one of the drinking joints at Mgona Township in Lilongwe, has suffered sexual and gender-based a buse.

“This violence has come in various forms, including battering, sexual assault, emotional and economic abuse and pressure from clients to have unprotected sex,” Kandiyani says.

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A report of a needs assessment study which Family Planning Association of Malawi (Fpam) released says the sale of sex for money and other materials has become a popular means of livelihood for young girls, especially in urban areas in Malawi.

The report says scores of young people are seen loitering the street corners of hotels, casinos, bars and other places of entertainment.

“In a needs assessment study in Lilongwe and Dowa districts of central Malawi, 61 percent of young sex workers solely depended on earnings from sex work for their living. Worse still, these young girls are subjected to unprotected sex for various reasons, which include failure to access condoms and pressure from their clients who bargain to pay more if they do not use a condom,” the report reads in part.

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It adds that consequences of this situation include infection with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, adolescent or teen pregnancies which sometimes lead to unsafe abortions.

NDAFERANKHANDE—We are also targeting domestic workers

ActionAid Malawi Women’s Rights Manager, Chikumbutso Ndaferankhande, says, globally, sex workers face unique challenges that amplify HIV risks and exacerbate exclusion from essential HIV and STI services.

Ndaferankhande adds that, until recently, criminalisation left sex workers vulnerable to pressure for unprotected sex, condom confiscation by police as evidence of sex work and sexual violence with impunity.

The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare in collaboration with civil society organisations (CSOs), including ActionAid Malawi, recently rolled out a joint national campaign on breaking the cycle of silence on violence against women and girls in the world of work.

Dubbed Ndiulula Campaign, the platform aims to tackle violence in workplaces, includes domestic and commercial sex work.

Ndaferankhande says extensive physical and sexual violence perpetrated by clients, police and others perpetuate HIV risk behaviuor among commercial sex workers.

He further explains that the campaign aims to tackle all forms of violence workers face in their respective trade.

“So, we are working with the Malawi Police Service and commercial sex workers to tackle violence targeting sex workers. We are also targeting domestic workers with information on their rights,” Ndaferankhande adds.

The criminalisation of sex work through policy and practice poses a challenge to the 2015-2020 National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV.

The strategy focuses on meeting the 90-90-90 targets through identifying critical programme and system gaps and ensuring the gaps are closed within the next five years.

It cuts across multiple sectors including health and creates a common understanding for all HIV and Aids stakeholders—the government, civil society, the private sector and development partners results.

Various studies have shown that sexual harassment in workplaces emanates from lack of knowledge among women, fear of career loss and lack of reporting or grievance handling mechanisms.

National Police Victim Support Coordinator, Patricia Njawiri, says, the Ndiulula Campaign will offer women in different workplaces a rare opportunity to amplify their endangered speeches and raise their silenced and forgotten voices.

Njawiri believes that the project will promote and facilitate women’s and girls’ voices, views and opinions in the public domain and accurately document rights abuse while building a body of knowledge for advocacy purposes to influence policy and legislative change.

“So, in some police stations, we are going to plant safe reporting boxes so that people can come and report violence in a confidential manner. We will also plant these boxes in tertiary institutions and health facilities and all violence hotspots,” she explains.

NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) National Coordinator, Innocent Hauya, says the network is intensifying awareness campaigns on laws and policies that relate to gender and human and women’s rights in the country.

Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Lucy Bandazi, says the campaign is responding to growing levels of violence in workplaces.

Bandazi says violence at workplace remains one of the most tolerated violations of workers’ and human rights.

“The #Ndiulula Campaign will, therefore, empower women and girls to take action to challenge and reject violence in the world of work. It will also create awareness on existing services and legislation to address violence against women and girls,” she says.

Bandazi is optimistic that the campaign will enable Malawi to create conducive world where violence against women and girls is not tolerated

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