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Sex workers use cloth for protection amid condom shortage

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  • After sex they would remove the cloth and wash it for reuse with another client.

CORONAVIRUS restrictions have made sex work riskier as women have been unable to get free condoms from their usual clinics and illegal brothels in residential areas and downtown nightclubs have closed.

“Some sex workers, because they do not have condoms, they would put a cloth up their vagina to prevent pregnancy and contracting HIV.

“After sex they would remove the cloth and wash it for reuse with another client,” said Beatrice Savadye, director of Roots Africa, a local charity supporting young women.

“We have a lot of cases coming to us of girls who were now engaged in transactional sex because of the increase in the household poverty,” said Beatrice Savadye, director of Roots Africa, a local charity supporting young people.

Savadye said she received 350 reports of children having sex in exchange for money or gifts from March to June – double the previous year – in Mazowe, a mining town 40 km north of Harare.

Her charity has been giving food parcels to hungry families.

But Hazel Zemura, who has sold sex for a decade, told Reuters that the other attraction is that unprotected sex pays more. Zemura works for Women Against All Forms of Discrimination, which runs health programmes for sex workers.

Zemura said some of her members chose not to use condoms because they can charge more.

“Unprotected sex pays more. So at times we have it despite the risks,” she said.

“Hunger drives us into sex trade. As our incomes, like the cross border trading – the importation of weaves and makeup kits from China for resale – got eroded during the lockdown, we had to turn to men for survival,” Hazel said.

The closure of brothels has pushed sex workers into riskier places, like secluded fields and deserted buildings, said Charmaine Dube, programme coordinator for the sex worker rights group Pow Wow in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city.

Many brothels remain closed, although the easing of the curfew – with people told to stay home from 8pm to 6am – has allowed sex workers back on to the streets, she said.

A 24-year-old single mother named Esther Kamupunga said she worked as a waitress in Mutare but was laid off during the coronavirus lockdown.

Kamupunga takes clients who pay for a “short time” to an open field, for which she charges about $2, although she is often pushed to accept half that.

“We lie on a cloth spread on top of the grass. It provides comfort suitable for a short time,” she said, adding that taking clients to her home – known as “night” – costs them about $10.

“Life was better until the advent of this coronavirus. Our business came to a standstill due to lockdown … unfortunately I was one of the people who were retrenched,” Kamupunga said, shielding her face from passing car headlights.

Although coronavirus infection rates are falling and most children have returned to school this month, many women fear they will not be able to return to their old jobs.

The latest government data shows 16% of Zimbabweans were unemployed in 2019, but many regard this as an underestimate.

Ordinary Zimbabweans say life is difficult, with inflation above 700%, rocketing prices for basic goods, electricity and petrol, and lagging salaries – prompting teachers to refuse to return to work without a pay rise last month.

The lockdown, followed by a curfew in July, forced traders off the streets, while the closure of Zimbabwe’s borders for all non-essential travel cut off a lifeline for 1 million informal cross-border traders, said economist Victor Bhoroma.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated an already dire situation in terms of employment,” the independent analyst said from the capital Harare, adding that about 6 million Zimbabweans who work in small businesses and informal trade were severely affected.

“The lockdowns in the tourism and hospitality sector, transport, aviation and leisure services, manufacturing, fast food and retailing and sports have resulted in massive retrenchments and layoffs in the last seven months,” he added.

Zimbabwe has recorded some 8,300 coronavirus cases and about 250 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. – via Reuters

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