Desperate African Sex Workers Protest Coronavirus Restrictions

LOS ANGELES—While sex workers around the world have largely been left behind in government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, in Africa, their situation has been particularly dire. But sex workers in the Ugandan district of Soroti made their voices heard last week when they staged a semi-nude protest outside the local government offices.  Sex work remains illegal in Uganda, but the profession remains widespread, as for many women it provides the only relief from poverty. But since the worldwide coronavirus pandemic sent the country into lockdown, the sex workers who protested Friday say they are in danger of starvation.  “We are currently left with nothing to eat and our children are becoming malnourished,” one of the sex workers protesting at the Soroti district offices told a reporter. “Give us food or else, we shall go after our caring clients that are willing to help instead of starving to death.” Truck drivers bringing food and other vital supplies into the landlocked country have long been a major portion of sex worker clientele in Uganda. But since the coronavirus lockdown, the women have been banned from contact with truck drivers. The protesters said that despite being prohibited from contact with the truck drivers, they have not received food aid from Uganda’s government, and have been left with no means to feed themselves or their families. Uganda had reported 160 cases of coronavirus infection as of Thursday. Due to the country’s history of deadly epidemics, experts have credited Uganda with being better prepared to deal with coronavirus than many other African countries.  In April, Ugandan scientists announced that they had developed a low cost, quick coronavirus testing kit, that at a cost of just over $1 per test would allow for affordabilty of widespread testing in the country. But most of the positive tests in Uganda have come from truck drivers bringing shipments over the borders from Kenya and Tanzania. At least 114 have tested positive so far. In Botswana, a country in southern Africa, sex work is also illegal, and sex workers there, many of whom are migrants, have been excluded from government economic relief efforts, according to a Voice of America report.  “Sex workers are mostly affected because they are dependent on the movement of people. Under lockdown there are no people; nobody is allowed to go anywhere, so in turn they have lost an income,” Manda Pule, of the sex workers’ organization Sisonke told VOA.  But non-governmental organizations have initiated a program to provide food for about 800 suffering sex workers in the country.  “Our priority groups are sex workers, especially non-citizens, because under the Botswana social relief for COVID-19, only citizens are supported with food parcels,” Pule said. “So, we saw fit that we target sex workers who are HIV-positive, and secondly, those with children and those who are foreigners.” In Kenya — where the legality of sex work varies from region to region — sex workers have demanded that their job be classified as an “essential service,” which would allow them to continue work during the coronavirus lockdowns.  Photo By Derrick Ndahiro / Wikimedia Commons 

written by: Michael French

source: Desperate African Sex Workers Protest Coronavirus Restrictions | AVN