The continued movement restrictions that begun last year following the outbreak of Coronavirus has reportedly left the sex work industry lying flat on its back.
With curfew starting in the early evening until morning, sex buyers are said to be thin on the ground.
“It is very hard my sister. We are only lucky to get calls from old clients but those calls are rare because we also work from home and they do not want to risk being seen getting in and out of our rooms especially during the day,” explains a 35-year-old lady of Sanyedi ward, who demanded anonymity.
Having been in the trade for nearly a decade, she tells The Voice the last year has been the hardest in terms of lack of customers.
The long-legged lady reveals married men pay better but with the current curfew starting at 8pm and running until 4am, it is difficult for such clients to ‘sneak in and out for a quickie’.
“We are now competing for crumbs and we end up discounting. For instance, I normally charge P100 for a single round but sometimes I settle for P50 or even P20 because at the end of the month I still have to pay rent and send money back home to my children.”
Although she also earns an income from plaiting hair, she admits she prefers sex work as ‘there’s less competition’ and it pays better.
The lady plies her trade in Sanyedi ward down a street known as Harare, a well-known hot spot for sex work.
Before the pandemic, business in the area was ‘booming’.
Now, however, it has trickled to a virtual standstill.
“Clients hardly come by these days, but some do call us to spend a night at their house, of course at an extra fee,” she added.
A fellow sex-worker, a pretty 29-year-old notes the ban on alcohol sales has also affected the industry.
“Some men feel the need for a quick fix after drinking and that is where we cash in, so the alcohol ban is killing us. Eish! it is going to be a long year this one,” she fears gloomily.
Getting men to comment on this matter proved difficult.
However, never short of a word or two on sex work, one of the politicians in Maun, Washington Taylor, believes the movement restriction has actually made men even more desperate for sex as their choice of partners are limited.
“If you realise it, there have been many weddings since these lockdowns and curfews. They want to bring their women closer to them. My view is that this thing is working at the advantage of women than men,” opined Taylor, who advocates for legalizing prostitution and the rights of sex workers.
Contradicting the women we spoke to, Taylor said prices for sex have actually gone up.
“Before Covid-19 one could pay P50 to get one but these days they charge P100. Again, there is no choice you just pay to get it even from an ugly woman, so those ugly ones who struggled to get customers in the past are now back in business!”
Meanwhile, Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) has conducted a mapping exercise in some SADC countries, Botswana included, to find the impact of Covid-19 on sex workers.
This non-profit making organisation discovered that indeed many sex workers across the region have been put out of business by movement restrictions necessitated by Covid-19. Some have even been subjected to violence.
Sex workers often stay in shared rented accommodation and crowded places. SALC explains this is because they look out for each other while they do their job.
However, Covid-19 restrictions promotes social distancing and this has caused the police to target them.
“In Zambia, a sex worker organisation reported that the police unleashed dogs on sex workers, leaving some brutally wounded.”
SALC further noted that when businesses were temporarily closed during the lockdown, SADC governments, such as Botswana and South Africa, adopted policies to subsidize salaries, but excluded sex workers from these benefits.
“In some instances, sex worker-led organisations were deliberately excluded from relief despite the availability of government funding for vulnerable populations. As Covid-19 regulations eased and businesses reopened, sex workers’ places of operation: the streets, bars, and clubs; remained closed. This extended sex workers’ suffering and that of their families. When the rules of operation changed, it did not include sex workers.”