Pamela speaks out on COVID-19
Pamela speaks out on COVID-19
Follow the story of Pamela Chakuvinga, Assistant National Coordinator of Sisonke National Sex Worker Movement in South Africa, as she speaks out on how COVID-19 influences her work with sex workers in South Africa. Sisonke is a local partner in the Bridging the Gaps and Hands Off II programmes.
Pamela's story is part of our campaign 'Communities speak out on COVID-19'. Access all stories here
"..sex workers are harassed and profiled as they are known to do sex work and live in the same suburbs where they work. This means that police threaten and chase them away from the streets even when they are simply going out to buy food.."
My name is Pamela Chakuvinga, and I am the Assistant National Coordinator of Sisonke National Sex Worker Movement in South Africa. The COVID crisis impacts our work because our staff is working remotely from their homes so they can't do outreach to sex workers. Sex workers are arrested as they have to continue to work as normal, thereby contravening the regulations of the lockdown. Most brothels kicked out sex workers to abide by the regulation of 'no more than 50 people gathering'. In some provinces, sex workers are harassed and profiled as they are known to do sex work and live in the same suburbs where they work. This means that police threaten and chase them away from the streets even when they are simply going out to buy food, visit the bank, and go to the clinic or any of the essential services and needs listed by government for the lockdown.
Reaching the most vulnerable
My major concern for my community, at the moment, is that harm reduction is barely possible for most sex workers who are either transgender and or living on the streets. There is a huge gap indication of them not getting much from the health system because some are not documented. Others are defaulters who need to be traced and reinitiate medication. We need to have knowledge that services are reaching sex workers where they are. We are worried that the lockdown creates a gap for untraceable sex workers that are only known to Sisonke and SWEAT. With no relief aid, it has proven to be too hard for sex workers to adhere to medications with no food. Mostly it's sex workers kids that are affected as the schools are also closed. Schools feeding schemes which provided some form of relief for some families, with the lockdown have also seized to operate.
Action at Sisonke
We are trying to respond to the challenges by assisting sex workers with food parcels, their medication through stakeholders who are working with the sex work programmes, and staying informed via different social media platforms including those of Sisonke and SWEAT.
A call to the South African government
What we need from our local and national government are food and shelter. Especially for sex workers with kids at home not being able to go to school. They cannot afford rentals. In South Africa, sex workers are not receiving any direct government relief grants. During this adversity that we find ourselves in, it is important to listen to the vulnerable and respect the wishes of sex workers in South Africa and heed their call for the decriminalisation of sex work. The criminalisation of sex work excludes sex workers from accessing basic human rights, including labour rights.
Pamela's tips: advocating for sex workers' rights
Listen to Pamela as she shares practical tips for sex workers advocating for sex workers' rights and justice, and how Sisonke made sure that sex workers were visible during the court case around the murder of sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo. The murderer was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Help spread the voices!
We appeal to everyone to share this community voice to ensure that marginalised communities are not left behind. You can contribute by sharing this page on social media using the hashtag #HIVCOVID19 or by creating your own videos.
More on COVID-19 and HIV
The COVID-19 pandemic is strongly affecting the HIV response. Local and regional partners face increased difficulties to reach their communities in need. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Visit our COVID-19 page to learn how the AIDS response is affected and working in the current circumstances.