Sex workers: "We're here to stay"
Sex workers, especially Zimbabweans in Botswana, have told a workshop that the government should legalise their profession and allow them access to life-saving anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs because "we are here to stay".
They made the plea at the workshop held at the Anglican Church in Gaborone, where they were taught about different types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They were also encouraged to seek medical attention if they develop signs of sexually transmitted diseases as some STIs could lead to incurable ailments. When commenting, foreigner sex workers complained that they are refused medical assistance in local clinics. They said that nurses tell them to go to their countries for medical treatment. One of them said, "It is not wise for authorities to deny us medical attention. We are willing to pay for medical services. If we don't get the medical attention we need, we are likely to infect many Batswana as we are not going anywhere; we are here to stay."
Everyone in the tense room concurred that "she is right" (on free distribution of ARVs) in a country with one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world. Other foreigner sex workers complained that Block 9 clinic is the worst as the nurses there tell patients that they do not want to attend to Zimbabweans. Sex workers explained that they are very vulnerable and at a high risk of being infected and transmit the STIs to their "customers" who are mostly ordinary people with families. As a result, they want the government to recognise them and legalise their profession so that they can be protected. The women complained that they are very vulnerable and are being abused and discriminated against yet the law does not protect them. They added that they are vulnerable to human traffickers who promise them jobs only to later find out that they have been sold as sex objects.
The workshop was organised under the aegis of the Botswana Council of Churches (BCC), which works hand in hand with the Most At Risk Population (MARPS) group to give support and educate sex workers but not to force them to abandon sex work.
" There are nine peer educators who have been employed by the MARPS. These peer educators are the former sex workers and some of them are still doing their job. They are hired, as they are people who can identify with these sex-minority people. Peer educators also teach sex workers about using various preventive measures to curb the HIV and AIDS spread.
The church teaches people to work together and educates sex workers on the risks they are likely to encounter due to their work.