Commercial Sex Workers in Kenyan slum face shortage of income

An interview* with three women living in a slum area in Pumwani, Majengo area, Nairobi county, Kenya revealed that Commercial Sex Workers (CSW) struggle to survive and gain income due to COVID-19 lockdown. Working primarily in the streets, from homes or from hotels the current situation left many with a serious shortage of income. With markets, bars and restaurants closed and a curfew between 7pm- 5am CSWs have lost clients. Many of them are young girls and single mothers who increasingly risk homelessness and fear for their ability to provide basic needs or next meal. The financial restrains mean that CSWs take increased risks to provide for themselves and family. More dangerous clients are accepted and many of CSWs move from a more protected environment out on the streets.

Alongside the lack of income and support, CSWs report reduced access to essential health care services, harm reduction services, STI testing and a lack in vital commodities such as condoms and lubricants. The lack in health care also exposes the CSWs to increased risks of HIV. The access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and other prevention services are reduced and for those living with HIV the treatment is interrupted. All sex workers called on the government to provide them with support and food.

The New York Times reports that the Kenyan government has taken increased measures to enforce social distancing by arresting and forcefully quarantining people for 14 days. On April 20, a total of 455 people had already been forcefully quarantined. Kenyan authorities are accused of mishandling the confinement measures by charging people for their stay in isolation unites and filling quarantine centers to capacity. Among those arrested and quarantined are CSWs, who forced out onto the streets run increased risk of being harassed by police. 24 CSWs along with six of their clients were arrested for violating “State directives” have been quarantined. Police Commander Josiah Dullo said that the “operation will intensify to ensure that everyone in the township follows government directives on preventing the spread of coronavirus.” As of April 24 there are 303 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths in Kenya.

*The informant’s name is kept confidential for safety but known to the author