On Friday, December 17, from 9:00am-5:00pm, the Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Program (BHESP), in collaboration with the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) and other local women’s rights and human rights organizations, commemorated International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. The gathering in Nairobi will include a silent public procession, starting at Koinange Street, and ending at the Sarakasi Dome, in Ngara, where the rest of the programme will be held. The event will include: a session to share the findings of recent research done on sex worker rights in Kenya; testimonies by sex workers who have experienced violence; edutainment in the form of theatre, music, dance, and spoken word; short speeches by various key human rights defenders; and a candle-light vigil to remember sex workers in Kenya who have lost their lives in the line of duty. All events are free and open to the press. The dress code for this day will be red (sex worker rights) and black (Africa).
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers aims to raise awareness of the violence and abuse perpetrated on sex workers, while remembering those who have been its victims. The goal is to see a global society where sex workers’ safety and basic human rights are protected. While this day is currently marked by over 100 cities around the world, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania will be marking this day for the first time this year.
Nairobi’s celebration will feature several prominent speakers from various organizations, touching on such related topics as human rights, sexual and reproductive health, security, law & policy reform, and the impact of the new Constitution on Kenya’s laws pertaining to sex work and human rights.
When asked to comment on her reasons for organizing this event, Dorothy Ogutu, a sex worker activist, said:
As the saying goes, sex work is the oldest profession, and yet it is the one industry that records the highest rate of violence and brutality. By marking this day, we are calling for an end to violence in a working community that has experienced and continues to experience so much of it. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere.”
For more information, contact Dorothy Ogutu (KESWA), Peninah Mwangi (BHESP) or Zawadi Nyong’o at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0718122270.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
I,S.I.S note: these are (some of) the hadithi ya the Q_t werd, of women who dare to be powerful, ase…..
My name is Kyomya Macklean and I am from Uganda. I was born in Masindi district. My father is a polygamous man with seven wives who bore him 19 children, out of which I am the first. My mother gave birth to 6 of these children, so I was blessed with 2 sisters and 3 brothers.
Although we were a very big family, when we were young, my father always made sure that he took care of us. Unfortunately, he used to mistreat my mother and I think it was because she was his first wife, so he took her for granted. He used to beat her and when he would come home with other women, he even made her spread the bed for them. This really affected me and I started hating men.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was always a good student and remained focused on my studies. I was also a leader from a very young age. In primary school, I was a girl guide, at O-levels, I was a prefect, and in secondary school, I was the head-girl. Despite my commitment, by the time I got to Senior Four, there wasn’t enough money to send me to school. I was determined to complete my education, though, so I did whatever I could. That is when a friend of mine introduced me to sex work, which quickly became my source of livelihood. I was really scared at first, but with time I got used to it because I was able to earn the money I needed to pay my school fees, hostel fees, and even pay fees for my younger brothers and sisters. I also made sure I supported my dear mother so that she would not have to depend on my father. It was not easy for me when I started, but despite all the hardships I was going through, I continued to do it because I was committed to making life better for my family. This is what kept me strong whenever I was arrested, tortured by cruel clients, or suffering the bitter cold of the streets at night.
I remember my first experience very well. I had just started living in a hostel with a group of other sex workers who were showing me the ropes. This guy Richard, who worked with the Red Pepper gutter press Ugandan newspaper, used to come and visit us girls all the time, buy us drinks and just have a good time. So when he asked me if I would go with him, I decided I was ready to do it. That night, he picked me up from the hostel and took me to another hotel, but when we got there, he said he wanted to have ‘live’ sex with me and pay me 10,000 Ugandan shillings (5 US Dollars). When I refused to do it, he started beating me, filled the bathroom sink with water, and then pushed my head into the sink. As I was fighting back, I remember him saying to me, “I can kill you bitch! After all, you are just a slut who sells your body to earn a living.” He went ahead to say that, “Even if I killed you, nobody would judge me of murder because you are nothing but a prostitute and a kisarani.”
By this point, I was screaming and fighting for my life. After a while, some people heard the screaming and came upstairs so he let go of me and got distracted. As quickly as I could, I grabbed his wallet and found his passport photograph. When he realized what I had done, he started threatening to put my story and naked pictures of me in the Red Pepper. I told him that I didn’t care and that since I also had his photo, I would report him as my client. He got scared and ashamed, and since he was more worried about his wife and family finding out, there was nothing more he could do, so he left.
