Fifty-seven-year old Sis S, who has 35 years experience as a sex worker on the streets of Harare, said she has been trying to leave the oldest profession since last year but is failing due to lack of a viable alternatives.
“No woman wants to be a prostitute,” she said. “I went there after my husband divorced me because I could not conceive and we always had problems from his parents because of that.”
Other women, she said, joined the sex industry because they had been raped, lost their self esteem or due to poverty.
“But a lot of painful things which are enough to discourage sex workers happen. Some clients demand unprotected sex when one is menstruating and others pretend to be using protection yet perforate the condoms exposing the women to sexually transmitted diseases.”
She added that some men force the sex workers to have rough sex with them, inserting many fingers and even their fists into the women’s private parts.
“Some will be having long dirty nails and rough-edged rings on every finger but they still insert their fingers or fists all the same,” she said as emotion overwhelmed her.
Sis S was speaking at a Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building forum on sex workers and taboos on sexual health.
The forum consisted of a reading of excerpts from the books Highway Queen and Desperate, both collections of stories about sex workers, cross-border women traders and problems faced by women during Zimbabwe’s years of economic hardships.
The books were written by Virginia Phiri.
Speakers at the event said more needs to be done to protect the rights of sexual workers, including availing condoms and other health care services to them.
Others advocated for more debate around the issue of legalising prostitution as a way of empowering women.
Sis S believes an improved economic environment in the country would see many sex workers leaving the industry.