Commercial sex workers continue to face multiple risks including violence, poor health, loss of dignity and are discriminated against in the communities they live.
They are also vulnerable to a variety of human rights abuses perpetrated mostly by their clients as well as other violations such as refusal of clients to adhere to the agreed transaction fee or outright refusal to pay for services provided.
Notwithstanding all the disadvantages attached to the profession, the lure of making fast cash or circumstances, force scores of women to become sex workers.
However, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa who is also the country’s health ambassador, is working flat out taking these women off the streets as she continues with her drive of not leaving no one behind.
The aim is to rehabilitate and economically empower them.
Through her Angel of Hope Foundation, the First Lady is rolling out empowerment initiatives to ensure the commercial sex workers earn a decent living.
Her motto as the mother of the nation is that she does not discriminate any of her children, they are all equal despite their circumstances in life.
On Friday last week, Amai Mnangagwa had a meeting with representatives of commercial sex workers drawn from around Harare where she urged them to shun prostitution and also safeguard their health.
As a mother, she has not been short of words of wisdom in restoring the dignity of these women by offering them practical solutions through engaging in income generating projects of their choice.
As a health ambassador, she also urged the sex workers to have constant health checks and advised them she was availing her foundation’s mobile clinic so that they get screened for cervical and breast cancer and they agreed.
“I looked for you my children so that we sit down and discuss about life particularly your health and well-being. As the health ambassador I am more concerned about your health vanangu. We want to put our heads together and see how we can preserve health,” she said.
She asked the women if they get tested for HIV and AIDS more often, to which they responded saying they were scared to do so considering some men sometimes force them to engage in sexual activities without protection.
“Vana vangu, it is important to know where you stand health wise to avoid the spread of diseases.
“Cancers are also there hence you must be screened for cancer, HIV and other ailments so that if need be, you commence on treatment early to ensure a higher survival rate.
“Ndinokudai mese vanangu uye ndinokudai muri vapenyu,” she said.
Amai Mnangagwa asked the women if they were willing to shun prostitution and engage in projects so that they may leave their ways and start on a clean page.
They all clapped hands and ululated saying they were also tired of being sex workers and were willing to start a new challenge.
“Ndirikuda kuti tifambe pamwechete tichishanda pamwechete. Therefore, I want us to discuss project ideas that you would want. I don’t want you to go back in the streets ndinoda kuti hupenyu hwenyu hushanduke,” she said.
She gave them a chance to point out the type of projects they would want to engage in.
The women suggested many project ideas that include running canteens in their respective areas specialising more on traditional foods, selling groceries, detergents making, hair dressing and poultry project.
The First Lady advised the representatives to go back and inform other members so that they form groups.
She said she was going to mobilise resources through her Angel of Hope Foundation and assist them where she can.
Furthermore, the First Lady said she was going to plead with the responsible authorities so that the women are allocated places suitable for their projects.
Before starting the projects, the First Lady said there was need for the women to be trained in various areas that include financial literacy, project management and hygiene to name a few.
“If we pull in one direction, we will achieve more, it is possible. Let us work hard and do away with gossiping, we want unity,” the First Lady said.
The women welcomed the First Lady’s vision describing her as an Angel of Hope.
Left with little option due to various reasons, the women said they had ventured into the trade that is both dangerous and exploitative, just to survive.
They are however willing to change.
Amai Mnangagwa heard heart pouring accounts of their experiences.
A 47-year-old from Mbare who was among the women said she resorted to the world’s oldest profession due to economic circumstances.
“Amai, I could not fend for my children and grandchildren and decided to engage in prostitution to feed the family,” she said.
“Some men hire us and agree on a certain fee, but after using us, they become violent and rob us at knife point of any valuables in our possession leaving us with nothing.
“They will not pay you even a single cent. Some will sleep with you the whole night only to be given just US$1, if you complain, you are beaten. You end up having no choice but to comply. As for me I have scars all over my body.”
She said she was tired of this and was now ashamed of the fact that her children and grandchildren were aware she is sleeping with many men.
“I need to start on a fresh page and encourage other ladies of the night to leave the dangerous profession. Thank you Amai for remembering us and we are ready to work,” she said.
Another sex worker from Zindoga, Waterfalls said she embraced what the First Lady had done for them and was ready to leave works of darkness.
“We want to show the world that we are hard workers and can work. I promise to forget about sex work and focus on making clean money with the assistance of our First Lady. This profession is very dangerous we always come across unspeakable things,” she said.
“We want to thank you Amai for your love and kindness. In other people’s eyes, we are outcasts but you have shown us that you are true mother who does not select her children. You love us all equally. We welcome the project initiative.”
Another 32-year-old from Mbare said all along she wished to work for herself and leave prostitution but she had no one to assist her like what has been done by the First Lady.
“Amai, in our area we charge lower rates as little as US$1. So for me to go home with at least US$20 to feed my children, I have to sleep with 20 men.
“It is not easy sleeping with such a big number on a single day. We are abused daily Mama. Sometimes you are threatened with death if you demand payment therefore I look forward to make the best out of these projects,” she said with tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Kubva nhasi hamuchatione tisina kupfeka paZindoga” they shouted with joy as they left the meeting place.
This is not the first time the First Lady has come to the rescue of sex workers.
Recently she introduced single women in Seke communal lands who were engaging in commercial sex work to income-generating projects like farming, poultry and detergent-making.
Even commercial sex workers in Epworth also benefited from the empowerment programmes as they now have sewing clubs, cooking clubs, soap and detergent-making ventures, courtesy of the First Lady.
She did the same in Chivhu where she gathered single mothers who had resorted to prostitution to take care of their families and convinced them to start income generating projects.
Amai Mnangagwa’s programmes and projects are non-partisan and the list of her initiatives is endless.