When I eventually got back to the hostel, I told the other girls what had happened and everyone was furious. They all said that if he ever came back to the hostel, they would hurt him, but he never dared to. We were all so surprised though because this was someone that we had known for a long time, so none of us expected this to happen. We learned a very important lesson that day though – that we could never trust any of our clients. I also wished I had been strong enough to grab him, but I was much smaller and weaker than him, so I couldn’t fight back. That was the last time I ever saw this man, but I still have a scar on my face where the tap cut me near my eye.
I continued to do sex work, but never told any of my relatives about the kind of work I was doing. I could not even tell my mother where I was getting the money to look after myself and the family. Instead, I told her I was working at Hajji’s place, where we made a curry powder called kawomera. Unfortunately, my secret was eventually exposed when I made the mistake of going with a man who knew my dad and took it upon himself to tell him about the work I was doing. My father was extremely annoyed. He cursed me, chased me out of his home, and told me never to come back. This was in 2002 when I had just completed my Senior 4.
I decided to leave Masindi, my home district, and came to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda where I continued to do sex work for the next two years. I managed to finish my Senior 6 with the money I was getting from my job, and supported myself throughout this time. Back then, my earnings depended on the season, the areas where I would operate, and the kind of clients I was able to get. Speke Hotel was my favorite at the time, and I also liked going to Club Panther on Rubaga road and Sax pub. Some of these places are demolished now, and the competition at Speke is too high so sex is cheaper there now than it was before.
We used to charge 20,000-50,000 Ugandan shillings (10-26 US Dollars) for an hour, and 50,000-100,000 Ugandan shillings (26-53 US Dollars) for a night, depending on our negotiating power. For 15-20 minutes, we would charge 5,000-10,000 Ugandan shillings (2.5-5 US Dollars) and I would have an average of 6-8 clients per night, earning between 50,000-200,000 Ugandan shillings (26-105 US Dollars) per night. Nowadays, however, sex has become really cheap because unemployment and poverty rates are increasing, younger girls are entering the trade, the supply is higher, and sex workers are more desperate than they were before.
The highest I have ever been paid by a single client is 190,000 Ugandan shillings (100 US Dollars), which was paid by a Belgian man called Americo who I met in Club Panther where I used to strip dance. He saw me at the club one night, liked me and made an appointment for the next day. I told Americo that I didn’t know many hotels, that I was new to Kampala, and I asked him if he knew any private places where we could go to talk. The following morning we travelled to Mukono Collins hotel for the weekend, where we had a wonderful time. He was really cool and kind and he treated me really well. He gave me all this money because I was really gentle with him and I pretended I that I was new to sex work and that I was still very innocent. Because of my soft voice and tiny body, he believed everything I said, and in no time I had this man wrapped around my little finger. He even told me he had a daughter who was like me.
This is a trick I have since used with many clients. I pretend to be a young, innocent girl who has gone through a hard life and I tell my clients that I am looking for someone to take care of me. They look at me, my size, and they always want to go with me – I never get rejected because of it. I have come a long way in the industry though, and it has taken a lot for me to get to where I am now. Things were much harder when I used to work on the streets and in the strip club. Back then, my friend Peter, who was working at Grand Imperial Hotel, used to connect me to clients. Unfortunately, Peter passed away in 2008 – may his soul rest in peace. Working on the streets was the worst experience though, so I needed to find an alternative.
It was also very difficult for my family to accept that I was a sex worker. My father never forgave me and he blamed my mother for giving birth to a slut like me. He mistreated her even more than before and it broke my heart. This pushed me to save and try to find another job so that I could increase my income and do something for my mother to make her happy. While in Kampala, I got a job with the Kampala City Council where I was recommended by one of my clients who was working as the Personnel Assistant to the mayor at the time. I started to work as a fuel supervisor at Central Division in Kampala and I was being paid 200,000 Ugandan shillings (105 US Dollars) per month, which was to cover all my expenses such as food, transport and medication. Before long, my boss also took an interest in me and started making advances. He asked me out several times, and I made the mistake of going. He started buying me things and before long he was asking me for sex, but each time I made an excuse and said that I was feeling sick, or something. He was annoyed that I was not easy, and even though I was doing sex work at the time, I didn’t want to get involved with him because I had been introduced to him by my father and I didn’t want people at work to find out. It was a difficult situation, but eventually I told him. Before long, others found out and my fellow employees started talking about me and calling me names. They would call me a slut, kisarani, and worst of all, a “de-toother” or Mukuzi in Luganda which means someone who extracts money from people like a con man or woman. It was just too much for me, but after enduring a lot of abuse, I decided I had to defend myself. Men would come and abuse me and I would respond, “You are lucky you were warned before I de-toothed you!” They were shocked because I didn’t look like the kind of woman who would speak in such a bold and harsh manner. When I was at work, I dressed smart, always did what I was supposed to do, and always minded my own business, so they did not know what I was capable of.
