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HomeYour CountyKisumuCovid-19 impact on Commercial Sex Workers 

Covid-19 impact on Commercial Sex Workers 

Sex workers have experience a hard time since the Covid 19 pandemic disrupted the way of life across the globe.

They have likened their ordeal during the socalled new normal era as having gone  to hell and back after many members suffered a series of rape, murder and other forms of sexual violence in their quest to eke a living.

Joyce Oluoch, who is the Regional Coordinator of Western Kenya Sex Workers Association (WEKESWA) delved deeper into some of the challenges they have contended with since 2013 when majority of them became more vulnerable targets to sex pests, clients, and security officers.


Oluoch who revealed that she is a member of the world sex workers union, Kisumu chapter, disclosed that in 2020, they were forced to take a unique intervention aimed at protecting the members whose only mistake was to struggle to put bread on the table for their respective families.

She explained that the regional organ (WEKESWA) is composed of 11 organizations including; Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Mumias, Siaya and Bungoma just to mention a few all of whom seek services from the regional offices in Kisumu.


“Trouble started when the member’s economic status was greatly compromised when some of the key donors’ partners who sponsored sensitization on their safety, security, and the practice of safe sex pulled out due to unavoidable circumstances,” she confided.


As a result of this, the coordinator added, our members suffered a lot of mental pressure to the point that most of them relocated to rural areas where they continued with their trade since their landlords evicted them for non-payment of rents.


Oluoch said Covid-19 and HIV/AIDs has left a deep wound in their hearts as they lost the only source of income with members in Mumias having borne the brunt after the sugar miller collapsed thus some of members who worked in the company had to look elsewhere.


“Alcohol provided solace to such members who thought drowning themselves in hard drinks could at least help them forget their troubles for the moment not realizing that they were in for a long fight. This is why we had to seek the best way to support our colleagues through participating in scientific research spearheaded by our partners”, she said.


The coordinator also took issue with some media houses who conducted clandestine interviews with some of our members and proceeded to publish such stories without making any reference to WEKESWA leadership and thus portrayed the sex workers in a bad light.


Flanked by Amina Omar, Ivon Atieno who is a youth leader and Paminas Omondi who is the organizations’ communication officer, Oluoch said the 37 member of the organization operates in both Nyanza and Western provinces where they applied for tenders but were told that they lacked the capacity and financial muscle to deliver.


With Covid-19 having ravaged our only source of income, we had to change strategy by way of allowing Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and other male sex workers including homosexuals alongside our male clients into our programmes to ensure the safety of the members.


According to Oluoch, Nyalenda, Octopus (Bottoms Up), Kondele, Manyatta, Obunga, and Nyamasaria are well known to be some of the hotspots from where the sexual workers have operated for decades before Covid-19 crushed the party while Octopus closed down business.


“The commercial sex workers also operated from strategic streets, provided home-based care services using mobile phones to reach clients who visited them in their houses. Other members also operated as escorts to sex workers and paid for their services”, she revealed.


The coordinator said they have massage parlors and brothels which are operated by individuals’ women or men who hire the sex workers get paid for the services at an agreed percentage since the members were given rooms where they hosted their clients.


She added that they also have sex dens where the clients go for the services and it was in such forums where a huge number of sex workers were targeted by serial murderers and rapists who posts as genuine clients only to turn against their catch.


“As a result, there was stigma and discrimination in the otherwise safe spaces where we conducted our businesses without fear of death as the hunter became the hunted. In Kakamega for example we had to intervene when WEKESWA programs officer flouted the rules”, she said.


On the positive side, the coordinator exuded confidence that she was able to educate her brother all the way to the University level by just relying on the earnings accrued from commercial sex work apart from putting food on the table.


“I was orphaned in class seven after my father passed on prompting my paternal uncles to abandon and disinherit us. I still managed to reach form 4 and now championing the right of commercial sex workers in the region”, explained the regional coordinator.


However, her confidence was whittled down on remembering one of the colleagues who succumbed to HIV since she was the pillar upon which the regional office was built as she kept pushing them to stand up for the rights of commercial sex workers.


Oluoch disclosed that in Nyalenda alone they have more than 300 sex workers following the prolonged holidays which saw young schoolgirls join the trade with abandon resulting in many of them getting pregnant and so have to struggle or rely on us to help them feed their children.


They also struggle to help the girls go back to school by engaging other people to care for the babies. Despite this, the number of commercial sex workers continues rising even as we thought that the schoolgirls are the ones who offered them competition.


The coordinator gave reference to 20 young girls she found engaging in commercial sex work in Kisumu alone as a result of peer pressure, myths and misconceptions that they would make quick bucks but they were mistaken.


“Before Covid-19 struck we had about 5000 commercial sex workers in Kisumu County but this number has been projected to have reached 7000 and still growing especially in the urban areas,” explained Oluoch .


She pointed out that Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia in the Western province have the least number of commercial sex workers earned Sh. 1000 to 2000 pointing out that irrespective of where they operated from, some of them could make between Sh. 1,000 to 200,000 on a good day.


According to Omar, after Covid-19 struck most of the commercial sex workers relocated to rural areas after many of them were evicted from their houses for non-payment of rents. She expressed optimism that one time things will change for the better.


WEKESWA’s Communications Officer Paminas Omondi urged the media to stop painting commercial sex workers negatively as this is what the society will perceive them to be even as they strive to earn a decent livelihood.


“Commercial Sex work is a calling like any other and so even if one is a lawyer nurse or a teacher, they will still be attracted to the trade. We have in the programme organized for an exit strategy for those who may have advanced their education,” explained Omondi.


The sex workers singled out one of their colleagues who went ahead to graduate as a nurse and another who has been Tuffaom Mall. 30 others benefited from the Covid-19 relief fund of Sh. 1000 per day during the pandemic while 40 others got employed under Kazi Mtaani.


On the other hand, 20 commercial sex workers tested positive for Covid-19 with Amina Omar owning up to have been one of them but have since recovered with a further five having taken the Covid-19 vaccination. The members also lost two couples (4) to the pandemic and appealed to the government to consider them some of the most vulnerable group.

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