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Sex workers ask for violence, HIV-free work environment

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PAULINE ONGAJI

By PAULINE ONGAJI
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With a mix of bitterness and bits of detachment, Chani* recalls one of the most demeaning moments she has ever faced as a sex worker.

It involved a white man, who she thought presented a chance to make good money.

“I was introduced to him by one of my colleagues at our favourite hotspots,” narrates Chani, a sex worker in Ganze, Kilifi County.

The 34-year-old single mother of two was in for a nightmare. “As soon as we entered the room, he forced me to do some indecent sexual acts, threatening to hurt me if I did not obey,” she adds.

So for hours, she had to stand this, and what’s worse is that she ended up getting less money than what they had agreed on.

Coming from an extremely poor and broken family, Chani’s situation is a case of survival by any means.

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She couldn’t go past Standard Eight, considering that she had a child to take care of.

Her story mirrors that of Neema*. Even before she turned 18, she was already on the streets selling her body.

Now aged 28 and a single mother of two, she ran out of options when she was unable to proceed with her education, after sitting the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination.

So when she became pregnant with her first child, she was only 17 and with little education, no career and no income. These factors, she says, forced her to venture into prostitution.

Of course, like most sex workers, her safety — physical or health-related — is never guaranteed. She recounts a case that could have changed her life for the worst.

“As usual, I got a client who went ahead and booked a lodging. As I got on to work, things seemed usual, but after we were done, I realised that all this time, he was not wearing protection. I was distraught and the only thought that ran through my mind was that he might have infected me with HIV,” she explains.

For Jayne*, who is based in Mtwapa, she and her friends have had to get used to frequent physical and sexual attacks, not just from violent clients but also from rival sex workers.

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Jayne, who is in her mid-forties, remembers how at one time her friend was beaten up for getting a client from a rival group’s hotspot.

A 2015 study by GNP+ found that Kenyan sex workers face heightened risk of violence with little or no protection from law enforcement officers.

A 2016 report, “Aren’t We Also Women?”, presented to the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Geneva in October 2018 by the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (Keswa) and Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme said that 25 female sex workers were killed in Kenya.

Another study conducted by Keswa revealed that in 2017, about 100 sex workers died due to violence they faced while on the streets.

On the other hand, the National AIDS and STIs Control Programme (Nascop) says sex workers are the population at the highest risk of HIV infection as they account for more than 30 per cent of new annual HIV infections in Kenya.

Nascop estimates that 1.6 million people are living with HIV in Kenya, which represents a prevalence rate of 5.6 per cent.

But on the other hand, 29.3 per cent of sex workers are living with HIV, quite an astounding figure considering that a 2016 Nascop report indicated that Kenya had 136,675 sex workers.

These statistics suggested that one in every three sex workers is infected with HIV, making it the highest reported prevalence in any group in Kenya.

It is for this reason that Grace Kamau, the African Sex Workers Alliance coordinator, says there is a need to highlight the plight of female sex workers in an effort to reduce HIV infections.

“We can no longer continue to bury our heads in the sand while studies have shown that by decriminalising sexual work, we are able to reduce HIV infections by 46 per cent,” she said.

Dr Patricia Owira, the project manager at the International Centre for Reproductive Health, says the rights of female sex workers should be safeguarded.

“If we ensure the safety of this group of people, then somehow there’s a positive ripple effect to other players, like for instance, their clients,” she says, adding that it is time the plight of sex workers is highlighted.

*Names changed to protect the identity of the speakers.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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