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Legalise commercial sex work?

Increased poverty levels in Zimbabwe have forced commercial sex workers to engage in risky behaviours such as engaging in unprotected sex with clients who offer an extra amount of money for unprotected sex than using condoms.
Commercial sex workers at Gokwe Centre in the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe pointed out that they dance to the tune of those who pay for services and as such they find it difficult to negotiate issue of using condoms.
"At times some men can be violent if issues of using condoms are discussed and this has forced us to comply more with the dictates of clients," said Betty (name changed).
This risky behaviour has contributed towards the spread of HIV and AIDS in the country. The spread of HIV and AIDS have fuelled stigmatisation against commercial sex workers as they are viewed as the causes of the spread of the virus.
Sex work is illegal in Zimbabwe, as it is in many countries in Africa and other continents. However, for many sex workers in Zimbabwe one of the main problems are minor pieces of legislation that are manipulated by the police and leads to many rights violations that go unnoticed, unreported and undocumented.
Commercial sex workers have pointed out that their situation would change if legislation could be put in place to legalise their work. Currently there is no law that can protect commercial sex workers and police often go around arresting the commercial sex workers. This has even worsened the situation as commercial sex workers even fail to report cases of sexual abuse by clients for fear of being arrested.
Although most commercial sex workers said they would support any legislation that may protect them, they had no capacity and knowledge to lobby for such legislation. They also said the society has no respect for them and no one would ever listen to them if they were to lobby for legislative changes. They commercial sex workers refuted perceptions that their work is only done by empty headed, pleasure seeking animals, saying that legalising their work would contribute immensely towards the fight against HIV and AIDS.
The Sexual Rights Centre is working closely with commercial sex workers in Gokwe and plans to implement programmes aimed at empowering them with information on their sexual rights as a marginalised group.

By Gertrude Pswarayi

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