City sex workers feel the heat of anti-government demonstrations

Sex workers along Duruma Road in Nairobi. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Hundreds of women who earn a living through sex have claimed that the three days’ anti-government protests that ended on Friday left them broke and hungry.

The worst day was on July 19 when transport in most parts of the country was paralysed as police engaged protesters in running battles.

And now the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) has stated that about 100,000 women who depend on the trade in Nairobi alone were forced to stay at home during the protests.

"All the sex workers in the country but according to a recent report, Nairobi has about 100,000 women who survive on the business," the group's National coordinator Felister Abdalla said.

"Like anyone who was affected by the demonstrations, our clients were indoors, the women avoided their joints equally fearing being hurt like any other people in business," she added.

 The coordinator explained that the losses in the three days that the activities were slowed down run into millions.

 "The losses run into millions because every woman in the business makes money according to how they bargain with clients and locations," she stated.

 The organisation however does not chip in during such dry days like offering lending services for the ladies.

 Instead, Abdalla says their main role includes empowering sex workers on how to access legal services, friendly health services and economic empowerment among other services.

 "On the other hand, those who are pro-protests claim that they are pushing for the cost of living to be lowered. Whenever the country is not stable everyone including Mama mbogas are affected, not sex workers alone," she noted.

 The bar hostess empowerment and support proramme (BHEPS) which also supports the women in sex business says it has received several of their members who were allegedly assaulted during demonstrations.

 BHEPS advocacy manager Sylvia Okoth argues during such times opportunists emerge and take advantage of the sex workers.

 “While such goons take advantage of people in other trades, sex workers were hugely affected, on Wednesday for instance, some of our girls were harassed by cops,” she claimed.

 “It is sad that some cops still harass the girls on streets while they are our clients when not in uniform,” the manager added

 She regretted that some girls are being arrested by outdated laws like loitering with intent to commit prostitution used to charge them.

 “It is sad that many innocent girls are rounded up and prosecuted yet some charges like that are hard to prove,” she added.

 The manager says, many girls in the business make money from Wednesday's all the way to the weekend.

 Sometime in 2022, President Ruto (then Deputy President) pledged to support a group of sex workers in Mtito Andei town with Sh1 million so that the beneficiaries can start “more decent” jobs.

 Ruto made the promise, which was honoured weeks later after a youthful woman introduced herself as a sex worker in the town.

 She sought his intervention, citing economic hardship wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.