I really tried to concentrate on the job, but I could not pay my bills and support my mother and siblings with the money I was getting, so it was impossible for me to quit sex work. I started working on the phone so my clients would just call me, make appointments, and we would meet. This is still how I conduct my business.
After several years in the trade, I realize how difficult it is to quit sex work, especially now that I have become a professional sex worker. I have learned how to negotiate for safer sex, I value my health, I know that sex work can be “work” for which I have learned to negotiate good pay, I have a positive self-esteem and I’ve learned how to save. Sex work can also be a lot of fun, but this only happens when you are your own boss, when you know what you want, know how to save, and can decide when, how, and who you want to have sex for money with. These lessons have not come easily though, and I thank all the women who I’ve shared difficult times and learning experiences with in this work.
Looking back at my experience with the man who tried to drown me in the hotel, after everything I have gone through and learned, I would react very differently. I would try to be kind to the man and get as much personal information from him as possible. I would ask him what he does, find out details about his family, and then afterwards I would go to the police and report the case. I would share the experience with the media and expose this man to shame him. With all the information I would have collected, there is no way he would be able to deny that I was with him. I also have a phone with a camera, so I would take pictures of him without his knowledge, and even record his voice for evidence. This is what I do with new clients that I don’t know and trust. I make sure that I am really nice to them while I am with them, gain their trust so that they don’t suspect anything, and get as much information as I can about them. If I’m really paranoid, sometimes I even hide my phone under the bed and leave the voice recorder on while I am working.
One of the turning points in my life was in 2002 when one of the girls in our hostel was raped by a client. The man who raped her had a special stone which he had sharpened, as sharp as a hunting knife, and he threatened to cut her neck and insert the stone into her vagina if she screamed. He raped her then he and some other men took her shoes, her bag, her money and everything else that she had. When this man left, we were all very terrified. The girl was very badly affected. She got pregnant and when her father who was an engineer found out, he chased her away from their home. We were afraid of reporting the story to the police or telling others because we were afraid of being criminalized for our sex work, so we kept the story to ourselves. The girl started getting increasingly sick, so eventually we decided to go and see a doctor and told the matron of the hostel. The matron abused us and blamed us for the rape. In the end, the girl decided to go back to her mother and grandmother in the village where she gave birth and in the process discovered she was HIV positive. She went through counseling, got saved and is now living positively with her baby.
After hearing many horrifying stories of abuse and exploitation, I decided that I wanted to help other sex workers like myself overcome these challenges. That was when I got a job with an organization which was working for sex workers in Uganda. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long because even there, I felt that we were being exploited. The boss was not representing the interests of the sex workers and he was running the whole show by himself. This one man was the director, program manager and account manager of the organization, so at the end of the day, he was the organization. Around that time, I was also invited to a pan African sex workers conference, organized by SWEAT in South Africa. For the first time in my life I was exposed to other powerful sex worker activists from all over Africa. I was really inspired when I realized that even as sex workers we actually had strength in numbers. The fire started burning inside me and I decided that I had to do something about it. I came back to Uganda with so many ideas but my boss said that we didn’t have money. I asked him if we could write proposals and raise the money but he simply said no, so my dreams were being crushed.
That was when I remembered a powerful story that one of the sex workers had shared at the conference. One night, she was picked up by a white man in a nice car who said he wanted to take her for a ride. She got in the car and they drove off. After a while, he asked her if he could touch her boobs, and she said yes. Then she said he could do whatever he wanted with her, so he continued to play with her body. This continued for a while, but then he suddenly stopped the car and told her to get out. She said he would have to pay her first because she was a sex worker. The man was shocked and said that he couldn’t pay her the 4,000 Rand she was demanding from him. By this point, she had noticed that there was a beautiful bed cover in the back seat, so she asked him if she could take it as payment for her services. The man then told her that the bed cover wasn’t his, and that she couldn’t have it. Without batting an eye-lid she responded to him, “Well, the boobs you were touching were not yours either!” She grabbed the bed cover, threatened to scream, and because the man was afraid of being embarrassed, he couldn’t do anything to stop her. I was so inspired by this story, I decided that nothing would stop me from doing what I thought was right.
