Prostitutes are good for Uganda’s economy. They spend a fortune on clothes, shoes and make-up. They also keep a certain section of the population happy. Yet sex workers are discriminated against and deprived of HIV/AIDS education. Some hope to change that.
“Clients can rape me, steal my money or clothes or leave without paying me. They know I can’t go to the police because, as a sex worker, I’ll get arrested,” says Daisy Nakato. The 30-year-old Ugandan started getting paid for sex when she was 17.
“What I do is illegal. Every time I see a uniform, I need to run,” she continues. “Same goes for healthcare. My job is a strain to my body, but when I go to the doctor, I have to lie. Because when I tell the truth, they will call everybody to come stare at me. I fear going to the hospital. But I’m also a citizen, a human being.”
Daisy was infected with HIV by one of her first clients. Still, she regularly services over 20 men a night.
In her opinion, Uganda’s current government programmes that aim to beat the disease are useless. “They have all these fancy slogans on how to prevent HIV/AIDS, but they completely bypass sex workers,” says Daisy. “All these men I give sex to are either married or involved with other people. So if the government doesn’t inform and protect me as a sex worker, they’re not protecting anyone.”
Daisy thinks she could help. “The government should see sex workers as good allies in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We should sit around the same table. What’s the point in spending money on TV adverts and awareness programmes on the radio when we have frequent power cuts? Why target families when it’s the prostitutes who have sex with the husbands just hours before the wives do?”
There is also the occasional request for “live sex” – that is, unprotected intercourse. “They offer to pay me more when we skip the condom bit,” she explains. “I tell them that no money in the world can protect your health, but a condom can. Although I sell sex, I don’t sell lives.”
“I educate my clients on safe sex and what diseases they could otherwise contract. By the time I get to the point where they might lose their penis through a sexually transmitted disease, they’re usually convinced. You see, some nights I’m more of a professional social worker than a sex worker.”
“To talk freely with a minister about the dangers and possibilities of sex work would never happen in Uganda,” she says. “Instead, the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity boycotts our reproductive health and empowerment meetings and fails to distribute enough condoms and lubricants.”
Enough condoms and coffee
Meeting with Dutch prostitutes was also a revelation. “These women are so confident!” Daisy exclaims. “People smile and wave, there are social workers and security officers around, they have a bathroom to do their make-up and there are enough condoms and coffee to make it through the night. If only this would be the case in Uganda.”
“We’re good people,” she adds. “We vote, and we pay taxes. Especially the high-class sex workers, [they] wear fancy clothes and shoes on which they pay a lot of tax. So we should be valued, respected and loved. I don’t think people would survive if sex workers decide to go on strike. Sex is therapy and some people need daily ‘counselling’. If your boss is cranky, you know he didn’t get good sex last night. At least we give everybody good treatment. You could say we sex workers keep up the morale of Uganda!”