Sex workers tackle lack of knowledge and violations of rights

Sex workers and their clients often lack knowledge about sexual health issues, safe sex techniques, and sex workers’ rights. Stella, Jacky, Esther, and Thuy An My Do, sex workers in different parts of the world, feel very motivated to do something about it. They work at local self-organisations as outreach workers, peer educators, and spokespersons. The sex workers projects of Bridging the Gaps at country-level empowered the four women to improve their lives and health.

Stella (35): ‘With my two sons, I live in Mombasa, Kenya. My husband left me, because he is HIV positive and couldn’t deal with it. Although I begged him to stay, he went away looking for a partner with HIV. I’m a hairdresser and sex worker. And I do peer education and outreach work at the organisation North Star Alliance. I’m also an activist, fighting against stigma and discrimination. I feel deeply encouraged to do this work, because many sex workers lack knowledge about sexual health issues. At the same time, I’m concerned about my clients, mainly truckers. They work very hard, have to drive long ways on the highway, and hardly live with their families. And they don’t take care of their health, eat bad food, drink too much alcohol, not to mention their promiscuous behaviour. Their idea about condom use illustrates a widespread one: ‘You can’t eat a banana if you don’t peel it’. I encourage my clients to visit the wellness centre of my organisation.’

Jacky (22): ‘I live in Gulu, Uganda. I was only 12 years old when I entered the sex industry. My parents died and my stepmother mistreated me. So, I became homeless. I remember my first client. He was a small dark man. He was kind to me and offered me a place to stay. Some clients are nice, others are creeps. Sometimes they treat me bad and don’t want to pay, telling me that I have no rights at all. Once, a client raped me, wearing a condom with red chili pepper on the outside top. However, things have changed for me. Nowadays, I work as a peer educator and caregiver for War Child Holland. I still do sex work. But I’m happy to have my own house in a nice neighbourhood, where I live with my small son.’

Esther (26): ‘I live in Mombasa, Kenya, with my son of 12. I run a small chapatti bakery, produce nice smelling soap, and I’m a sex worker. I also work as a peer educator, because I found it very dangerous that I lacked safe sex techniques, and I want to educate other sex workers as well. Moreover, as an activist I aim to stop violence against sex workers. Here, prostitution is illegal and sex workers’ rights are often violated, while they have no place to go to for protection. I also inform my clients, mostly truckers, about safe sex behaviour. I was only 18 when I started this work and I was short of information. My dream was to go to school. I did some training at the organisation North Star Alliance, which helps me to better control my life. To my colleagues I say: To be a sex worker does not mean you have to stop dreaming and realising aims in your life.’

Thuy An My Do (42): ’Together with my husband and two children, I live in Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam. Until 2003, I was a sex worker and drug user. I started sex work because I’m the oldest of a large family, which moved from the countryside to the city and needed an income. When I was 18, I walked in the city and saw girls working in a bar. I talked to the manager and could start immediately. I always feel rather self-confident and, besides one problem with an armed client, I was never afraid. Presently, I earn my money with community work at the self-organisation of sex workers Hoa Cat Tuong, of which I am the leader. And I am also the deputy manager of the Vietnam Network of Sex Workers. When, after many years, I again met my old boyfriend, he introduced me to this kind of work. Being a former drug user, he was working at a drug user organisation. There was still a fire burning, somewhere. We became more than colleagues, and are happily married for many years.’

Read the blogs of Stella, Jacky, Esther, and Thuy An My Do, shortly on this website

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