A new life of hard work for ladies of the night as First Lady intervenes First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa (centre), Minister of State and Devolution for Manicaland province Nokuthula Matsikenyeri and Nyanga North legislator Chido Sanyatwe listen attentively to the stories by ladies of the night during an interactive session in Ruwangwe, Nyanga last Thursday. - Pictures: John Manzongo

Tendai Rupapa Senior Reporter

HUNDREDS of ladies of the night in Manicaland Province have been ushered into the Easter and Independence Day holidays with renewed hope and a sense of belonging after First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa held a heart-to-heart interactive session with them to hear their challenges and offered to empower them through income generating projects so that they leave the oldest profession.

The ladies quickly hit the ground running by forming groups and a committee for their projects spearheaded by Amai Mnangagwa.

Already, the First Lady has been to other provinces meeting ladies of the night as she leads from the front in efforts to remove them from the streets to earn clean money through hard work and restore their dignity.

Most communities and families shun relatives who are into sex work.

However, the First Lady is a lot different as she inclines an ear to their challenges and offers practical solutions to them.

The First Lady brought representatives from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development.

The ministry is supporting the First Lady’s vision.

A ministry representative told the ladies that they have various self-help projects to assist the vulnerable groups especially women.

First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa stresses a point during an interactive session with former ladies of the night in Ruwangwe, Nyanga last Thursday

“We are here to work with you and help you with projects. We have community projects meant for you. We also assist you with loans. Our encouragement to you is to come and get loans to revamp your projects. We want to help you and fulfil Amai’s vision to make you economically empowered and leave sex work,” she said.

As the Health ambassador, the First Lady also brought along representatives from The Centre for Sexual health and HIV/Aids Research, National Aids Council (NAC) and a doctor from the Ministry of Health and Child Care who engaged the ladies on health topics and the dangers that come along in their ‘business’.

During the session in Nyanga, the ladies of the night highlighted how they ended up in the world’s oldest profession and thanked the First Lady for remembering them.

They vowed to quit and open a new chapter.

Amai Mnangagwa, who has a passion for the economic empowerment of women, fought back tears while listening to some of the harrowing tales shared by the ladies.

Said one of the women: “I am 45-years-old and I started engaging in sex work at the age of 29. Today I am very grateful for the programme that has been brought by our mother, she has remembered people like us who are looked down upon in the community and loathed even by relatives.

“Our relatives do not like us because of our work. What is painful in our work is that while you are trying to fend for the children, the man who takes you may refuse to pay yet you will be looking at paying school fees for the children.

“Some men reject to use protection and refuse to pay. We come across many trying situations in our work. We are prepared to leave this work because the projects we have been advised to embark on by our mother will cover our needs. For all this, we thank the First Lady. In our communities we live in, people feared we would snatch their husbands hence we were outcasts,” she said.

Ladies of the night follow proceedings during their interaction with First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa in Nyanga last week

An almost similar narration was shared by yet another lady of the night.

“I am a 48-year-old who ventured in this work following the death of my husband. When my husband passed on I was 25-years-old and I had to do this because of the situation I was in.

“No one was coming forward to assist me and my kids. I also did not have any money to start any project and I met colleagues whom I teamed up with to engage in sex work. Some clients are not paying because they are cruel.

“ I thank the First Lady heartily for remembering us. This job is difficult for grown up people like me. It is also degrading because our children have grown up. I thank Amai for coming to emancipate us and has come to stand with us because where we stay, no one remembered us, but she has come to talk to us and open our eyes,” she said.

Another 44-year-old, said she entered the oldest profession after being widowed shortly after marriage.

“I started entering beerhalls after my husband passed on immediately after marriage. Just after the funeral, his family started selling off our property and cattle.

“They chased me away from our matrimonial home forcing me to leave my children at my parents home and started working with others in bars. Some men pay, but later demand their money back. May God enable us to shun this way of life and I am thankful to Amai for coming up with projects for us and remembering us,” she said.

