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Sex Workers: If we stay at home, hunger will kill us

#COVID-19 #COVID19

By Staff Writer

As Zimbabwe endures nearly five weeks of lockdown to slow down the spread of COVID-19, many formal and informal businesses are already making distress calls.

In a desperate attempt to save the economy from collapsing, President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week eased lockdown measures when he allowed the country’s mining sector and the manufacturing sector to resume operations. Experts say more should be done to get the economy back on the rails.

According to the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, the tourism sector will be one of the economic sectors to be hardest hit by the lockdown. Downstream industries like the world’s oldest profession are also reeling and no one seems to care.

READ: MNANGAGWA EXTENDS LOCKDOWN BY ANOTHER 14 DAYS

The Avenues area of Harare has traditionally been known as a red-light district. But now with hunger stalking many families, sex workers are now leaving central business districts in cities and towns for residential areas.

Commercial sex work has become a subject of concern in most conservative societies like Zimbabwe. Sex workers are seen as social menaces that offend cultural and social morals and values, yet at home some of these people are breadwinners.

At 17, Tendai Amanda Manjinjiwa became a mother. Now at 25, she has found a profession that not only poses a risk to her health but her safety too.

Manjinjiwa is a commercial sex worker and joining the proverbial oldest profession wasn’t out of choice for her, she reckons. Now the mother of two—8 year and 2 years old- is in dire straits. Before lockdown, she would ply her trade in the ‘Joburg’ area of Mbare. Now she has no way to entice her clients and she wishes such restrictions could be lifted.

READ: LOCKDOWN IS NOT PUNISHMENT SAYS MNANGAGWA

“I am struggling to feed my children. I am not getting clients because of the restrictions in movement. The government should give us jobs because my family is facing starvation. We want to comply with the lockdown but we also have mouths to feed,” Manjinjiwa said.

In Avonlea, a medium-density suburb north-west of the city, the temporary closure of night clubs at the shopping complex has not stopped sex workers from trying their luck. Each night, under the cover the darkness they patiently wait for clients who drive to the spot seeking their services. Hunger has driven them to do that, they say.

Unlike in some countries where sex work is formally recognised, prostitution in Zimbabwe is illegal and in the past government has carried our various blitz to keep sex workers from the streets. Operations such as Chipo Chiroorwa are some of the measures the government has taken to rid of prostitutes. That has not yielded much. Sex workers have been more resilient and adapt to the new norm. Some are now discretely practising the craft using social media while others have to endure running battles with authorities. Others have been more daring—they place signposts for the services they offer at their places of residence.

READ: COVID-19 EVENTS AS THEY HAPPEN

Maidei Magodi of Sex Workers Advocacy Group (SWAG), an association representing ladies of the night said hunger which is now stalking many families in Zimbabwe has not sparred sex workers. Many, she said are now defying lockdown restrictions to survive.

“We will die of hunger, not Coronavirus,” Magodi said.

“Bars are closed, hotels are shut. We are not regarded as essential services yet our services are essential. We have no choice but to defy the measures to feed our families.”

As the clock ticks before Mnangagwa announces whether or not the lockdown will be extended, hunger could be a major factor for defiance.

According to the United Nations, Zimbabwe is facing its worst hunger in a decade with half of her population in need of food aid. Early this year, the World Food Program (WFP) said almost US$300 million was needed to supply 240,000 tonnes of aid.

“A climate disaster” and “economic meltdown” were to blame for the ongoing humanitarian crisis, the WFP said.

With companies now paying half salaries during the lockdown the figure could rise. Get all COVID-19 statistics for Zimbabwe from COVID-TRACKER 

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is the news editor for OpenParlyZW an online platform that covers Parliament of Zimbabwe activities using social media (Twitter and Facebook). He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum and a board member of Digital Communication Network.

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