MASERU - A majority of people do not like prostitution, they argue that commercial sex is yet another controversial sexual behavior. They believe that prostitution is immoral because it involves sex for money. They consider prostitution as a sign of moral decadence in society.
Some people also worry that the prevalence of prostitution in the country could be one reason for the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/Aids. Lesotho stands out as the highest in the world with 25 percent HIV/Aids prevalence.
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day last Wednesday on March 8, some people in Lesotho expressed negative views about prostitution, saying it is degrading to women and provides a society in which women are robbed, beaten and raped. However, they also believe that laws against prostitution do more harm than good in a society where the world’s oldest profession has turned out to be a source of survival for most women who are breadwinners.
For Mosa* (not her real name), a 33 year-old Mosotho woman from Sea Point, prostitution means bread on the table for her family. She lives with her children in a single room that she rents for M180 per month. Her oldest daughter is 10 years-old and she is left with the responsibility to look after her seven and five year-old siblings when their mother goes to ‘work’ at night. What the mother does for a living is well hidden from the three siblings, all they know is that their mother works at night.
On a cold dark and rainy night, Mosa* joins other ladies who are loitering the pavement of Kingsway Road in Maseru. The sound of cars whizzing past, with some hooting as a sign of acknowledgement for a lovely pair of sensual legs showing underneath a mini-dress, seems to give them hope that there might be bread for their children tomorrow.
One could see that they were nervous as a reporter from the Informative approaches them. One of them asks the reporter to identify herself fearing she might be an undercover cop. “You gave me a huge fright!” She exclaims, after checking the journalist’s credentials.
Throughout the interview, Mosa* is uncomfortable to reveal her real name but was willing to talk about her life as a commercial sex worker. But first she wants to know what’s in it for her. The reporter told Mosa she simply wants to help them raise their concerns and be heard.
Mosa* reveals how it is tough being a commercial sex worker in Lesotho. All they ask, she says, is for people to respect and support their business. She does not like her job anymore, but this is the only way she can support her children. She discloses that her former husband had left her and the children for another woman. She had tried with no luck to search for employment but the only option left for her was to start having sex for money.
“It’s usually not plain sailing for the first timers, so I had to go through some beatings and torture before I could fit in the game.”
The beautiful, dark-in-complexion lady admits she has put her life at great risk because they have sex with different men and sometimes, without protection. She says some of their customers trick them into having unprotected sex for a better price.
Among problems faced by women of Mosa’s kind are the frosty winter and rainy nights when customers do not pitch. She pleaded with the community to stop judging them because they are trying to make an honest living out of what they do.
On the contrary Mampho*, a 23 year-old from Maputsoe admits that she ended on the streets after she had become a menace to her parents. When she moved to Maseru she had lied to her parents that she had found permanent employment at one of the factories in Maseru. To make up for that she had to join the ‘red light district’.
She elaborates that commercial sex work can be quite scary and life-threatening. “It takes courage and bravery to be on the streets of Maseru late at night and doing what we do,” she adds.
Although prostitution is still illegal in Lesotho, she says that people who are poverty-stricken turn to a life of crime and violence, but as ladies of the night they have exempted themselves from those acts and are using their bodies to fight poverty. She pledged with the government to care for them through provision of health services and letting them do their work freely.
She too, emphasizes that sex workers need to be treated with respect because they are real workers and their business contributes to the country’s economy as they use the money earned to pay rent and buy material needs.
Asked how much they make per night, Mampho* expresses that weather conditions and period of the month, whether it is mid or month-end, could be determining factors on their takings. According to her the price is determined by whether or not, the customers prefers protected or unprotected sex.
On the contrary David*, a 39 year-old potential customer says he does not really need to buy sex because he is married. He, however, reveals that he does buy sex after having two or three beers with friends, especially at night. He admits that the urge to have sex with a prostitute happens only when he is drunk. He adds that sleeping with multiple partners is not a big deal because polygamy is an acceptable practice and “after all, I always use a condom.”
Adolescent Health Manager at the Ministry of Health (MoH) ‘Mathato Nkuoetsane, says government was aware of the plight of commercial sex workers. The ministry has partnered with some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assist the women since they are considered vulnerable.
Nkuetsane points out that it is within the ministry’s mandate to ensure every citizen’s good health despite what they do for a living. She further says the ministry has organized for the commercial sex workers to receive health services at night because they are usually tired during the day since they work at night.
She also emphasizes that sex workers are not only those who work at night on the street but everyone who has sex in exchange for a reward.
However, she notes that all sex workers’ lives were at risk because they use drugs to help them stay active and have courage to market their services anywhere no matter how dangerous. Furthermore, she says, the ministry has trained nurses to deal particularly with sex workers. In addition to that, she says, they have peer educators among sex workers, who are trained to educate others about STIs and where and how to get treatment.
However, she says, there were some challenges with some women who stigmatizes themselves by staying away from clinics, so the ministry has tried to overcome this problem by working with the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA).
LPPA Public Relations Officer Tlali Matela says the organisation, with support from the Global Fund Coordinating unit (GFCU), provides sexual and reproductive health services to commercial sex workers in Maseru from 18:00 hrs to midnight from Mondays to Wednesdays.
“The commercial sex workers visit LPPA to access the services from the mobile clinic. GFCU has supported the LPPA with a professional nurse, a professional counsellor, a driver and a mobile clinic for the purpose,” he says.
According to Matela, the response to the programme has been quite good because the workers do show up at the clinic where they are provided with condoms and family planning services as well as and HIV testing. The exercise, he says, has helped in creating good relations between health staff and the commercial sex workers.