I realized the man leading our organization was exploiting us, that what he was doing was wrong, and that I needed to do something about it. At the same time, those of us who had come out of the closet, because of our work, were experiencing increasing stigma and discrimination, so we decided to break off and become independent. I was also inspired by fellow sex workers from the group Sisonke in South Africa, a Kenyan sister who was a peer educator working with ICRH in Mombasa, and other sex worker activists from groups like Survivors in Busia, who I met in other networking and leadership building spaces such those organized by Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA). I also started to interact closely and benefit from the mentorship of several people who continue to support me in my activism. People like Solome Nakaweesi Kimbugwe, the Executive Director of AMwA, Sylvia Tamale from the Faculty of Law in Makerere University, Mercy Berlin from New York, Devi Leiper from Sweden, Maria Nassali the Executive Director of FIDA-Uganda, Eric Harper the Director of SWEAT, and Hope Chigudu were amongst the people who were instrumental in my activist journey.
All this support made it possible for us to form the Women’s Organization Network for Human Right Advocacy (WONETHA) in 2008. WONETHA is a sex worker led organization established by three passionate and determined sexworkers who have faced harassment, insults, stigma, discrimination, and arrest without trial. We have been stirred into responsive action to address the plight of other sexworkers in the same working environment. Our vision is to have, ‘‘A legal adult sex work industry in Uganda, to improve our living and working conditions and to fight for equal access to rights so that sex workers’ human rights are defended and protected.”
I still do sex work but I am able to operate with just a few clients. I have one steady client that I have had for almost two years now. He used to work in the private sector, and is now a manager of another company. The first time we met, though, he thought I was a good girl, so he asked me out. That night he wanted to have sex with me, but when I told him that I only had sex for money, he was totally shocked. He didn’t believe what I was telling him, but I told him it was true and asked him if we could negotiate a price. He said that he couldn’t do it, and that no woman had ever said anything like this to him. He looked at me and said, “Other women would hide it, but how can you be so straight and direct about it?” I told him, “That is how I make a living and I am not ashamed of it.” We left it at that, but since we had exchanged telephone numbers, he later called me, we became friends, and he eventually became one of my clients. I guess he could do it in the end.
I am able to stand tall and proud as a professional sex worker, an activist, and a human rights defender because I believe in myself and I don’t let anyone put me down or let anyone take away my joy. I think being small in size made me this way. People look at me and expect me to be humble – they don’t expect me to be strong. When I speak in public, some people even say that I am not Ugandan, or that I am paid to say the things I do. I speak out without fear and ask others to respect sex workers just like they do other professionals. I believe in myself and I am proud of what I have managed to achieve in my life as a sex worker. I always say that “if you feel uncomfortable being with me or near me then that is your problem.”
I have managed to stand against the insults, stigma and discrimination and I have turned a deaf ear to what people say about me. I used to cry before, but now I mind on my own affairs. Whenever I make presentations or do media advocacy, for example, people ask me all kinds of stupid questions. One of the most popular questions is, “How many men have you had sex with?” This question used to bother me, but now I just tell them, “I can’t really tell, but roughly I would estimate about three full Fuso’s with a few more men running after them and trying to squeeze in!” When a Fuso truck gets full like a matatu in Nairobi, people still run after it even when it is at maximum capacity. So I tell them that I am like a Fuso, with hundreds of men running after me even when I have no space or time for them. These are the kinds of responses I am forced to give men who ask me silly questions just to piss me off. I mean, if I have already told them that I started doing sex work 10 years ago, “how the hell would I know how many men I have had sex with?” One time, I was even asked who my clients were. We were having a session in parliament so I told them that my clients included MP’s, and that some of them were even there that day. Everyone went quiet and nobody dared to ask me any more questions.
My dream is to see all sex workers come out of the closet and join the struggle to claim our human rights. I would also like to have sex work be legally recognized as work. In the meantime, this is what I advise other sex workers:
“Go for regular health check-ups, always have safe sex, seek justice when tortured, learn how to save and invest, and learn when to take leave and when to work.”
In WONETHA we always say, “Work wise and always be prepared before you go to work.”
Despite life’s pressures, I always try take time off to relax and restore myself. I swim, go out with friends, and spend quality time with my fellow sex workers who are my primary support system. I also love reading, listening to country and slow music, and once in a while I go for a walk in the forest, or spend some time at the beach.
