Sex workers across the world have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that go with it
The Botswana sex worker hasn’t been spared either. Sex work in Botswana remains illegal but organizations like Sisonke continue advocating for this marginalized group.
Founder and director of Sisonke Botswana; Tosh Beka, says some of the major issues faced by sex workers (SW) in Botswana under COVID 19 are that sex workers are now at the risk of contracting corona virus from truck drivers as they remain one of their biggest clients.
Since the lifting of the lockdown they have seen an increase in imported cases from truck drivers delivering essential goods.
“Our government and civil societies have submitted a Global Funds proposal that will deal with this issue through the engagement of sex workers as contact tracers and disseminate information to truck drivers,” she noted.
She said another challenge was faced by those that are HIV positive.
“Sex worker’s movements were extremely limited and they were unable to access treatment facilities for their monthly refills. This has grossly affected them and mostly non-citizen sex workers who are documented and non-documented.” She noted.
Beka says there was a reduction in HIV prevention activities due to the COVID-19 lockdown which include, information about self-testing, consistent and correct condom use, alcohol and drug abuse, GBV, active community HIV testing and recruitment and enrolment into PrEP.
The Sisonke founder says SWs continue to face stigma and discrimination due to people’s perceptions surrounding SW.
“People are of the view that SWs are responsible for the spread of the corona virus because of the nature of their job and thus still face violations from communities. Furthermore, Gender Based Violence GBV active case finding has been adversely affected by the lockdown because paralegals are not essential services and thus cannot move around to find cases of GBV and refer them accordingly.” She said.
She added that ladies have experienced GBV though minimal.
“We recorded less than 10 GBV cases. Some SWs and 2 migrants experienced shortages of ARV because we did not have their type of drugs available, so they were put on other similar regimes. Also lack of income affected them badly leaving them with no money for food, toiletries etc.” She stated.
She however noted that the good thing about working from home has actually improved their safety, as clients are less likely to abuse them.
Beka said some of their recommendations are that Support interventions and projects such as the Hands Off 2, that is aimed at reducing violence against sex workers both at community and national level are accelerated. Improved access to justice for violated sex workers through their partnership with BONELA by providing free legal services to all sex workers.
Provide nutritional support to sex workers who have not benefitted from the government social support relief program under COVID 19 guidelines. Speak against stigma and discrimination of Sex workers support and ending violence against them.
She says through BONELA’s facilitation they have been able to secure support from Childline Botswana to assess and assist foreign SWs with children and give them food packages during lockdown. She noted that so far, 21 families have been assessed, 19 approved and 19 assisted in Gaborone and are yet to asses 1 last case in Tlokweng.
“We are still discussing how we will go about assisting other sites. But it looks like, they may not be able to do it looking at the logistics.” She noted.
Sisonke vouches that they will be giving food hampers to both HIV positive and HIV negative migrant sex workers, in all the districts that they work from.
“We are giving to both because we want to prevent stigma around sex workers themselves, if we give only positives they will be stigma around that from sex workers who are negative.