Sex Work for Survival in Malawi

Read article on Sex work for survival in Malawi at mywage.org. Sex Work in Malawi is often all about survival. Read about Sex Work, HIV AIDS Activism, Gender Empowerment and more on Mywage Malawi.

By Madalitso Kateta and Sam Banda Jnr 

 

They walk the city streets at all hours of the night. Dressed in seductive attire to attract the attention of their clients, these young women do not leave the streets until they have found a client to spend the night with. 

One question that comes to mind when one sees these young women is: is it their only means of survival?  

An investigation by Mywage Malawi in the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe discovered that the dynamics of sex work include poverty, and even a form of peer pressure. 

Interviews conducted with the sex workers indicated that some of the young women turned to the world’s oldest profession because of peer pressure, while some explained that they were in the profession because of poverty. 

They claimed that after desperately failing to get a decent job they were living in miserable poverty, and they had to take to the streets for survival. 

In the capital city, Lilongwe, particularly in such areas as Likuni, the situation is such that young women, even below the age of 15, use prostitution as a way to earn an income.  

They do not sleep at all. Most have dropped out of school, and make use of drinking joints to earn their money. 

“If you are lucky enough you sleep with two to three men and earn about 6000 Malawi Kwacha,” said 18 year old Josephine (not her real name). 

Another women, Sophie (also not real name) said that she lost her parents when she was young, and decided to engage in sex work to help her sisters and brothers. 

“I have my younger sisters who I am looking after. Being the oldest I had no choice when we lost both parents, but went on to engage in prostitution,” she said.

One thing the interviewees all had in common was that they saw the profession as a means of survival.  

Malawi, just like many other countries in Africa, criminalises sex work. Without any legal machinery to regulate the profession, this group of young people is very vulnerable. And while HIV and AIDS continues to be a major health challenge in Malawi and other sub-Saharan countries, these young women need to be given special attention to protect themselves from the pandemic.

Malawian human rights activist Emmie Chanika says that there is a need to equip young girls with life skills so that they are economically empowered to avoid this sad development. 

Chanika says the number of girls using sex work as a profession is alarming, and it undermines Malawi government policies to protect women and children, especially the girl child. 

Miriam, (not her real name), who plys her trade at Manase, one of the outskirt locations in Blantyre, said that it was not that all the girls in the profession were happy to be in the trade. 

She said most of the young women were frustrated at failing to achieve their ambitions in life. 

Orphaned at the age of 12, Miriam, who now is 19, said she was forced into the profession because she had not finished school, and without any basic education she could not get a decent job. 

Like Miriam, Juliet, another sex worker from Mbayani in Blantyre, said she was orphaned at a very young age and without proper parental care she ended up in the profession. 

However, this is not the only face of prostitution in the city. Investigating the streets near one of the top hotels in the city revealed that some of the women engaging in the profession came from very good families. 

A few said they found themselves in the profession because of peer pressure. 

Gertrude (not her real name) said she started as a sex worker when she was in her second year at college. 

She said at college many girls competed to have the best sexy clothes and latest electronic gadgets. If these could not be provided by their parents, they got a “sugar daddy” to provide the gadgets and outfits. 

Linley Kamtengeni, a gender expert for the women-girls HIV and AIDS programme in the Ministry of Women and Child development, said there was a need to teach girls about their gender rights so that they could make good decisions in life.

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