“UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.”

BHESP activists at a photo session during the retreat. UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.

16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a civil society – led campaign which was started by Centre for Women Global Leadership in 1991. Every year, civil society organizations, government, independent media houses, and other institutions call for collective action to end GBV through engaging with different campaign strategies. This year, the campaign’s theme designed by UN Women is: “UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.” Principles of the theme include honoring and acknowledging women’s movements, leaving no one behind, using a survivor-centered approach that is multi-sectoral and transformative, elevating the voices of young feminists, and using the color orange as a source of unity across campaign messaging.

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Sex workers under their umbrella body Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) are raising concerns over safety of their work after reports emerged of missing condoms donated by the Global Fund to Kenya, that were under the custody of Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA).   

Some over 1000 000 condoms, 908 000 mosquito nets and tuberculosis drugs worth Sh10 million ($87 000) are reported missing from a warehouse operated by Kemsa.

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Every Tuesday at BHESP Kimathi is Juice Tuesday where sex workers come together at a safe space and share their work experiences while receiving free condoms, contraceptives, ARVs, Prep pills and most important free advice from Betty who hosts them. They do this while enjoying a glass of free juice. Without revealing her identity, Betty shares a story of a young sex worker who has just been introduced to BHESP by one of her colleagues. We will call her lady X

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BY BHESP TEAM. 12TH JANUARY 2022……The onset of the global coronavirus pandemic in 2019 disrupted economies across the world disproportionately, threatening the livelihoods of people working in the informal sector with low-wage jobs. These include sex workers, who are further marginalized due to the criminalization of sex work. Reports from diverse regions suggest sex workers continue to work despite restrictions to survive but struggle to find clients and experience increased vulnerability to stigma, violence, and police harassment.

It’s been two years since the pandemic struck and sex workers are the section of the population left with no money to sustain themselves and their family members. Globally, sex workers have lost their work due to lockdowns and curfew and have limited job opportunities to engage in other formal occupations.

But the year 2020 looks promising, since October 20th, 2021, Kenya has eased tremendously some of the restrictions that had been put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Bars, restaurants, and entertainment joints are now fully in operation thus providing sex workers with hotspots for getting their clients. The 10 pm to 4 am curfew has also been withdrawn.

Annett Njeri (not her real name) is a sex worker who lives in the Kasarani area of Nairobi but operates mainly in Westlands, several kilometers from where she resides. For her the lifting of the curfew was long overdue. “imagine I am in Westlands and I get a client at 9 pm, I have to think about the client and the same time think about how I will get to Kasarani before 10 pm, it was crazy” explains Annett. I hope this year will bring more tidings because we are now operating without restrictions.

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BHESP, a sex worker-led organization has been at the forefront of advocating for the rights of sex workers since 1998. The organization working with other partners has witnessed different trends and development as well as challenges as it works to supports key population that are at the highest risk of contracting and spreading HIV.

According to the 2009 Modes of Transmission Study done by the National AIDS Council, UNAIDS and the World Bank, 14% of new HIV infections in Kenya occur among female sex workers and their clients. Data from BHESP shows an estimated HIV prevalence of 30% among female sex workers and their partners.

Daisy Kwala is a Care Manager with BHESP and she admits that it hasn’t been smooth sailing when it comes to providing care for HIV positive sex workers. “We currently have a cohort of 18,802 out of which 2151 are living with HIV, some of the major challenges around sex workers living with HIV are adherence to ART, most of them don't keep appointment mostly influenced by alcohol and substance abuse, some don’t have shelter and operate from the hotspots so having them keep the ART at the hotspots is challenging” said Ms Kwala.

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Mirema Stone Groove

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