Mombasa is one of the fastest growing cities in East Africa located on the Coastal region of Kenya and it is among the very well-known tourists’ destinations in the world. Mombasa is celebrated for its rich culture, hospitality and tasty Swahili cuisines. Walking around in the evening in any street within Mombasa in the evening you will see kids playing outside, Women will set up small stands selling famous Swahili street food known as “viazi karai” and men will gather around to drink this traditionally brewed palm wine known as “mnazi”.
Mombasa being a tourist destination, sex work is a booming business on this part of Kenya, we have both local and international clients but besides this being consensual sex trade between two consenting adults sex workers still experience criminalization, discrimination and human rights violations which increases sex workers vulnerabilities to contracting HIV and other life threatening conditions. The discriminative nature of the culture of Mombasa and the existing punitive laws that criminalizes consensual sell or buying of sex between two adults is amongst the contributing factors that hinder sex workers from accessing services.
Mombasa is very beautiful and calm but behind all this calm, there is a deeply rooted culture and beliefs which allows for discrimination of women and young girls, parents and guardians take advantage of the city being a tourist destination to push their children into sex work. High level of poverty forces young girls to drop out of school and help their caregivers to fend for their families and the only easy way is to also engage in sex work because of these factors sex workers have often been linked to sex trafficking.
Sex workers in Mombasa continue to suffer abuse by both law enforcers, community members and other key stake holders. When a sex worker reports any violations to the authorities usually the police take sides with the abusers and subject us to inhumane body searches looking for possession of condoms which is usually used as proof of sex work and can be used against us in the court of law. Religious leaders deny us opportunities to participate in worship places causing us starvation of spiritual nourishment and if we choose to take up spaces in such places usually the sermons are those of hate and inciting against sex workers.
All the abuse we experience are as a result of the criminalization of sex work in Kenya. A sex worker can be raped, robbed or denied services but will fear to go and report because the ones who are supposed to protect us are actually the ones who abuse and support our abusers and because of that we continue to suffer in silence and these challenges pour down to our children, friends and family.
However, over the past few years many sex workers led organizations have continued to intensify advocacy on decriminalization of sex work and protection of sex workers rights because the protection offered by the government is selective and doesn’t protect every one of its citizens. Decriminalize sex work now so that we too can feel protected.
Article by Liz