Kenya: Sex Workers Improvise Trade to Beat Pandemic

(file photo).

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on almost every sector of the economy. Commercial sex workers too, have been pushed to the wall.

While many have opted out and sunk into depression leading to substance abuse, others have found other means to navigate the world's oldest trade.

In Tana River County, the commercial sex workers have incorporated housekeeping in their business. They now operate from houses rather than the streets.

No doubt it is paying, they tell nation.africa.

"The game has changed. We now treat our customers as boyfriends; the business is now more sensual than physical," says Anne Syokau, adding that it offers better pay.

Apart from the core business, they now also wash clothes, cook and offer massage services in clients' houses.

"Most of our clients are bachelors, public servants, people coming in town for business and some married men in need of our services," she reveals.

Normal routine

The entire package costs a minimum of Sh2,000, a fortune that most of the sex workers appreciate, compared to the normal routine where they earned much less.

If a client is pleased, they pay more. In some circumstances, the customers demand exclusive relationships.

"It's unlike previously when we hired rooms or offered services in the cold or dingy corner. Sometimes we would stay in the cold without business the whole night and go home with nothing," says Milcah Achieng'.

The new trend has secured the commercial sex workers more security. They are now safe from the police who took advantage of their trade and reaped where they did not sow.

Their budgets at home have also reduced because the client provides food and a comfortable bed.

"In a week, I make at least Sh10,000. However, when you establish a good relationship with clients, you can make that in less than a week," Ms Achieng' says.

Some of the women now consider quitting the trade and getting into serious relationships with their clients. They have even identified men they can submit to.

Cicily Maingi contemplates getting married by the end of this year.

Bow out

"He has proposed twice, he wants me to be his second wife since his first wife has no child. His wife has welcomed the idea but his mother disapproves, so I'm still thinking," says the 24-year-old.

The two will be traveling upcountry anytime this month to discuss the issue with the man's parents. Ms Maingi may eventually bow out of the trade.

Some of the men are happy with the new trend, finding it more attractive and cheaper.

John Emase says he saves a lot of money when he takes home a lady who cooks for him and cleans his house as part of the deal.

"All I need to do is buy the food and soap for cleaning the clothes and house. It saves me more than Sh1,500 a week," he tells nation.africa.

In his view, commercial sex workers should abandon the streets and opt for private engagements because it saves them and their clients from public shame.

Human rights activist Jemimah Wangari, however, says the new trend is dangerous and could ruin marriages.

"Some of these women are considering getting married to the married men in secret; they will have control over the man since they are in business and not a commitment," she says.

Ms Wangari notes that as a result, the men are likely to abandon their homes and family responsibilities for the commercial sex workers.

With the new trend in the commercial sex industry, a lot is set to change as the pandemic continues to shape daily living.

The streets are fast getting deserted and the trade that was characterised by twilight ladies in skimpy dresses is redefining itself.

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