MALAWI: Sex business on free fall

At a time when the world is uniting against the widespread coronavirus pandemic, the world's oldest profession (prostitution) in Malawi has taken a sharp nosedive, by Ollus Ndomu (DIRAMAKINI) Zambia.

Malawi, a country of at least 18 million people, has been hit hard by Covid-19 with its several hundred of sex workers at risk of starvation. Night workers in January and on March 8, 2021, staged a protest against police brutality and the government imposed Covid-19 spread control early night curfews which they said had negatively affected their service delivery.

The protests were led by the Female Sex Workers Association (FSWA), which has about 120,000 members across the country, according to its national coordinator, Zinenani Majawa.

During the protest, FSWA Coordinator Majawa said, “Some of our members have sustained wounds,” while warning the government against overriding human rights in the name of combatting the pandemic.

Leading a mass of sex workers with placards in their hands, Majawa petitioned the government to extend the closing time for bars to midnight and keep them open at weekends:“business is not working since our clients have disappeared”.

“We believe that sex work is work. We pay our bills including rents and food from this work. We even send our children to school from the money that we get,” Majawa said.

“It is noted that some gathering places like churches have maintained their normal gathering hours while observing the preventive measures and we feel segregated and discriminated hence we request to uplift the measures and let us do business as usual while observing the preventive measures.”

According to the sex boss, members of FSWA are destitute and she fears some might die of hunger.

The association also warned of problems with antiretroviral treatment for the majority of its members living with the HIV virus.“as one needs to have food before taking the HIV/Aids medication."

Malawi sex workers are failing to pay bills and they are seeking the essential workers status so that their business may be spared from night curfews.

While prostitution is not forbidden in Malawi, pimping is criminalised, making sex work treacherous even before the coronavirus hit.

Speaking in a separate interview with AFP mid January this year, a Chipoka sex worker, Martha Mzumara, questioned the effectiveness of closing bars.

"Even people who are confined to their homes are catching it (coronavirus)," she said. "If they close bars, how are we going to meet our clients?"

Meanwhile, Martha Kaukonde, an executive of the Malawi Law Society, said that restrictions were justified "in the context of a deadly pandemic".

Human rights activists like Madalitso Banda have sympathized with the night workers saying the government is being selfish and insensitive to the plight of the suffering majority:

"I think they are just being selfish because so many businesses have been affected."

Malawians remain divided on the way forward regarding the Covid-19 hard hit night profession with the government opposed to granting the FSWA demands. (Ollus Ndomu is DIRAMAKINI weekly content contributor from Southern African region).

File Photo: AFP

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