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Sex Workers Face Harsh Impacts On The Face Of A Pandemic




BY BOKANI KING

Sisonke Botswana has encouraged Sex workers to incorporate technology to connect with their clients amid the lockdown as a way of diversifying their product offering.

Sisonke Botswana Programs officer Mandla Pule says sex workers are still approached by clients for services, but urged them to adhere to the mitigation protocols in order to keep themselves and their clients safe. Sex workers have been advised to incorporate virtual services such as selling video content and video chats to avoid close contact and ensure that they paid through online payments.

This comes as the sex workers across the world take a blow from lockdowns which make it difficult for them to practice their trade due to the COVID 19 mitigation protocols. Most sex workers around the country say they have taken been affected by the lockdown as demand has gone down due mitigation protocols. This has also taken a toll on their income as they can no longer afford to take care of themselves and their families.

However, most sex workers in Palapye area are yet to feel the pinch of the lockdown. Sex worker lead paralegal for Palapye, Segolame says they have regular clients who still approach them for services. She noted that they take precautionary measures such as using masks and sanitizers.

Meanwhile Director of Public Health, Dr Malaki Tshipayagae said although they are aware that sex workers are a vulnerable population, they are expected to adhere as non-essential service. Tshipayagae said sex workers are at a risk of spreading the virus as the act itself requires close human contact. He however said if there are any people who are forced into sex work, they should come forward for assistance. He said precautionary measures would not be effective as human to human contact is the most common way of spreading the virus.

As a way to ensure that sex workers do not default from taking their ARV treatment, Sisonke is working with health officials to provide 3-month ARV refills for local and foreign sex workers.

Pule said this move is intended to assist sex workers, have access to medication during the period of the lockdown. Pule further said their members are in dire need of relief from the government so they can be able to survive during the lockdown. Sisonke has however established a Covid-19 emergency fund, whose purpose is to assist with buying essentials for non-citizen sex workers.

It has further been highlighted that outside the challenges presented by Covid -19, they have to deal with police brutality and lack of access to proper medical care. She said they are often victimised for in their line of work by the public, their family and health workers. The organisation has also highlighted how they are often marginalised when safety and social protection measures are put in place.

The laws of Botswana criminalises sex work, however it has always existed and authorities have been urged by advocacy groups to legalise the profession. Section 155 Botswana’s constitution states that every person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution is guilty of an offence; and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction under this section the court may, in addition to any term of imprisonment awarded, sentence the offender to corporal punishment.

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