My income supports nine people


I grew up in this same family house that we still live in today. Our parents passed away from cholera when I was about 14 years old and I dropped out of school to look after my sister and brother. This is how my story started. We didn’t have food and I was the oldest so I felt very responsible for my siblings. I did lots of different kinds of work: mechanics stuff, house-keeping… neighbours would try to help me find bits of work.

She said I was too young
I used to do house-keeping for a neighbour and I would overhear them talking about how good life was, how they would go to dances and that kind of thing. I once found a lot of cash under her pillow when I was doing the cleaning and I was so curious about where she got this money from. I eventually figured it out. Then the one day I was just straight with her: I asked her to please help me do what she does. I was desperate. She refused because she said I was too young. I was 16 but I didn’t give up. I knew what time she left in the evening to go to Luso, where she would do this work, and I followed her there. I got on the same bus she got onto, hiding myself. When I got to Luso, I had no idea what to do. A man approached me and left without anything happening. I didn’t know what to say! On my second day, an older woman approached me. She was a sex worker. She said she and the other women in her group had been watching me and they decided I was completely inexperienced. Sex workers move in groups to support and protect eachother. This group took me in because I was young and they wanted to help me. They explained to me how it all works.

At that time, I was being criticized by my community a lot and I was fighting back. My neighbours were cruel. I had my first child and the father was a boyfriend but they went and told him that this was not his child. They told him that I got him from 24 Avenue which is a place full of bars, a place where we work, that he looked Chinese. The father denied it was his child. Years later, those same neighbours were ashamed because now they can see this is his child.

I remember him running outside our house into the night carrying my medication and showing it to our neighbours saying, ‘Look at this woman’.

He treated me like I was nothing
I fell in love five years ago with a man. I gave up sex work and made my life perfect and ready to have children with him. Our love was beautiful but then the neighbours told him that I had been a sex worker. We had our twins and it was during that time that I discovered I was HIV positive. We discussed it, a lot, and even bought land in a different neighbourhood to get away from them. I had always dreamed of having my own house with a husband but he could never get over everything I had told him. We started fighting all the time. He treated me like I was nothing. I remember him running outside our house into the night carrying my medication and showing it to our neighbours saying, “Look at this woman”. I couldn’t take it anymore and I left him and returned to the family home.

I’m proud of my work
I’m proud of my work because my income supports nine people. Nine people who live here together! I wouldn’t do any other work even if I could because I’ve tried other work and I was discriminated there too, because of my HIV status. What’s interesting is that the people who discriminate against me are also HIV positive but they can’t accept it and they hide it. Me, I’m open about it. I want people to see sex work the way I see it: as a normal job. I want to see sex workers on TV talking about their work, the way other people talk about work.

I could just be myself
Being part of the Hands Off programme has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was just so completely different. It felt like for the first time, people in Mozambique could express themselves as themselves. The workshops had such an impact on people that they would go out and get other sex workers to join and when we had trainings everyone wanted to say something and there was never enough time. It was the first time that I felt part of something bigger, that I could just be myself, that I, as part of this group, was protected.

Fatima, Maputo

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