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 curfews 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 The 10 pm to 4 am curfew has also been withdrawn.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 the 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 p.m.; I have to think about the client and at the same time think about how I will get to Kasarani before 10 p.m.; it was crazy,” explains Annett. I hope this year will bring more good tidings because we are now operating without restrictions.
Sylvia Atieno (not her real name), a Nairobi-based sex worker hopes with the August elections around the corner, more money will be in circulation and good tidings will be inevitable. “When people have money they tend to engage and look for pleasures and that is where we are going to benefit. Politicians will splash money and we as sex workers will definitely get a share of it” says Sylvia. “I also know that many people are now back to work after the restrictions of covid and having made loses the last two years, this year will be different” added Sylvia.
But Waldah Wanjohi, a paralegal officer with the Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP), an organization that supports the rights of sex workers in Kenya is of a different opinion. She says that sex work continues to be threatened and looked down upon as a dirty and demeaning profession. She is of the opinion that certain organizations opposed to sex work continue to receive funding that is channeled to negative publicity about sex work.
“Organizations which threaten the human rights of sex workers hold a variety of core beliefs and priorities, but share a lack of concern for the negative impacts their interventions have on the lives of sex workers,” says Waldah. “Due to the pervasive stigma and discrimination against sex workers that exist in many contexts, these groups have a considerable advantage when it comes to advancing their anti-sex work agendas” she added.
Sex workers’ rights organizations such as BHESP are not only fighting the centuries-old cultural stigmatization that has pushed sex workers to the margins of society but they are also fighting against well-funded anti-sex work organizations that have mainstreamed the use of false claims, bad research, and the silencing of sex workers’ voices throughout their work.
BHESP Executive Director Peninah Mwangi hopes that 2022 will be a year of progression for organizations that support the rights of sex workers. “Sex workers’ rights organizations, often under-resourced, are dedicating time and energy to resisting well-funded and institutionally supported groups that dismiss evidence-based research in favor of unsubstantiated ideology,” said Ms. Mwangi.
And on behalf of her organization, BHESP, Ms. Mwangi wishes everyone, especially the key population, a very prosperous 2022.