Dorothy*, 25, is a mother of a five year old daughter and one of Young Women Campaign Against AIDS (YCWCAA)s beneficiaries. She abandoned sex work after the intervention of YWCAA through the support of CARE International in Kenya (CIK) in partnership with Global Fund program. YWCAA encouraged her to consider joining a Behavior Change Communication (BCC) youth group, which she took this positively and joined Dagoretti Youth Developers Group.
'Men are beasts! At my age I have seen them all. When I look at the past five years, I feel that there was a way I could have avoided hio maisha ya rodi' (life on the streets). Back in high school, with my parents separated and with the lack of communication and openness with both of them, I longed for love and support. I was able to get this from sugar daddies.' She said. Dorothy became pregnant right after high school just when she was about to join college. Fearing the wrath of her parents, she ran away from home and had to shoulder the task of caring for her daughter single-handedly with no income, a low level education and no support.
'In my frustrations, I ran into this clique of girls who were about my age, some a bit older though, who, in my opinion had it all. They had the best clothes and lived a good life. This is what drove me to sex work. On a good night, I could make up to Kshs.10, 000. Three years down the line, I could not handle the pressures that came with it. The cold nights, flu, pneumonia, harassment by the city council askaris, violent customers who beat me up and refused to pay after sex, and thieves disguised as customers who stole my hard earned cash' she says.
She also feared being drugged and abandoned in forests or backstreet alleys, and constantly got into situations where she had to negotiate safe sex and even had incidents where her clients refused to have safe sex by either discreetly tearing the condom or not using one completely. Sometimes her clients even offered more for unprotected sex!
'The list is long. I gave in most of the time for the money because I had to take care of my daughter and I did not give much thought to HIV/AIDS then because we had to survive.' She says. With time, the stigma got worse with some openly remarking 'huyu ni Malaya' (This is a prostitute). The pressure became too much and Dorothy contemplated pulling out of the trade and look for something else to do. She felt she needed a decent life, and also wondered what influence she was having on her daughter when she brought men home. 'I did not want her to go through the same experiences as mine. I was lucky to meet officials of Young Women Campaign Against AIDS (YWCAA) through a friend during a youth HIV and AIDS awareness campaign they were conducting in Kawangware. They encouraged us to form a social support group and gave us the necessary support on Behavior Change Communication (BCC) which covered HIV and AIDS awareness, correct and consistent condom use, negotiating for safe sex (dubbed 'No glove no love'!) and capacity building on business empowerment.'
Through the social support group the members were able to overcome stigma through sharing their experiences. They reached out to peers with messages on HIV prevention and treatment and gave them alternative career options like establishing businesses through savings and table banking. They managed to recruit over 36 other young women out of sex work when they saw their former peers managing life positively without having go and , 'sell their flesh' and endure the abuse that goes with it.
Dorothy's support group periodically participates in distributing IEC materials and condoms and encourages condom use for those who have no way out to negotiate safe sex as a way of reducing the risk. 'I am proud to say that today I am transformed and I make my own money from the sale of scratch cards as opposed to spending money that came with impossible demands. I am empowered and able to sustain myself and pay school fees for my daughter. I am now fully accepted in the community as people want me to share my story and I do this willingly in the hope that I can influence more young girls to avoid the path I had taken.' says Dorothy.
'I am grateful to YWCAA and its partners for having showed me the way. Hope is not lost and I appeal to girls and fellow young women to take positive steps and lead lives that the society upholds'.
*Not her real name