In her remarks, the mother of the nation expressed gratitude that the women had come out in their numbers to meet her without being ashamed.

“Girls you are the ones I have come for and I am glad you have come out in your numbers without being ashamed of meeting me. As health ambassador, I want you to know where you stand in terms of health.

“We have cases of cancer, HIV, STIs or Covid-19 because you won’t know the diseases affecting some of your clients. In terms of cancer I urge you to be screened on time so that you are commenced early on treatment and save a life.

“Even HIV, get tested and know your status. On Covid-19, get vaccinated and take booster shot to prevent this deadly virus,” she said.

The First Lady acknowledged that the women ventured into the profession because of situations, but emphasised that there was a way out.

“I understand that you entered into this because of situations since some did not go to school, while others were widowed or abandoned by their families and chose to be in the oldest profession.

“Today we want you to quit the oldest profession and start using your hands because what you are doing has no future and will kill you. I heard that some men who hire you end up abusing you even physically. My heart aches, I am pained and I want you to come out of this and use your hands to earn a living. Let bygones be bygones and I want you to be new creations.

“We have the Women’s Bank, which helps you start projects and gives you loans same with Women Affairs. The Government put this in place to assist people including you. I want you to form groups because projects require cooperation to succeed, but we say no to laziness, gossip and those who discourage others,” she said.

Amai Mnangagwa emphasised that there were many projects the women could venture into.

“Girls I am saying there are many projects you can engage in. Even sewing reusable pads, that’s what we do at my office and you won’t have challenges of something to use and your children and you then commit the money you previously used for pads to something else.”

“Even detergents making project, all you need is training and you are good to go and you wake up as businesswomen. Some of you are advanced in age and have grandchildren and you need to do dignified things. I urge you to work hard. There is also what we call mikando. When you start a business it does not mean after realising a profit you rush to buy sweets. You can start mikando and your money grows. I want you to work closely with Women’s Affairs and Women’s bank. You don’t start big but smaller and grow gradually. Your job brings unwanted pregnancies and you end up with many children of different totems which fuels disunity in children. I want you to form a committee which will lead you. As women we are hard workers, care givers and teachers so every woman is important. Even in boardrooms you must take part, take leadership positions. I am taking this programme to empower you to all the 10 provinces. If you work with your hands, even the community will respect you. Most married women are crying and praying to God everyday because of you who are snatching their husbands, this brings bad luck and takes away your blessings that is why i want you to quit,” she said.

The First Lady urged women to grow traditional grains and consume healthy traditional foods which have high nutritional value and medicinal properties.

The women thanked the First Lady for her meaningful interventions and care for their health and welfare.

“We want to thank you Amai for the love you have extended to us as ladies of the night and we promise you that we have left the oldest profession and are new creations. We promise to work hard in our projects. You have remembered us in a way we never expected,” one of them said.

A representative from the Ministry of Health and Child Care highlighted that sex work exposed the women to serious health challenges, including sexually transmitted infections.

“In your work you are more exposed to STI’s hence you should seek treatment. Even HIV is rife in this field and we encourage you to always use protection when you meet your clients. We are supporting Amai that you should quit this profession it is dangerous,” he said.

The Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/Aids Research was represented by Mrs Beauty Dhliwayo while NAC was represented by Mr Sibert Hlatywayo who educated the women on HIV and Aids.

They thanked Amai Mnangagwa for her concern for people’s health and her mission to remove the ladies from the streets and empowering them.

Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Manicaland Nokuthula Matsikenyere praised the mother of the nation for standing for everyone, including the downtrodden.

“We want to thank Amai because she stands with the downtrodden. Zimbabwe is blessed to have a mother like her. When some parents even give birth to a disabled child, they are ashamed to move about with them and lock them in houses, but Amai loves such people. She is not selective, she loves all her children,” the minister said.

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