Kenya: Gender-Based Violence Against Sex Workers and Its Implications On HIV and Aids

Published: November 26, 2014

Lydia Matata
Original Article:

This is the second part of our series to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

Like at well-loved politician’s funeral, over a hundred people showed up to Jane’s* burial. The consensus among them was that, before she was murdered in September this year, Jane was ‘mtu wa watu’. A people person who would dig into her purse for that last shilling if a friend needed it. .The bulk of her resources went into giving her two children the life she did not have growing up. They went to a good school in Kayole, were accustomed to chips and sausage treats and an abundance of toys.

She was considered a great friend and mother, yet the police have barely made any progress in the investigations of her death. Perhaps because as a sex worker, Jane does not fit the model of a ‘good’ and ‘innocent’ victim.

According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) female, male and transgender sex workers across the globe face violence. This is due to stigma because, in most cases like in Kenya, sex work is criminalised; or due to discrimination based on gender, race, HIV status, drug use and other factors. The WHO says violence against sex workers is associated with inconsistent or lack of condom use, and with increased risk of STI and HIV infection. Violence is also preventing sex workers from accessing HIV information and services.

Peninah Mwangi director of Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP), an organisation that fights for sex workers rights, tells the story of two Nairobi city council trucks; truck one collects Sh1000 while truck two collects Sh500. Like a church’s collection plate, the trucks cruise around the Nairobi CBD looking for hawkers, the homeless and anyone who looks remotely like a person who sells sex. Peninah says city council officers and the police have built a lucrative business of extortion based on a city by-law that prohibits loitering with the intent of prostitution.

"BHESP is trying to prevent these kinds of illegal arrests. The authorities who arrest the sex workers do not know much about these laws. What they know is that if they arrest the sex worker she will pay the bribe. This is a woman who has probably left small children at home and cannot afford to spend two or three days in prison. If the city council officers find 200 sex workers in a similar dilemma, for Sh500 or Sh1000 each, they have made a killing in a very short time" she explains.

Carol* who has been a sex worker for eight years says the perils of not paying the bribe is violence.

"If you do not want to be arrested you must part with money. And if you do not do that they will arrest you. In the cells they will either beat you up or rape you and most times without using protection. This kind of violence is a welcoming note to every girl in the streets. She must be raped by a police or city council officer," she says.

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