- 1500 “pleasure consultants” registered with advocacy group
Botswana sex workers have adopted use of technology to engage with potential clients under COVID-19 conditions. Tosh Beka, who is a founding member of sex workers’ advocacy group SISONKE, told The Botswana Gazette in an interview this week that as businesses continuously review different methods of staying afloat, sex workers were not about to lose an opportunity of doing so too.
Beka said sex workers have started using ICT to get in touch with their clients and that this is improving their service delivery in the now normal. “At Sisonke Botswana, we have to use ICT through the emergency mobile rapid response system where sex workers are able to get information on how to protect themselves, especially in the context of COVID-19,” she said.
“They further use this system to report violations, set up appointments for their ARV refills, and to get linked to PrEP, TB and STI screenings and referrals to psychosocial support services, to name but a few.”
She pointed out that use of technology such as social media to engage with clients was prompted by time restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.
“We can confirm that sex workers, like people in other industries, have been affected by COVID-19 regulations that have made it difficult to make a living because the time they have to service their clients has been drastically reduced by the curfew that is in force between 8pm and 4am,” Beka explained.
She disclosed that the organization currently has 1 500 registered sex workers whom it assists with access to services such as HIV prevention, treatment and care, psychosocial support, as well as with legal services.
Beka said given the current harsh economic environment, there are indications that numbers of sex workers are growing and that use of technology at SISONKE will help them attract clients.
“We suspect that there may be an increase in the number of sex workers because of the economic challenges that young women aged between 18 and 35 years find themselves in” Beka said. According to her, the organization still gets reports of rights violations, mostly involving abuse of sex workers by partners.
“We call on government and development partners to continue supporting interventions geared at empowering key populations by removing policy and legal barriers that deny key populations to live dignified lives, lead healthy lifestyles and contribute to achievement of our national health outcomes as set out in national strategic plans,” she said.
Her organization will continue to look into various ways to assist sex workers, she added. Government should also open up in order to have a regular dialogue on issues of sex work. “Our position remains that sex work is arguably the oldest profession in Botswana while sex workers, as in other countries where sex work is legal, are pleasure consultants,” she said.
Sisonke Botswana Organization will support any measures that are beneficial to sex workers as long as those measures do not put them at risk of being violated.
Regarding sex work and its attendant controversy that it contributes to family breakdowns, Beka said people get divorced for a number of reasons that include infidelity and gender-based violence.
“It would be reckless and irresponsible for us or anyone to suggest that sex workers are the reason for family break-ups when we know that some of our cultural practices and norms such as lapa le thata ka nyatsi, monna ke selepe o a adimanwa, and monna ga botswe ko a tswang teng play a much greater role in unhealthy relationships that lead to family break-ups,” she asserted.
Beka said they will continue to promote the interests of sex workers, especially within the health sector.