Kenya: List Us as Essential Services, Sex Workers Say

Commercial sex workers in Mombasa have come out to urge the county government to include them in the group of essential service providers, noting that life has become unbearable due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They say their trade has been greatly affected by Covid-19 as most of their clients can no longer leave their homes in the evening, which is their peak work period unlike other businesses.

"Since the scourge started, we have incurred losses. The closure of bars, restaurants and clubs as a result of the curfew has rendered 90 per cent of sex workers jobless. These were the places where we could get our daily bread," said High Voice Africa chairlady Maryline Laini.

She said that some of them have been forced to charge as low as Sh20 in order to make ends meet.

Before the pandemic, they charged between Sh50 and Sh10,000 depending on the clientele, location, age and other factors.

Ms Laini is now calling on the county and national governments to have commercial sex workers included among those who will benefit from relief supplies.

"Life is tough, we are being stigmatised...Some of us are HIV positive, we need to eat for the treatment or the drugs we are using to benefit our bodies," Ms Laini explained.

Ms Betty Kitili, a paralegal from Changamwe, also noted that the sex workers now have very limited time to work.

"There is no business. We are noticing an increase in number of domestic violence cases and we are hurting. Stress levels in most households are unbearable and we were instrumental in cooling them down but since coronavirus, we have lost clients," Ms Kitili said.

They reckon that most of their clients are now stuck at home.

"We don't have sufficient time with the few that we are lucky to get during the day and that results in low pay."

With most hotels closed for business and few tourists around, the sex workers say they are more likely to suffer from hunger than die from coronavirus complications.

"We all have bills to pay, rent among many other financial obligations, how will we survive?" Ms Kitili wondered.

Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties have been locked down effective 7 pm, April 8 after President Uhuru Kenyatta called for cessation of movement in and out of the three devolved units for a period of 21 days.

This after the regions recorded a spike in Covid-19 cases, with the move expected to halt community infections.

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