Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sex Workers in Malawi

Hi everyone,It has been a few days since I’ve had computer/internet access, (hence the date of the blog) and I have a lot to tell you. On Wednesday the delegates and I traveled to meet with a group called the Family Planning Association of Malawi. This organization is currently working to promote safety among Malawi ’s increasing population of women sex workers. Sex work is becoming a trend in Malawi, and it is especially affecting young women. FPAM, is helping to supply women with counseling, free contraception, motivating talks, and a feeling of empowerment. During our meeting with FPAM, we met about twenty women who are all employed as sex workers. Although prostitution is illegal in Malawi these women will congregate at particular night clubs and bars and sell their bodies in order to survive. One delegate in our group coined their work as “survival sex”. These women earn less than $1 per day and every day they are risking their lives for this small income. One woman from the group explained that she became involved in sex work because it was the only way she could make money, and she was using the income to help her brothers and sisters gain an education. Another woman named Martha told us that she was in an abusive relationship. She wanted to leave her husband but she knew she would be unable to support herself. Martha began selling her body so that she could care for her children and leave her abusive husband. These women did not choose this kind of work; they need to do this work in order to survive, in order to support their families, in order to have a chance at making a better life for themselves.
Our delegation was especially concerned with the safety of the women. These women risk their health and their dignity. Many male customers refuse to wear a condom. Each day 14,000 people are newly infected with HIV, and half of new infections are women. In addition, since this practice is illegal, many women have been arrested and are forced to have sexual relations with the police officer in order to be released.
This group of sex workers ranged in age, the youngest being 17 years old. Many of them had begun the work when they were 14 or 15 years old. Almost all of the women had children of their own. They told our delegation that although the money they made was a small amount, it was helping them, and for this reason they would continue this work.
Initially I was unsure of what to expect from this site visit. When I got out of the bus I was surrounded by the women, who were singing and dancing, they gave every delegate a friendly hug. I knew about prostitution, and I am aware that it happens in the US, but I was still outraged by this practice. I can’t fathom having to sell my body to strangers in order to survive. My heart broke for these young women, many of which where my age. The term “survival sex” is embedded in my brain now, and I am terrified for these women.
On a more optimistic note, tomorrow I am visiting the Joyce Banda Orphanage. Hopefully this site visit will be slightly more uplifting.

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