By Moses Mugugunyeki
Zimbabwe’s deepening economic crisis compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic has left sex workers across the country in a quandary with some contemplating quitting the oldest profession for good.
Sex workers in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East provinces told journalists on a National Aids Council (NAC)-organised media tour that just like any other sector, sex work was no longer rosy.
In Dema, Seke district in Mashonaland East sex workers said they now resorted to barter trading their services with maize or beans.
They said the pandemic had left many in a Catch-22 situation forcing some to relocate to their rural homes, while others have to grapple with police enforcing Covid-19 regulations.
Government reintroduced Covid-19 regulations, which included the closure of bars where most sex workers frequent to solicit for clients.
These restrictions have made life difficult for many as they are now being paid as little as US$1 while others accept payment in kind.
“We charge US$5 for short time, but if push comes to shove we can accept payment in the form of food.
“I can have sex for a bucket of maize, especially in this time of Covid-19,” said one sex worker speaking to journalists at Dema growth point on Friday.
“We are even accepting to sleep with men for US$1 because it’s no longer that rosy out there.”
The sex workers, who were attending a Key Affected Populations session meant to reduce HIV and STIs infection convened by NAC, said they were caught between a rock and hard place in as far as sex work was concerned with some contemplating to quit the oldest profession if they got support for income-generating projects.
“We were forced into this trade because there are no jobs and we have nothing to feed our families.
“We don’t want this, but circumstances forced us to do so. If we get funding to start projects, we will take it with both hands,” said one of the sex workers who preferred to be called Alice.
Alice said they were engaging in running battles with police at night.
“Any time after 7pm the police will be after us.
“We can’t roam around the shopping centre because it’s now dangerous,” she said.
District Aids coordinator for Seke Florence Nyandoro said apart from sexual and reproductive health training, they were also training sex workers on financial education.
“We also make sure that these women are trained on finance education so that they come up with income-generating programmes,” Nyandoro said.
“However, this model Key Affected Populations is targeted at sex workers with the aim of reducing HIV and STI infections.”
Nyandoro said the HIV prevalence rate in Seke district was 12,7%.
Across the province in Macheke, sex workers appealed to authorities to reopen clubs and bars.
“We are in dire straits. Our business has come to a standstill.
“We appeal to authorities to reopen clubs and bars.
“We used to come to this place [Chibhazi], but these days the police are after us making life difficult for us,” said Priviledge Manyasha, an 18-year-old sex worker in Macheke.