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In  the  late  1990s,  a  group  of  women  working  in  Nairobi’s bars came together to protest. They were disillusioned by the “corruption, tribalism, and poor leadership”  in  Kenya,  that  “translated  to  extreme  poverty,  violence,  and  desperation”  and  prompted  many women to work and sell sex in bars.

When the HIV pandemic hit, “homes were wiped out, and almost the entire country was losing loved ones.” As Peninah Mwangi, a former bar hostess, recalls,   “We   spoke   of   HIV/AIDS   in   whispers   and   with   fear.   Everybody  suspected  themselves  and  each  other  as  having  the  then  ‘death  virus.”

While  researchers  studied  sex  work,  and  posters  were  produced  warning  men   to   stay   away,   there   was   no   funding   for   programs   to   protect   bar   hostesses and sex workers from HIV infection, or provide those who tested positive with treatment and care.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 10:12

Employee by day, twilight girl by night

Meet Rose Syotini, a lovely 30 year old lady, fair skinned with beautiful alluring brown eyes. Her sweet voice, a voice that would make someone stop to confirm its owner is by no fault her enchant! Her physique coupled with her smile is what many would consider hypnotic! Besides her beauty, Rose doubles up as one of the most hardworking employees at Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP). This single mother to a 9 year old girl resides in Dandora phase 1 and juggles both as an amazing employee during the day as well as an occasional sex worker by night at various hotspots in Nairobi.

Before she joined BHESP in 2012, Rose was a full time sex worker, working in Korogocho slum and its environs.  She got to know about the organization through a self help group called ‘Night Nurse’. A group that she was introduced to by a certain lady named Mary Mugure. Mary was by then the chairlady of the group and knew about the services offered by BHESP. She brought together about 20 sex workers for a workshop at Kasarani (former BHESP offices) where they were taught about safe sex through condom use, lubricants, how to negotiate for payment and sexually transmitted diseases among others.

Female Sex workers continue to face disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination in a number of ways, including physical or sexual assault, or stigma attached to their identity based on their nature of work.

As a result of this many female sex workers are excluded from health systems consequently failing to access basic health needs which are a violation of core human rights and a clear driver of ill health.

However, Kenyan female sex workers no longer fear stigma and discrimination while accessing heath care thanks to the establishment of a sex worker friendly wellness center.

A tight spiral staircase leads you to the third floor of Hashi building located along the busy Jogoo road, few kilometers from Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

A smooth music decorates the corridor of the building and directs you to the reception of Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme {BHESP} wellness center.

PEPFAR and DREAMS Partners Announce BHESP Among Winners of the $85 Million DREAMS Innovation Challenge

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); Janssen Pharmaceutica NV (Janssen), one of the Janssen pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson; and ViiV Healthcare announced a combined $85 million investment to support 56 DREAMS Innovation Challenge winners* in 10 sub-Saharan African countries.

Of this investment, $40 million is focused on keeping girls in secondary school, which dramatically reduces their vulnerability to HIV infection, and nearly half of these education-focused resources are directed to Malawi.

A recent case study in Botswana compared the benefits of one additional year of education for young women. For girls with ten years of education instead of nine, the risk for HIV infection was cut nearly in half. This is a potential game changer, particularly as girls and young women account for 75 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa.

The winners selected will implement innovative solutions in DREAMS districts, across all DREAMS countries and Challenge focus areas. The top three implementation countries – South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda – account for 64 percent of the winners. Of the winners, 18 percent will provide a bridge to employment for adolescent girls and young women; 23 percent will strengthen capacity of local organizations to deliver services; and 9 percent will apply data to increase the impact of HIV/AIDS interventions.

Kenyan sex workers continue to suffer human rights violations despite a robust constitutional framework that includes a comprehensive Bill of Rights guaranteeing rights for all, a report has said.

The report titled “Speaking out! Personal testimonies of rights violations experienced by sex workers in Kenya” said sex workers living with HIV experienced numerous human rights violations when accessing health services, particularly those services relating to HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

“These included Violations around HIV diagnosis, breach of privacy and confidentiality largely resulting from unlawful disclosure of HIV status by healthcare workers, discrimination in healthcare settings and poor quality healthcare provision and lack of accessible and acceptable health services,” the 36-page report exposed.

Bar Hostess Empowerment & Support Programme (BHESP) has trained 35 female sex workers as peer educators to spread information to their contemporaries on advocating for safe sex.

The 5-day training certified by National AIDS and STI’s Control Programme (NASCOP) was held at BHESP’s Kariobangi Wellness Centre and peer educators were trained on HIV prevention, behavior change communication, sexual health, and human rights in order to guide their peers on behavior change.

According to NASCOP, peer education is a key behavioral component aimed at disseminating behavioral messages designed to encourage people to reduce behaviors that increase the risk of HIV and increase protective behaviors.

“In the training, I have learned so many things that I didn’t know. I had never used a female condom but now I have information on how to use it,” said Irene.

Events that happened to her more than a decade ago are still very fresh in her mind. She has always been embarrassed to come out and open up about the despicable ordeal. The more she kept quiet the more the pain tore her heart into pieces.

Thanks to a Basic Feminist Leadership and Gender Based Violence Training of Trainers that was organized by CREA and BHESP in April 2016 she now feels free to share her story. She is now well equipped with skills to be on the frontline in advocating for the rights of bar hostesses and sex workers in Kenya.

She now understands the dynamics involved in the struggle against gender based violence. She is now well nurtured to embrace feministic values to effectively catalyze transformative social change. She is now driven to expand her voice and visibility in claiming and affirming her human rights and freedoms.

Thursday, 07 April 2016 19:54

Two Murders in Majengo and the Injustice

I could have missed the story but thanks to an IT savvy young man Trevor who works at HOYMAS, a male sex workers’ organization in Kenya, documentation guy.

Trevor forwarded a curious story from ‘The Star” newspaper titled “Man lynched for stabbing sex worker to death after refusing to pay”.

According to the article, the man got into an argument with the sex worker after he refused to pay the agreed amount of Sh.200 for sexual services rendered. He turned violent and stabbed the woman, who died from her wounds.

Majengo, a sprawling slum in the densely populated Nairobi Pumwani area, is the true Red Light District of Nairobi with a history of sex work dating back to the colonial era.

Thursday, 07 April 2016 18:29

Key Population Heroes: Sex Work is Work

My name is Mary Mwangi, and I am an experienced and proud sex worker operating in the capital city of Nairobi. I was introduced to sex work by a friend at a very tender age.

Naïve and without much knowledge about protection, I got pregnant. My mother, a single mom with no stable income, could not support my child and me. Therefore, I had no choice but to engage in sex work.

During my sex work career, I encountered a lot of human-rights violations from both clients and the police. It was so hard to sail through, but the only way for survival was to become strong.

Monday, 04 April 2016 11:36

A Pill a Day to Prevent HIV

 

“PrEP is Bonga point for HIV protection,” says Pendo, a sex worker, after I asked her understanding about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis {PrEP}.

Pendo, who started sex work in 2000, is among dozens of Nairobi female sex workers who have enrolled for PrEP.

PrEP is a way for people who don’t have HIV but are at very high risk for HIV infection take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected.

National AIDS Control Council {NACC} 2014 report titled “Kenya HIV County Profiles” reports Kenya has an average HIV prevalence rate of 6% and with about 1.6 million people living with HIV infection.

While according to 2014 UNAID’s Gap Report, HIV prevalence is estimated to be 12 times higher among female sex workers than among the general population.

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        Email: info@ bhesp.org

Mirema Stone Groove

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