Peninah mwangi is the executive director of the Bar Hostesses Empowerment and Support Programme

 I studied sociology and literature at university. After graduation, as I was job searching, I managed a pub for a relative. It was here that I came face to face with the violence that women who work in bars endure. I saw women being grabbed by customers, male customers refusing to pay bills or taking a lot of drinks and declaring that they would only pay if the woman agrees to go home with him.The day that I resolved to do something, a policeman had come in to drink and when the waitress asked him to pay, he dragged her out, bundled her into the boot of a car and went and locked her up in a cell. I knew that had to do something. I gathered the hostesses and we stormed the police station. We took the matter up with the station OCS and the officer was reprimanded. That was when I knew that together, we had the power. That was 19 years ago. Today I work with bar hostesses, sex workers and young women. They are most vulnerable to acts of violence and HIV infection. The numbers are disturbing. For instance, every three out of four people infected with HIV are young women. How can we ignore that?

More than 95 adolescent young girls and women have enrolled for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis {PrEP} according to Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) Jogoo Road Wellness Centre statistics for the month of May.

This means that on average 3 people were enrolled daily for PrEP at the drop-in centre, which on average attracts 400 clients monthly.

PrEP is antiretroviral drugs taken daily by HIV-negative people most at risk of HIV infection to reduce their chances of becoming infected.

BHESP statistics for the end of May indicates 22 young females aged 15-19 were enrolled for the daily pill which if used consistently can reduce the risk of getting HIV from unprotected sex by over 90 percent.

The monthly report shows that 39 females aged between 20-24 enrolled for PrEP with the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) reporting that 71,034 people aged above 15 years got infected with HIV in 2015.

“23 percent of the total enrolled for PrEP were females aged 25-30 while 11 percent were 30 years and older,’’ the report adds.

According to Lucy*, 21, one of the young girls enrolled on PrEP at the facility, the daily pill has really helped her protect herself from HIV infection as she is very vulnerable due to the nature of her work.

On 2nd June 2017 Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme {BHESP} held an event to celebrate International Sex Workers Day at BHESP Kasarani offices.

More than 100 sex workers attended the event to honor sex workers and recognize their often exploited working conditions.

“As we celebrate International Sex Workers Day lets channel our energies towards ending stigma and discrimination surrounding sex work,” said BHESP Executive Director Peninah Mwangi.

Mwangi added that if sex workers are to enjoy fair and just working conditions, sex work needs to be fully decriminalized.

“We want laws in Kenya to be refocused on making sex workers lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the law enforcers,” she held.

Echoing Mwangi’s sentiments, Kenya Sex Workers Alliance national coordinator Phelister Abdalla said the event is very important as it’s celebrated globally and appreciated sex workers for coming out openly calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

I randomly engaged 25 Female Sex Workers {FSW} in a conversation so as to answer this disturbing question, which is coherent in all the discussion that touches the vulnerability of their kids.  

“How can I let my son know that I pay his fees through flesh trade? I and my son have an exquisite relationship in fact he holds me with respect because he knows I work as a sales person. Of course am a sales person, I did not lie to my son, what I did not disclose was what I was selling,” explained 32 year old Esther*.

On her part Jeri*, a mother of four, says she cannot reveal the nature of her work to her children due to the high levels of stigma associated with sex work in Kenya.

“I conduct my work in a secret manner. My children attend to a relatively good school. They know their mum is an accountant or a teacher perhaps,” reveals Njeri who has been in the sex work trade for the last seven years.

Majority of female sex workers have managed to hide the identity of their work as they ply their trade far away from their homes. However for Akothe*, the converse is true, as its impossible for her to cover-up what she does from her children in a slum set up.

A narrow path, iron made houses and open sewers are the scenery that welcomes you to Ghetto village situated in Kiamaiko area east of Nairobi.

"Welcome to Thabiti Young Mothers Group poultry farm," says 38-year-old JecintaWanjikuMuthoni as she ushers me into a converted old house that house the birds.

At the center of the house is the feeding area filled with a dozen of chicken while the corner of the house is the hatching area.

Muthoni, who is the chair lady of 30-member Thabiti Young Mothers Group, says the idea of chicken rearing was conceived at Bar Hostess Wellness Centre during one of their support group meetings.

On this 8th Day of March, International Women’s Day, the movement of Kenya Sex Workers joins all women around the world in commemorating this day.

Further in our quest of demand for human rights of sex workers by our state, the network of sex workers in Kenya including organizations such as the Key Affected Populations Health and Legal Rights Alliance (KESWA), Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) and Survivors Self Help Group (SSG) will this year, 2017, present their report on the rights of sex workers at the 68th Session on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

We assert our fundamental human rights to live free of violence, stigma, discrimination, and we assert our right to health.

Wednesday, 01 March 2017 21:49

BHESP PrEP Work around PrEP

Project Name; Consumer Demand Driven PrEP for adolescent Girls and Young Women in Kenya

Project description:

Adolescent girls and young women (referred to as consumers in this project) of 18-24 years at high risk of HIV exposure will be identified for this project. We shall identify their influencers and networks. The consumers will be approached in their hang out/ workplace areas mainly salons, watering points, hotels, colleges, social groups/sites, etc. Awareness to create demand for PrEP will be key. Young musicians and celebrities or other influencers will be recruited and trained to create awareness and hence demand through their music, tweets, blogs and interviews. We shall generate messages that communicate the most information in the least time but speak to their wants, needs and aspirations.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017 20:26

Women Need to Learn About PrEP, Panel Says

Most women do not know that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may be an HIV prevention option for them, panelists noted at the recent PrEP for Women: The San Francisco Story webinar sponsored by HIVE. Prevention messages around San Francisco are primarily targeted at men who have sex with men. The San Francisco Department of Public Health does not even cover the cost of HIV testing for women. To help educate women about PrEP, PleasePrEPMe.org has prepared a customizable palm card with basic facts about this HIV prevention method.

Thursday, 05 January 2017 09:25

New PEPFAR report

FOOTPRINTS painted in bright colours on the floor pass through the bustle of the Themba Lethu clinic in Johannesburg. They lead to a room where every week dozens of men are circumcised. Heterosexual men who get the snip cut their chances of contracting HIV by more than half, since the foreskin is delicate and tears easily. In South Africa, the country that has the world’s largest number of HIV-infected people, such initiatives can save a lot of lives.

Even more important has been a huge expansion in the number of infected people receiving antiretroviral drugs. These not only keep people alive but also suppress the virus, making its carriers less contagious. In September South Africa became one of the first African states to adopt a “test and treat” protocol whereby anyone infected with the virus can get the drugs immediately, instead of waiting until the immunological symptoms of full-blown AIDS appear. By this time the patient may have infected other people.

Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) is a sex worker-led organisation that includes sex workers, women who have sex with women (WSW), women who use drugs and bar hostesses in Kenya. Founded in 1998, the organisation serves as a common voice in efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination, while engaging various stakeholders in advocacy and policy dialogue. It is the first and oldest sex worker-led organisation in Kenya.

NSWP interviewed BHESP’s Executive Director Peninah Mwangi and one of BHESP’s Project Officer’s Kayte Njoki.

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