via Male sex workers demand recognition – DailyNews Live Bridget Mananavire • 7 December 2015
HARARE – Sex work in conservative Zimbabwe is often associated with females, skimpy dresses and the night, but the country got a rude awakening last week in broad daylight when male sex workers demanded recognition at the recently-held International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (Icasa).
The male sex workers who had come from across the African continent said there is need for countries to accept and embrace them — if they are really serious in their goals to end HIV and Aids by 2030.
Though the sex workers were free to walk up and down the conference venue, they did not want to expose themselves to the full glare of the media.
Speaking through a representative organisation at the 18th session of Icasa the male sex workers said they feared for their safety — hence the move to speak through an intermediary.
The gigolos said as long as they were excluded from key meetings, the fight against HIV would be in vein as they are one of the key populations affected by the disease.
Regional Hands Off Officer for Africa Sex Workers Alliance, Onkokame Mosweu said male sex workers faced the same discrimination and abuse like their female counterparts and that all Aids programmes needed to be inclusive.
“You know that UNAids recently started the 90 90 90 statute (90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent of all diagnosed HIV infection receive anti-retroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people on treatment have viral load suppression by 2020) and basically if we want to end HIV/Aids we must include everybody in programming, and have a more robust response to HIV in Africa,” Mosweu said.
“Sex workers are saying we are here, we exist, can we be decriminalised and have our work decriminalised so that we will be able to access HIV prevention and support without discrimination so as to ensure that we all work together in addressing HIV and Aids.”
At the Icasa session, the Zimbabwe National Aids Council (Nac) also raised alarm amid concerns that sex workers are now a threat to HIV curbing efforts in the country, as desperate times are forcing them to engage in unprotected sex so as to earn an extra dollar.
And Mosweu said their organisation worked with and also represented transgender sex workers who have not been included in several HIV programmes.
“The conversation is that many areas of sex workers exist, and the important point is to ensure that they have access to health services, access to human rights, they get access to the law. Many people do sex work in different ways, so you can’t really pin on who is a sex worker and who is not or if they are gay or not. Sex workers exist in their diverse nature and its work.
“The problems faced by female sex workers are the same faced by male and transgender sex workers, it is an issue of being comfortable where you are and being able to do your work without discrimination and without being objectified and harassed, because that is what happens in many African countries, sex workers are harassed and cheated, they don’t get paid their money and are beaten up, I think that is the main problem.”
A Gokwe magistrate recently hogged the limelight after he failed to pay for services rendered to him by a young prostitute.
The case spilled into the courts and even though it was the law officer who had dragged the sex worker to court he lost the case rather embarrassingly.
Mosweu said if sex work gets decriminalised, the prostitutes would enjoy access to health care like any other person.
“The bigger picture of the problems is the criminalisation of sex work that opens up to abuse and harassment of the sex workers, the first point is decriminalisation then we can work towards, better policies, better initiatives, better things to help sex workers,” he said.
This follows the release of the World Health Organisation HIV treatment guidelines which recommended that key populations such as sex workers who are not infected, get access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent or control the spread of HIV, where they can take a pill which is used to treat HIV a day—and with the status quo it is hard for the gigolos to have access.