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‘Sex workers’ in Zimbabwean community accepting maize, beans as payment for services

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COVID-19 has hit sex workers very hard in Dema Growth Point, a community in the Mashonaland East Province, Zimbabwe, to the extent of accepting buckets of maize and cups of beans as payment from their cash-strapped male clients.

The sex workers said the ‘barter trade’ had also created problems for their clients as the men usually steal the ‘payment’ from family granaries.

The plight of these female sex workers has been worsened as nightclubs and bars remain closed due to strict Covid-19 national lockdown restrictions.

Speaking to reporters in the community which is some 40km south-east of Harare, sex workers appealed to the government and other organisations for low-interest loans to start income-generating projects to fend for their starving families as opposed to relying on prostitution.

Gone are the days when we used to charge US$5 for the whole night. These days even one dollar is accepted, so that you are able to buy vegetables and tomatoes and cook something for your starving children,” one of the sex workers, who only identified herself as Alice, said.

I have three children; one is doing Form 4. The child needs ZIMSEC (Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council) registration fees. The other is in Grade 7 and one is in Grade One. So you can see my predicament“.

“I now even accept a bucket of maize or cups of dried beans as payment for sex services. At least I am assured that my kids will have porridge“.

We appeal from well-wishers, including government to assist us to start income-generating projects. Our children are going to sleep at night on empty stomachs.”

Another sex worker, Mavis said she could have opted to be a house help but the local people do not pay.

We tried this (domestic work) but the bosses do not pay. I once worked for five months with promises to be paid, but I left empty-handed,” she said.

So, if we can get loans with low-interest rates, we can start our own projects and be able to look after our children.”

The sex workers were attending a Key Affected Populations (KAP) workshop meant to find ways aimed at reducing HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The seminar was convened by the National Aids Council (NAC) at Dema Growth Point.

The NAC District AIDS coordinator for Seke Florence Nyandoro, said among teaching the sex workers, sexual and reproductive rights, they also train them on financial education.

We also make sure that these women are trained in finance education so that they come up with income-generating programmes,” Nyandoro said.

This model is also Key Affected Populations targeted at sex workers with the aim of reducing HIV and STI infections.”

Nyandoro said the HIV prevalence rate in Seke district in the Mashonaland East Province was 12.7%.

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