When people tell me I should get ‘saved’ I tell them that I am saved and that I also want to save others. If I was a ‘good woman’ how would I interact with all the ‘bad women’? You can only help others if you are able to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their situation. I also tell people that sex work is not all bad, and that it is the environment which makes it difficult for us, and which makes society look at it negatively. It is a job that we do by choice to earn a living like any other professional, though the level and nature of choice varies with each individual. I really believe that sex work should be compared to the legal profession. People say lawyers are thieves because they use lies to win cases, sometimes even convicting the poor or the innocent. This analysis is not 100% right, but people are still being trained to become professional lawyers. So why can’t we be allowed to become professional sex workers, even if some people may not agree entirely with what we do?
What is important to me as a sex worker is to have faith. If I believe there that is a Creator, then I think I am already ‘saved’ and I don’t need any man to bless or judge me. It is the Creator’s responsibility to decide whether I am evil or not. No man has the right to judge another man. I also believe that what I do with my body for a living has nothing to do with my faith. After all, “my body is my business.” All I need to do is look after myself, make sure I have the right skills to do my job well, continuously build my self esteem, and fight for my freedom and respect in society.
I identify as a Christian so I go to church and pray for protection and ask God to send me rich and kind clients who can pay me well so that I can save, invest and plan for my future and my retirement. Unfortunately, the church is not always a safe place for sex workers like me. When I go to church and the pastor asks for money for different development projects, for example, I give what I can to support the causes that move me. When we make our contributions, you hear the pastor saying, “In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I bless you!” So I take this to mean that his is blessing the work that provides me with the money to support myself and others. After all, even Jesus Christ was an activist. But then in these are the same people who abuse us when they find out what we do for a living. I think this is extremely hypocritical.
I,S.I.S note: and in other parts of the world, Bredrin And Dadas In Solidarity, also took mo’ public action and dared to be powerful….stories like these make me so happy…..I give thanks for all the warriors spreading love, hope and positivity in abundance
Justice Ministers’ Strategy Ignores Violence Against Sex Workers
Open letter calls for action from Canada’s governments
VANCOUVER, December 17, 2010 -On the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, sex worker groups and supporters have issued an open letter calling on Canada’s Justice Ministers to include Canadian sex workers in their national strategy on missing and murdered women.
“We are completely stunned that our governments have ignored violence against sex workers in their long-awaited national strategy,” says Susan Davis, Coordinator of the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities.”
The letter demands that governments immediately initiate discussions with Canadian sex worker organizations to address sex workers’ urgent and critical needs for safety and protection on the local, provincial, and national level.
Davis pointed to the tri-lateral governments’ research report on missing and murdered women that was commissioned in 2006 to consider: “the effective identification, investigation and prosecution of cases involving serial killers who target persons living a high risk lifestyle, including but not limited to the sex trade.” Subsequently, the report authors were told to consider: “particular concerns related to missing Aboriginal women.”
The report’s 52 recommendations are the foundation for the national strategy that governments announced in mid-October, but not a single recommendation addresses the prevention of violence against sex workers. Later in October, the federal government announced $10 million in national strategy funding, but not a single dollar was allocated to sex worker safety needs.
The necessity to deal with violence against sex workers was overwhelmingly brought home by the Missing Women’s Case, which concerns the murders of’ 65 women sex industry workers in Vancouver during the 1990s. The Open Letter notes thatthe criminal justice system has made few, if any, changes to protect women and youth from the violence, sexual predation and murder prevalent in the street-based sex industry.
“We know that the physical and sexual violence faced by women in the sex industry is not isolated to major urban centres, says Esther Shannon, a member of FIRST, the national feminist coalition that support sex worker rights. It happens in all Canadian communities, including rural communities, and this isespecially true for street-based sex workers who experience exponentially high rates of violence.”
While critical of sex worker exclusion from the governments’ plans, the groups are fully in support of the resources the strategy will provide for Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women and First Nations communities. The Open Letter also strongly calls for renewed funding to the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Sisters in Spirit initiative.
The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers calls attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers, as well as to the critical need to remove the stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by customs and laws that have made violence against sex-workers acceptable. The red umbrella, adopted in 2002 by Venetian sex workers for an anti-violence march, symbolizes resistance against discrimination for sex workers worldwide.
Exotic Dancers for Cancer
FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work
Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women
HUSTLE: Men on the Move
The Naked Truth Entertainment
PACE Providing Alternatives Counseling & Education Society
Pivot Legal Society
POWER Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work, Educate and Resist
Stepping Stone, Halifax
West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals
WISH Drop-in Centre Society