FOR the 16 years that HIV-positive Esnath Sikweyala has been a se_x worker, she has seen it all, but is still at a loss over men’s demands to have unprotected se_x with her despite her status.
While she has managed to accept her status, her dream is to protect others which pushed her to embark on a mission to educate other se_x workers on the need to use co_ndoms.
Sikweyala’s main challenge is the desire by some of her “clients” to have unprotected se_x with her.
“I look well as you can see, to an extent that some men demand to have unprotected se_x with me. I end up showing them my pills, but some do not care about my medication and continue to demand unprotected se_x. So, sometimes I do not understand the logic behind these men’s thinking,” Sikweyala said.
“She said what keeps her going for now is the fact that she was taught on how to live positively, adding that it is her right to deny unprotected se_x.
Though still plying the trade, Sikweyala is now an educator in se_xual health issues and teaches her colleagues on the importance of using co_ndoms.
“I am a peer educator and I also distribute co_ndoms to some of my colleagues.
“My policy is no co_ndom, no se_x, and I do not risk by sacrificing myself having unprotected se_x for money, otherwise I will die early and leave my children suffering,” she said.
She further said that as part of the se_x education initiative, they had printed T-shirts to push the no co_ndom, no se_x agenda. She said in most cases she refuses having unprotected se_x. When I refuse unprotected se_x, I am trying to protect my client’s life and mine because I do not want to be re-infected. We were taught that if you continue having unprotected se_x, you end up getting re-infected,” she said.
Sikweyala’s se_x trade began after the death of her husband in the year 2000 as it was the only way she could take care of her family. The 42-year-old mother of three is not ashamed of her trade and opened up on how this has shaped her life, from ensuring her children attend school to earning a “descent” life.
Her first child is now married and lives in Cape Town, South Africa, while the second born is doing “O” Level.
She gave birth to her third child, who is now 13 years old, when she was already HIV-positive. The child is HIV-negative. Speaking to journalists who were part of a recently-conducted National Aids Council tour, Sikweyala, said her children have been very supportive in that they urge her to take her tablets.
“But it’s not all rosy,” she said.
She said some men deliberately break the co_ndoms, in order to have unprotected se_x with her, while some demand their money back after se_x or assault her for refusing unprotected se_x.
“We are at the risk of contracting se_xually-transmitted infections,” she said.
Her dream is to find an income-generating project in order for her to retire from the trade.
“Makore ari kuenda, unozoona kuti muse_x work handichakwani (I am getting old to remain in the prostitution trade as competition is now stiff with younger and fresher girls). se_x work is age-based. There are times when you get into a bar and you are forced to leave because of age,” Sikweyala said.
While she is a roving se_x worker, most of the time she will be in Kwekwe town where she believes that business is brisk owing to artisan miners in the area.
“Because this is a mining area, everyone comes here to look for money. There is a general belief that this area provides good business for se_x workers. There are several other se_x workers who come from very far-away places to ply their trade in Kwekwe,” she said.
She said the gold mines in Kwekwe are a pulling factor for se_x workers, adding that the miners were fuelling the trade in the area.
Based on the large number of se_x workers, Kwekwe has hospitals and clinics that handle treatment of those infected with STIs and those living with HIV and Aids. Commenting on the business side, Sikweyala said, the liquidity crunch currently affecting the country was not sparing them either. She said the economic reality reared its ugly face on the trade, as fewer men were willing to part with their money in exchange for se_x.
Although some can pay as much as $20 per night, Sikweyala said some also pay as little as $2.