Sex workers in Zimbabwe have responded to the challenges of criminalisation and healthcare access, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, by changing their practices to include illegal ‘sex parties’.
Organisations representing and working with sex workers have reported that most sex workers are struggling to cope with the effects of pandemic on their work.
Nyanga Youth Initiative coordinator Saul Duri told Pink Advocate that young women in his area who had moved into sex work due to the economic meltdown are now fighting mental health issues from further financial stress.
“We had many young women who had found sex work as a way to beat the economic turmoil currently prevailing in the country, but because of the COVID-19 lockdown and curfew, they have been plunged into abject poverty,” said Duri.
“The stress has led to some of them to abuse drugs, which is now one of the concerns that we think as an organisation [the] government should address as a matter of urgency.”
He said that the recent suicide deaths of two workers had been seen unsympathetically by the community due to sex work stigma.
“Our community believes it was self-inflicting because sex work is abhorred,” Duri said.
Zimbabwe’s government National Aids Council does not specifically work with sex workers.
Sex worker advocacy group The Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Research Zimbabwe aims to ensure sex workers receive comprehensive healthcare throughout the country and supplies them with HIV self-testing kits and internal condoms.
Government curfews and the prolonged closures of bars and nightclubs have affected sex workers who usually work in these places.
“The [10 pm] curfew has meant that we no longer have much time to solicit for clients, so it’s no longer viable,” said one anonymous worker.
Some sex workers have adapted to the circumstances by organising underground sex parties.
To avoid police attention, the parties are planned online, with participants asked to pay a fee before being receiving the details of the venue and services available.
“We use Facebook and WhatsApp mostly to organise the sex parties,” said a worker known as Miss P.
“The sex parties are now a hit because men are able to enjoy sex orgies like threesomes or group sex, which are adventurous in a conservative country like ours.”
However, the sex parties have brought their own challenges.
“While sex parties are lucrative, they are often marred by physical violence,” said Miss P.
“Often, there will be beer binges, so some men when drunk become a nuisance, and this degenerates into fist fights.”
Police recently raided a sex party involving six men and women in the Harare suburb of Kuwadzana.