A PanAfricanist Queer Womanist Collective
In 2013 the Sexual Rights Centre conducted a research with 211 sex workers from four locations including Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Gwanda and Hwange over a period of two months. The purpose of the research was to establish whether general access to health services for sex workers were available in Zimbabwe, but mainly around their access to condoms (of course because as sex workers, these are the main tools of the trade!). In addition to this, the research sought to document the use of condoms as evidence of sex work by the police. This was a growing trend which sex workers spoke of very strongly across all areas included in the research.
The research revealed that condoms were very often used as a weapon to harass sex workers as one sex worker commented, “All women are asked what they are doing outside at night” and some sex workers mentioned the possession of condoms as the reason for their arrest. The sex workers interviewed in the research also mentioned the fact that when they were found with condoms, the condoms were either taken away by the police and thrown away, kept by the police, trampled on, torn or used to rape the sex workers found with the condoms.
Now what is the health implication here?
Sex work is the way in which sex workers are able to make money to pay they rent, feed themselves, their children and other dependents, send their children to school and provide other necessities right? Now if a police officer comes along and confiscates the tools of their trade, knowing that they have expenses to cover and are unable to go home without having made any money, sex workers will either be forced to:
1. Reach in their own pockets and buy condoms because they need to continue working and are unable to work without condoms (this is based on the assumption that they have the money to buy condoms) but this means incurring an additional cost.
2. Borrow some from a friend (based on the assumption that there is a friend that one can borrow from).
3. Go into a bar to get condoms because some bars do distribute condoms for free (10 points to them!)
4. Use condoms provided by a client (some don’t see anything wrong with this, but at times clients feel this gives them the upper hand to treat sex workers however they please).
5. Have sex without a condom (imagine the risks involved here!)
This is the reality of the situation faced by sex workers, women are stopped and questioned for being out at night and harassed for carrying condoms (in order to protect themselves and their clients) and may also be beaten for not carrying condoms- damned if you do, damned if you don’t!
So often sex workers are judged for spreading disease, breaking up homes and breaking down the ‘morals’ of society but what society fails to realize is that sex workers are merely providing a service to a booming market- it takes two to tango, never forget that!
So instead of criticizing sex workers who are trying to earn an honest living safely, let us take a minute to point fingers in the right direction that is, to those who try so hard to compromise the safety of this trade. Condoms are the tools of the sex work trade and as long as they continue to be confiscated, this not only puts the sex worker at risk but those accessing the service too!