Twilight women in Nairobi say they are God-fearing, want legitimacy

NAIROBI: Many of the estimated 50,000 twilight women working in Nairobi say they are God fearing and want Kenyans and especially the media to recognise theirs as legitimate business.

In the latest of a growing list of locally generated 'scientific advocacy studies' researchers from the University of Nairobi and DePaul University, US, say with direct funding the women are willing to get out of the trade.

Carried out together with a local non-governmental organization, HerStory, the study was published last week in the scientific journal Health Care for Women International.

Among its authors is well known Prof Elizabeth Ngugi of the University of Nairobi who for decades has been involved in HIV vaccine work with prostitutes in Majengo, Nairobi.

The team led by Prof Teresa Mastina of DePaul University interviewed the sex workers who are members of the HerStory group and most came out strongly proclaiming their faith in God and the Church.

In a 32-page document which reads more like a funding proposal to help rope along the media in legitimizing prostitution than a scientific discourse, the words God and Church appears about a dozen times.

"Most important to them is God, their parents; their mother; and knowing their HIV status and tell of their determination to be good mothers, women with a titles; and to be respected," says the new document.

But more important and of immediacy the women say they need money as the primary solution to their needs. "Sex workers voiced that money to start a business would make it possible for them to exit sex work, which would automatically improve their and their children's quality of life."

Members of HerStory who have exited sex work, the paper says also voiced that capital would allow them to increase the size of their business thereby resulting in more income.

HerStory says currently it has 1,450 active members: 806 women and 644 girls with 75 per cent of them having exited sex work to join in small business. Now the report indicates the group is seeking for more external funding to get more members and wean them out of sex work.

However this seems to contradict the thinking in the ongoing 35-year- long HIV vaccine study among Majengo prostitutes which has been blamed of failing to substantially help this women get out of sex trade.

Responding to these criticisms the Majengo study groups which mainly consists Canadians and the University of Nairobi says it has done much to help the women but sex trade in Nairobi has much higher returns than offered alternatives.

For example, each sex worker operating at three hotspots around Luthuli Avenue- River Road junction in Nairobi contribute about Sh1,000 daily to their 'chamas' and can get loans of up to Sh300,000 possibly beating any alternative employment open to their qualifications. They have been known to have looked down with scorn the Kazi Kwa Vijana initiative which offered money for manual work.

Despite the parallel opinions last year the government launched a Sh 1.7 trillion HIV eradication programme which suggests cash handouts to prostitutes to keep them out of the streets and hence reduce infections.

The current study, primarily wants to co-opt the media to help HerStory get more external funding as well as legitimize prostitution in the eyes of the Kenyan community.

"Adding media advocacy to HerStory's existing operating strategy will aid its efforts to increase the number of members it serves and enhancing its ability to secure external funding," says the document.

So next, the 'research' says is to get senior media managers to a round table meeting to solicit more balanced coverage of sex work-related issues. The NGO will also lobby policy makers to champion laws that are less discriminative to prostitutes.

Pressure to have Kenya and other African countries to legalise prostitution, homosexuality and drug injecting by the West peaked last year at the annual global Aids conference in Melbourne, Australia.

In a rare ultimatum issued at a UN organised conference Kenya and other countries where this practices are criminal were told to remove limitation or keep their begging bowls to themselves.

In a keynote speech witnessed by UNAids Executive Director Michael Sidibe, retired Australian high court judge Michael Kirby said patience was wearing thin among Western countries which donated roughly half of the $19 billion in funds to fight Aids in developing economies in the previous year.

"They cannot expect taxpayers in other countries to shell out, indefinitely, huge funds for anti-retroviral drugs if they simply refuse to reform their own laws and policies to help their own citizens," he had said.