30 April 2012

Rwanda: Sex Workers Vow to Quit Streets, Eye Decent Jobs

Huye — A number of commercial sex workers in Huye district have said they will abandon the trade if they are helped to engage in legal income generating activities.

They made the pledge during a five-day training workshop that ended on Friday.

The training, which was organised by the Population Service International (PSI), focused on reproductive health, Family Planning, HIV/AIDS prevention, Voluntary Testing and Counselling (VTC), among others.

About a 100 commercial sex workers took part in the training.

Speaking to The New Times, a number of them said they are ashamed with illicit activity, vowing to quit the job if they found any other income generating activity.

One of them, who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity, claimed poverty is the main cause of prostitution.

"I was living a complicated life. I hardly found money to survive, and decided to get into this job instead of dying of hunger", she said. "I had no other choice".

"But if I can find any other activity which can help me to survive, I will quit the streets immediately".

The sex workers said they are getting nothing out of prostitution, a part from being looked down upon by the society.

"With the money we earn, we can never develop ourselves. It is just for food and clothes, but one cannot progress. I wish to quit prostitution for something else, but I need support", said another sex worker, who also requested anonymity.

Monique Uwase, a district official in-charge of the fight against HIV/AIDS, promised advocacy to those wishing to abandon commercial sex for other respectable activities.

She urged them to form cooperatives through which any assistance can be given to them.

"Before expecting any support you should group yourselves together and start working. Then come to us and we shall help you," Uwase promised.

Alexis Mukizwa Mahe, a coordinator of the Huye Youth Friendly Centre, noted that the centre provides free short courses in a number of fields, including tailoring and hair dressing, urging the sex workers to register for the courses.

"Changing one's behaviours and habits is not an easy step, but you must be determined to achieve it in your own interest. Prostitution will lead you nowhere, so you need to look for other ways of developing".

Marie Chantal Uwingabire, a Health Educator with PSI-Rwanda, urged the sex workers always avoid unprotected sex so as to evade contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD).

A study, released last year by the US-based John Hopkins School of Public Health, established that commercial sex workers in sub-Saharan Africa have one of the highest rates of HIV infections in the world.

The study, funded by the World Bank and the United Nations, covered a period between January 1, 2007 and June 25, 2011 and sampled about 100,000 prostitutes from 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Middle East.

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